“My poetry, I think, has become the way of my giving out what music is within me”-Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen, a favorite poet of mine whom I introduced many students to, was born today in 1903, wow, 110 years ago! His poetry still rings true. My first poem that I learned was “Incident,” and because of sensitivity, I am going to just put “N” for a word that he, Countee Cullen, an African American poet used in 1934. Countee Cullen was part of the fascinating period in our history called The Harlem Renaissance on which I’ve read just about every book published. Great writers, artists, poets, dancers, mlusicians, thinkers, such as: Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jean Toomer, James Weldon Johnson and more. If you’ve never read these writers, you should. “The Harlem Renaissance was the name given to the cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem between the end of World War I and the middle of the 1930s. During this period Harlem was a cultural center, drawing black writers, artists, musicians, photographers, poets, and scholars. Many had come from the South, fleeing its oppressive caste system in order to find a place where they could freely express their talents.” (pbs.org)

Incident by Countee Cullen:

Once riding in old Baltimore,

Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,

I saw a Baltimorean

Keep looking straight at me.

 

Now I was eight and very small,

And he was no whit bigger,

And so I smiled, but he poked out

His tongue, and called me, ‘N_____.’

 

I saw the whole of Baltimore

From May until December;

Of all the things that happened there

That’s all that I remember.

Saturday’s Child by Countee Cullen

Some are teethed on a silver spoon,

With the stars strung for a rattle;

I cut my teeth as the black racoon—

For implements of battle.

Some are swaddled in silk and down,

And heralded by a star;

They swathed my limbs in a sackcloth gown

On a night that was black as tar.

For some, godfather and goddame

The opulent fairies be;

Dame Poverty gave me my name,

And Pain godfathered me.

For I was born on Saturday—

“Bad time for planting a seed,”

Was all my father had to say,

And, “One mouth more to feed.”

Death cut the strings that gave me life,

And handed me to Sorrow,

The only kind of middle wife

My folks could beg or borrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on ““My poetry, I think, has become the way of my giving out what music is within me”-Countee Cullen

  1. The point of “Incident” is the fact that being called the N word was all he could remember about his stay in Baltimore. This should mean a lot to all people regardless of color. This poem teaches that all of us should work to make certain the “Incident” becomes an historical reference that few understand. We have a ways to go. Well done on this post.

    • I so agree with you John and believe me I struggled with my conscience because I really do not feel I should alter anyone’s words in any way, it really belonged there in its historical context, but…was afraid someone out there might get upset or offended. Yes, even in 2013, we still “have a ways to go!”

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