Runagate Runagate

By Robert Hayden 1913–1980 Robert Hayden
I.
Runs falls rises stumbles on from darkness into darkness
and the darkness thicketed with shapes of terror
and the hunters pursuing and the hounds pursuing
and the night cold and the night long and the river
to cross and the jack-muh-lanterns beckoning beckoning
and blackness ahead and when shall I reach that somewhere
morning and keep on going and never turn back and keep on going
                Runagate
                              Runagate
                                            Runagate
Many thousands rise and go
many thousands crossing over
                                                           O mythic North
                                               O star-shaped yonder Bible city

Some go weeping and some rejoicing
some in coffins and some in carriages
some in silks and some in shackles

                 Rise and go or fare you well

No more auction block for me
no more driver’s lash for me

         If you see my Pompey, 30 yrs of age,
         new breeches, plain stockings, negro shoes;
         if you see my Anna, likely young mulatto
         branded E on the right cheek, R on the left,
         catch them if you can and notify subscriber.
         Catch them if you can, but it won’t be easy.
         They’ll dart underground when you try to catch them,
         plunge into quicksand, whirlpools, mazes,
         turn into scorpions when you try to catch them.

And before I’ll be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave

         North star and bonanza gold
         I’m bound for the freedom, freedom-bound
         and oh Susyanna don’t you cry for me

                                 Runagate
  
                                               Runagate


          II.
Rises from their anguish and their power,

                                       Harriet Tubman,

                                       woman of earth, whipscarred,
                                       a summoining, a shining

                                       Mean to be free

          And this was the way of it, brethren brethren,
          way we journeyed from Can’t to Can.
          Moon so bright and no place to hide,
          the cry up and the patterollers riding,
          hound dogs belling in bladed air.
          And fear starts a-murbling, Never make it,
          we’ll never make it. Hush that now,
          and she’s turned upon us, levelled pistol
          glinting in the moonlight:
          Dead folks can’t jaybird-talk, she says;
          you keep on going now or die, she says.

Wanted     Harriet Tubman     alias The General
alias Moses     Stealer of Slaves

In league with Garrison     Alcott     Emerson
Garrett     Douglas     Thoreau     John Brown

Armed and known to be Dangerous

Wanted     Reward     Dead or Alive

          Tell me, Ezekiel, oh tell me do you see
          mailed Jehovah coming to deliver me?

Hoot-owl calling in the ghosted air,
five times calling to the hants in the air.
Shadow of a face in the scary leaves,
shadow of a voice in the talking leaves:

          Come ride-a my train

          Oh that train, ghost-story train
          through swamp and savanna movering movering,
          over trestles of dew, through caves of the wish,
          Midnight Special on a sabre track movering movering,
          first stop Mercy and the last Hallelujah.

          Come ride-a my train

                   Mean mean mean to be free.

Robert Hayden, “Runagate Runagate” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1962, 1966 by Robert Hayden. Copyright © 1985 by Emma Hayden. Reprinted with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Source: Collected Poems (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1985)

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Poet Robert Hayden 1913–1980

Subjects Activities, Travels & Journeys, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Heroes & Patriotism, Race & Ethnicity

 Robert  Hayden

Biography

Born Asa Bundy Sheffey into a poor family, Robert Hayden’s parents left him to be raised by foster parents. Due to extreme nearsightedness, Hayden turned to books rather than sports in his childhood. Some of his best-known poems can be found in his collection A Ballad of Remembrance. Hayden was the first African American to be appointed as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Hayden's formal, elegant poems about the . . .

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SUBJECT Activities, Travels & Journeys, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Heroes & Patriotism, Race & Ethnicity

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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