The Dictionary of the Wolf

By Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966
“We all declare for liberty,” Lincoln said.
“We use the word and mean all sorts of things:
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.
Rifle the basket that thy neighbor brings.”
 
The grizzled axman squinted at Honest Abe,
The six feet four of him, gaunt, sad of face,
The hands to split a log or cradle a babe,
The cracked palm hat, the homespun of his race.
 
“The wolf tears at the sheep’s throat: and the sheep
Extols the shepherd for cudgeling tyranny;
The wolf, convulsed with indignation deep,
Accuses the shepherd of murdering liberty.
 
“But the dictionary of the wolf is writ
In words the rats of time chew bit by bit.”

Melvin Tolson, "The Dictionary of the Wolf" 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 Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Sonnet

 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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SUBJECT Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Poetic Terms Sonnet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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