A Song for Myself

By Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966
                                                   I judge
                                               My soul
                                               Eagle
                                               Nor mole:
                                               A man
                                               Is what
                                               He saves
                                               From rot.
                                                
                                               The corn
                                               Will fat
                                               A hog
                                               Or rat:
                                               Are these
                                               Dry bones
                                               A hut’s
                                               Or throne’s?
                                                
                                               Who filled
                                               The moat
                                               ’Twixt sheep
                                               And goat?
                                               Let Death,
                                               The twin
                                               of Life,
                                               Slip in?
                                                
                                               Prophets
                                               Arise,
                                               Mask-hid,
                                               Unwise,
                                               Divide
                                               The earth
                                               By class
                                               and birth.
                                                
                                               Caesars
                                               Without,
                                               The People
                                               Shall rout;
                                               Caesars
                                               Within,
                                               Crush flat
                                               As tin.
                                                
                                               Who makes
                                               A noose
                                               Envies
                                               The goose.
                                               Who digs
                                               A pit
                                               Dices
                                               For it.
                                                
                                               Shall tears
                                               Be shed
                                               For those
                                               Whose bread
                                               Is thieved
                                               Headlong?
                                               Tears right
                                               No wrong.
                                                
                                               Prophets
                                               Shall teach
                                               The meek
                                               To reach.
                                               Leave not
                                               To God
                                               The boot
                                               And rod.
                                                
                                               The straight
                                               Lines curve?
                                               Failure
                                               Of nerve?
                                               Blind-spots
                                               Assail?
                                               Times have
                                               Their Braille.
                                                
                                               If hue
                                               Of skin
                                               Trademark
                                               A sin,
                                               Blame not
                                               The make
                                               For God's
                                               Mistake.
                                                
                                               Since flesh
                                               And bone
                                               Turn dust
                                               And stone,
                                               With life
                                               So brief,
                                               Why add
                                               To grief?
                                                
                                               I sift
                                               The chaff
                                               From wheat
                                               and laugh.
                                               No curse
                                               Can stop
                                               The tick
                                               Of clock.
                                                
                                               Those who
                                               Wall in
                                               Themselves
                                               And grin
                                               Commit
                                               Incest
                                               And spawn
                                               A pest.
                                                
                                               What’s writ
                                               In vice
                                               Is writ
                                               In ice.
                                               The truth
                                               Is not
                                               Of fruits
                                               That rot.
                                                
                                               A sponge,
                                               The mind
                                               Soaks in
                                               The kind
                                               Of stuff
                                               That fate’s
                                               Milieu
                                               Dictates.
                                                
                                               Jesus,
                                               Mozart,
                                               Shakespeare,
                                               Descartes,
                                               Lenin,
                                               Chladni,
                                               Have lodged
                                               With me.
                                                
                                               I snatch
                                               From hooks
                                               The meat
                                               Of books.
                                               I seek
                                               Frontiers,
                                               Not worlds
                                               On biers.
                                                
                                               The snake
                                               Entoils
                                               The pig
                                               With coils.
                                               The pig’s
                                               Skewed wail
                                               Does not
                                               Prevail.
                                                
                                               Old men
                                               Grow worse
                                               With prayer
                                               Or curse:
                                               Their staffs
                                               Thwack youth
                                               Starved thin
                                               For truth.
                                                
                                               Today
                                               The Few
                                               Yield poets
                                               Their due;
                                               Tomorrow
                                               The Mass
                                               Judgment
                                               Shall pass.
                                                
                                               I harbor
                                               One fear
                                               If death
                                               Crouch near:
                                               Does my
                                               Creed span
                                               The Gulf
                                               Of Man?
                                                
                                               And when
                                               I go
                                               In calm
                                               Or blow
                                               From mice
                                               And men,
                                               Selah!
                                               What . . . then?

Melvin Tolson, "A Song for Myself" from Harlem Gallery and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1999)

Source: "Harlem Gallery" and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (University Press of Virginia, 1999)

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Poet Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Subjects Living, Death, Life Choices, Time & Brevity, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Allusion, Rhymed Stanza

 Melvin B. Tolson

Biography

Known for his complex, challenging poetry, Melvin B. Tolson earned little critical attention throughout most of his life, but he eventually won a place among America's leading black poets. He was, in the opinion of Allen Tate, author of the preface to Tolson's Libretto for the Republic of Liberia, the first black poet to assimilate "completely the full poetic language of his time and, by implication, the language of the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Life Choices, Time & Brevity, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Poetic Terms Allusion, Rhymed Stanza

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