10 Poems by Georgia Douglas Johnson

Georgia Douglas Johnson on the cover of The Crisis

Though she was considered an important member of the Harlem Renaissance, Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880 – 1966) was never a New York City resident, neither when the movement was in full swing in the 1920s or after. 

Instead, she and her family lived in Washington, D.C. Their house on S Street NW came to be known as the “S Street Salon” — a satellite of sorts for writers of the Harlem Renaissance visiting in the nation’s segregated capital.

Among the colleagues who were regular visitors were the leading lights of the Renaissance: Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Alain Locke, and many of the noted women writers of the Harlem Renaissance


Georgia’s first poems were published in the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis, in 1916. She published four poetry collections: The Heart of a Woman (1918), Bronze (1922), An Autumn Love Cycle (1928), and after a long gap, Share My World (1962). As a mixed-race woman, she addressed issues of bias and racism in her poems. She also wrote many that were intensely personal. In particular, she explored the constraining roles of devoted wife and mother and how these clashed with the desire to be a creative artist.

Jessie Redmon Fauset, an important editor of the Harlem Renaissance era, and a poet in her own right, helped Georgia select the works for The Heart of a Woman collection. The Heart of a Woman was indeed the influence for Maya Angelou‘s memoir of the same title.

In addition to poetry, Georgia wrote nearly thirty plays. Though some of her work was destroyed around the time of her death, there was a large enough body left to confirm her contributions to the Harlem Renaissance movement. Here are 10 poems by Georgia Douglas Johnson, a poet who deserves to be read and remembered.

. . . . . . . . .

The Heart of a Woman

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

. . . . . . . . .

Common Dust

And who shall separate the dust
What later we shall be:
Whose keen discerning eye will scan
And solve the mystery?

The high, the low, the rich, the poor,
The black, the white, the red,
And all the chromatique between,
Of whom shall it be said:

Here lies the dust of Africa;
Here are the sons of Rome;
Here lies the one unlabelled,
The world at large his home!

Can one then separate the dust?
Will mankind lie apart,
When life has settled back again
The same as from the start? 

. . . . . . . . .

I Want to Die While You Love Me

I want to die while you love me,
While yet you hold me fair,
While laughter lies upon my lips
And lights are in my hair.
I want to die while you love me,
And bear to that still bed,
Your kisses turbulent, unspent
To warm me when I’m dead.
I want to die while you love me
Oh, who would care to live
Till love has nothing more to ask
And nothing more to give!
I want to die while you love me
And never, never see
The glory of this perfect day
Grow dim or cease to be. 

. . . . . . . . .

Your World

Your world is as big as you make it.
I know, for I used to abide
In the narrowest nest in a corner,
My wings pressing close to my side.
But I sighted the distant horizon
Where the skyline encircled the sea
And I throbbed with a burning desire
To travel this immensity.
I battered the cordons around me
And cradled my wings on the breeze,
Then soared to the uttermost reaches
With rapture, with power, with ease!

. . . . . . . . .

Women writers of the Harlem Renaissance

You might also enjoy
Renaissance Women: 12 Female Writers of the Harlem Renaissance
. . . . . . . . .

Prejudice

These fell miasmic rings of mist, with ghoulish menace bound,
Like noose-horizons tightening my little world around,
They still the soaring will to wing, to dance, to speed away,
And fling the soul insurgent back into its shell of clay:
Beneath incrusted silences, a seething Etna lies,
The fire of whose furnaces may sleep — but never dies!

. . . . . . . . .

Credo

I believe in the ultimate justice of Fate;
That the races of men front the sun in their turn;
That each soul holds the title to infinite wealth
In fee to the will as it masters itself;
That the heart of humanity sounds the same tone
In impious jungle, or sky-kneeling fane.
I believe that the key to the life-mystery
Lies deeper than reason and further than death.
I believe that the rhythmical conscience within
Is guidance enough for the conduct of men.

. . . . . . . . .

Hope

Frail children of sorrow, dethroned by a hue,
The shadows are flecked by the rose sifting through,
The world has its motion, all things pass away;
No night is omnipotent, there must be day!
The oak tarries long in the depths of the seed
But swift is the season of nettle and weed,
Abide yet awhile in the mellowing shade
And rise with the hour for which you were made.
The cycle of seasons, the tidals of man,
Revolve in the orb of the infinite plan;
We move to the rhythm of ages long done,
And each has his hour — to dwell in the sun!

. . . . . . . . .

Interracial

Let’s build bridges here and there
Or sometimes, just a spiral stair
That we may come somewhat abreast
And sense what cannot be exprest,
And by these measures can be found
A meeting place—a common ground
Nearer the reaches of the heart
Where truth revealed, stands clear, apart;
With understanding come to know
What laughing lips will never show:
How tears and torturing distress
May masquerade as happiness:
Then you will know when my heart’s aching
And I when yours is slowly breaking.
Commune—The altars will reveal . . .
We then shall be impulsed to kneel
And send a prayer upon its way
For those who wear the thorns today.
Oh, let’s build bridges everywhere
And span the gulf of challenge there.

. . . . . . . . .

Bronze (1922 Poetry collection) by Georgia Douglas Johnson

. . . . . . . . .

Little Son

The very acme of my woe,
The pivot of my pride,
My consolation, and my hope
Deferred, but not denied.
The substance of my every dream,
The riddle of my plight,
The very world epitomized
In turmoil and delight.

. . . . . . . . .

Black Woman

Don’t knock at the door, little child,
     I cannot let you in,
You know not what a world this is
     Of cruelty and sin.
Wait in the still eternity
     Until I come to you,
The world is cruel, cruel, child,
     I cannot let you in!

Don’t knock at my heart, little one,
     I cannot bear the pain
Of turning deaf-ear to your call
     Time and time again!
You do not know the monster men
     Inhabiting the earth,
Be still, be still, my precious child,
     I must not give you birth!

2 Responses to “10 Poems by Georgia Douglas Johnson”

  1. Hello friends at Literary Ladies Guide,

    My name is Patrick, I was wondering if https://www.literaryladiesguide.com was accepting contributor articles. I have a background in journalism and have an English degree from Central Michigan University. I am looking to expand my portfolio and I thought I would be a good match for your site.

    I am open to additional assignments and maybe even the chance to become a contributor.

    Also, are there any guidelines for me to check out?

    I look forward to working with you,

    Patrick Bailey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to The Literary Ladies Guide weekly newsletter

Celebrating women’s voices
with inspiration for readers and writers

  • Find your next great read
  • Get writing advice from authors you love
  • Enjoy fascinating facts and quotes
  • Discover women’s literary history

... and lots more (look for a bonus in your welcome letter!)
Email address
Secure and Spam free...