Art vs. Trade

By James Weldon Johnson 1871–1938
Trade, Trade versus Art,
Brain, Brain versus Heart;
Oh, the earthiness of these hard-hearted times,   
When clinking dollars, and jingling dimes,   
Drown all the finer music of the soul.

Life as an Octopus with but this creed,
That all the world was made to serve his greed;
Trade has spread out his mighty myriad claw,
And drawn into his foul polluted maw,
The brightest and the best,   
Well nigh,
Has he drained dry,
The sacred fount of Truth;   
And if, forsooth,
He has left yet some struggling streams from it to go,
He has contaminated so their flow,
That Truth, scarce is it true.

Poor Art with struggling gasp,
Lies strangled, dying in his mighty grasp;
He locks his grimy fingers ’bout her snowy throat so tender.   
Is there no power to rescue her, protect, defend her?   
Shall Art be left to perish?
Shall all the images her shrines cherish
Be left to this iconoclast, to vulgar Trade?

Oh, that mankind had less of Brain and more of Heart,   
Oh, that the world had less of Trade and more of Art;   
Then would there be less grinding down the poor,   
Then would men learn to love each other more;   
For Trade stalks like a giant through the land,   
Bearing aloft the rich in his high hand,
While down beneath his mighty ponderous tread,   
He crushes those who cry for daily bread.

James Weldon Johnson, “Art vs. Trade” from James Weldon Johnson: Complete Poems, edited by Sondra Kathryn Wilson. Copyright © 2000 by Sondra Kathryn Wilson, Literary Executor of the Estate of James Weldon Johnson. Used by permission of Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. For online information about other Penguin Group (USA) books and authors, see www.penguin.com.

Source: Complete Poems (2000)

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Poet James Weldon Johnson 1871–1938

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics

 James Weldon Johnson

Biography

James Weldon Johnson distinguished himself equally as a man of letters and as a civil rights leader in the early decades of the twentieth century. A talented poet and novelist, Johnson is credited with bringing a new standard of artistry and realism to black literature in such works as The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man and God's Trombones. His pioneering studies of black poetry, music, and theater in the 1920s also helped . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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