Friday, May 09, 2008

Countee Cullen

redbud closeup

(For Carl Van Vechten)

I cannot hold my peace, John Keats;
There never was a spring like this;
It is an echo, that repeats
My last year's song and next year's bliss.
I know, in spite of all men say
Of Beauty, you have felt her most.
Yea, even in your grave her way
Is laid. Poor, troubled, lyric ghost,
Spring never was so fair and dear
As Beauty makes her seem this year. the rest here.

Countee Cullen was born in 1906, in Kentucky or Baltimore ( sources are unclear). He was left by his parents as an infant to be raised by his grandmother. She brought him to New York city when he was nine. He was adopted by a Methodist minister at her death in 1918. He was one of the few Black students in his high school and did very well in his studies, working for the paper and writing poetry at a young age. He graduated from New York University Phi Beta Kappa. He attended Harvard, earning his masters degree in 1926. He studied in Europe with a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1928, then returning to New York City. He was a leading poet in the Harlem Renaissance. Over the course of his career he wrote volumes of poetry, a novel, a couple books for children and many works for the theater, as well as translating plays from the Greek. Early in his career he wrote about racism and racial themes, but later in his life embraced universal themes. He admired the Romantic poets, especially Keats, and often wrote in sonnet form. Read more about him here and here.

Edited to add: Liz Garton Scanlon posted about our joint Crown of Sonnets project at the back and forth project blog. That's a blog done by two friends who are posting about their collaboration in writing and publishing a children's book. On Fridays they post about other people's collaborative creative projects. What a thrill to see our sonnets featured there! Check it out.

Writer2be is doing the Friday Poetry round-up. Enjoy!


tanita✿davis said...

As always, Countee Cullen's poetry is almost singable, in the way that it lilts along. And I do imagine that John Keats is still writing poetry somewhere...

Anonymous said...

Ditto what TadMack said. This is wonderful.

Karen Edmisten said...

I love this. Love it, love it. He perfectly captures the love affair we can have with a particular poet, and the way certain things in our day to day life bring that poet back into our hearts, keep that poet eternally present.

I loved this last stanza:

"John Keats is dead," they say, but I
Who hear your full insistent cry
In bud and blossom, leaf and tree,
Know John Keats still writes poetry.
And while my head is earthward bowed
To read new life sprung from your shroud,
Folks seeing me must think it strange
That merely spring should so derange
My mind. They do not know that you,
John Keats, keep revel with me, too.

sheila said...

Impressive life he lived. Lovely choice.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I adore this. Next year's bliss. Sing it...

Mary Lee said...

We have to rename the "rock and the hard place." We must always remember that where we are, no matter how it's going, is really between "My last year's song and next year's bliss."

And this: "Folks seeing me must think it strange
That merely spring should so derange
My mind."

MERELY spring?!?! Look at that picture of the redbud!

Masked Editor said...


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Anonymous said...

Oh, wow. I'm with Karen--that last stanza is gorgeous! Thanks!