“Invictus”, by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
From “The Shroud of Color” by Countee Cullen
…Across the earth’s warm, palpitating crust
I flung my body in embrace; I thrust
My mouth into the grass and sucked the dew,
Then gave it back in tears my anguish drew;
So hard I pressed against the ground, I felt
The smallest sandgrain like a knife, and smelt
The nest year’s flowering; all this to speed
My body’s dissolution, fain to feed
The worms. And so I groaned, and spent my strength
Until, all passion spent, I lay full length
And quivered like a flayed and bleeding thing.
“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, —
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
“Sam Smiley” by Sterling A. Brown
The whites had taught him how to rip
A Nordic belly with a thrust
Of bayonet, had taught him how
To transmit Nordic flesh to dust.
And a surprising fact had made
Belated impress on his mind:
That shrapnel burst and poison gas
Were inexplicably color blind.
He picked up, from the difficult
But striking lessons of the war,
Some truths that he could not forget,
Though inconceivable before.
And through the lengthy vigils, stuck
In never-drying stinking mud,
He was held up by dreams of one,
Chockfull of laughter, not of blood.
On the return Sam Smiley cheered
The dirty steerage with his dance,
Hot-stepping boy! Soon he would see
The girl who beat all girls in France.
He stopped buckdancing when he reached
The shanties at his journey’s end;
He found his sweetheart in the jail,
And took white lightning for his friend.
One night the woman whose full voice
Had chortled so, was put away
Into a narrow gaping hole,
Sam sat beside till break of day.
He had been told what man it was
Whose child the girl had had to kill,
Who best knew why her laugh was dumb,
Who best knew why her blood was still.
And he remembered France, and how
A human life was dunghill cheap,
And so he sent a rich white man
His woman’s company to keep.
The mob was in fine fettle, yet
The dogs were stupid-nosed and day
Was far spent when the men drew round
The scrawny woods where Smiley lay.
The oaken leaves drowsed prettily,
The moon shone down benignly there;
And big Sam Smiley, King Buckdancer,
Buckdanced on the midnight air.