Our Family Tree

By Joseph Cephas Holly 1825–1855

On the death of my sister Cecilia—the last of five members of the family, who died successively.

Our family tree is in the sear
   And yellow leaf of life;
Branch after branch, year after year,
   Yields to death’s pruning knife.
First, youngest born, as if ’twere meet,
   The sacrifice should be,
“The last of earth,” the first to meet
   Th’ unknown eternity.
’Twas God who gave, ’twas He who took,
   His voice let us obey,
So that in his eternal book,
   Our names shine bright as day.

Source: African-American Poetry of the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology (University of Illinois Press, 1992)

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Poet Joseph Cephas Holly 1825–1855

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Sorrow & Grieving, Relationships, Living, Religion, Family & Ancestors, Death, God & the Divine

Biography

Poet, abolitionist, and anti-colonialist Joseph Cephas Holly worked as a boot maker and lived in Brooklyn and Burlington before settling in Rochester in 1852. He married, and fathered a son who died in infancy. Joseph lectured widely with his younger brother, James Theodore Holly, on antislavery topics. A schism later developed between the brothers over the issue of colonialism, with Joseph strongly against it and James an . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Sorrow & Grieving, Relationships, Living, Religion, Family & Ancestors, Death, God & the Divine

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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