Banking Coal

By Jean Toomer 1894–1967 Jean Toomer
Whoever it was who brought the first wood and coal
To start the Fire, did his part well;
Not all wood takes to fire from a match,
Nor coal from wood before it’s burned to charcoal.
The wood and coal in question caught a flame
And flared up beautifully, touching the air
That takes a flame from anything.

Somehow the fire was furnaced,
And then the time was ripe for some to say,
“Right banking of the furnace saves the coal.”
I’ve seen them set to work, each in his way,
Though all with shovels and with ashes,
Never resting till the fire seemed most dead;
Whereupon they’d crawl in hooded night-caps
Contentedly to bed. Sometimes the fire left alone
Would die, but like as not spiced tongues
Remaining by the hardest on till day would flicker up,
Never strong, to anyone who cared to rake for them.
But roaring fires never have been made that way.
I’d like to tell those folks that one grand flare
Transferred to memory tissues of the air
Is worth a like, or, for dull minds that turn in gold,
All money ever saved by banking coal.

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Poet Jean Toomer 1894–1967

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Subjects Activities, Jobs & Working

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Jean  Toomer

Biography

An important figure in African-American literature, Jean Toomer (1894—1967) was born in Washington, DC, the grandson of the first governor of African-American descent in the United States. A poet, playwright, and novelist, Toomer’s most famous work, Cane, was published in 1923 and was hailed by critics for its literary experimentation and portrayal of African-American characters and culture.

As a child, Toomer attended both . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Jobs & Working

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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