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Countee Cullen: influential member of the Harlem Renaissance alongside Langston Hughes

He was an African American poet, novelist, children’s storywriter and playwright

  • Incident

  • 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, ‘Nigger.’
  • I saw the whole of Baltimore
  • From May until December;
  • Of all the things that happened there
  • That’s all that I remember. 
  • The Loss of Love

  • All through an empty place I go,
  • And find her not in any room;
  • The candles and the lamps I light
  • Go down before a wind of gloom. 
  • Thick-spraddled lies the dust about,
  • A fit, sad place to write her name
  • Or draw her face the way she looked
  • That legendary night she came.
  • The old house crumbles bit by bit;
  • Each day I hear the ominous thud
  • That says another rent is there
  • For winds to pierce and storms to flood.
  • My orchards groan and sag with fruit;
  • Where, Indian-wise, the bees go round;
  • I let it rot upon the bough;
  • I eat what falls upon the ground.
  • The heavy cows go laboring
  • In agony with clotted teats;
  • My hands are slack; my blood is cold;
  • I marvel that my heart still beats.
  • I have no will to weep or sing,
  • No least desire to pray or curse;
  • The loss of love is a terrible thing;
  • They lie who say that death is worse. 
  • A Brown Dead Girl

  • With two white roses on her breasts, 
  • White candles at head and feet, 
  • Dark Madonna of the grave she rests; 
  • Lord Death has found her sweet.
  • Her mother pawned her wedding ring
  • To lay her out in white; 
  • She’d be so proud she’d dance and sing
  • To see herself tonight. 
Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen (1903–1946) was an African American poet, novelist, children’s storywriter and playwright. He was one of the more visible and influential members of the Harlem Renaissance, an early 20th century literary movement which produced an abundant creative output from the African-American community. The movement also included other African-American writers, such as poet Langston Hughes and novelist Zora Neale Hurston, among its numbers. Cullen’s talent was recognized early on, and he won his first prestigious poetry prize while still in college: in 1923, “A Brown Dead Girl” won second place in the Witter Bynner undergraduate poetry contest sponsored by the Poetry Society of America.

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back into The Children's Pool

LION, Summer 2024
  • Incident

  • 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, ‘Nigger.’
  • I saw the whole of Baltimore
  • From May until December;
  • Of all the things that happened there
  • That’s all that I remember. 
  • The Loss of Love

  • All through an empty place I go,
  • And find her not in any room;
  • The candles and the lamps I light
  • Go down before a wind of gloom. 
  • Thick-spraddled lies the dust about,
  • A fit, sad place to write her name
  • Or draw her face the way she looked
  • That legendary night she came.
  • The old house crumbles bit by bit;
  • Each day I hear the ominous thud
  • That says another rent is there
  • For winds to pierce and storms to flood.
  • My orchards groan and sag with fruit;
  • Where, Indian-wise, the bees go round;
  • I let it rot upon the bough;
  • I eat what falls upon the ground.
  • The heavy cows go laboring
  • In agony with clotted teats;
  • My hands are slack; my blood is cold;
  • I marvel that my heart still beats.
  • I have no will to weep or sing,
  • No least desire to pray or curse;
  • The loss of love is a terrible thing;
  • They lie who say that death is worse. 
  • A Brown Dead Girl

  • With two white roses on her breasts, 
  • White candles at head and feet, 
  • Dark Madonna of the grave she rests; 
  • Lord Death has found her sweet.
  • Her mother pawned her wedding ring
  • To lay her out in white; 
  • She’d be so proud she’d dance and sing
  • To see herself tonight. 
Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen (1903–1946) was an African American poet, novelist, children’s storywriter and playwright. He was one of the more visible and influential members of the Harlem Renaissance, an early 20th century literary movement which produced an abundant creative output from the African-American community. The movement also included other African-American writers, such as poet Langston Hughes and novelist Zora Neale Hurston, among its numbers. Cullen’s talent was recognized early on, and he won his first prestigious poetry prize while still in college: in 1923, “A Brown Dead Girl” won second place in the Witter Bynner undergraduate poetry contest sponsored by the Poetry Society of America.

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