11 Poems by Angelina Weld Grimké on Love, Longing, & Race

Angelina Weld Grimké older

Angelina Weld Grimké (1880 – 1958) was an American playwright, poet, and educator best known for being a figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Following is a selection of poems by Angelina Weld Grimké on love, race, nature, and other subjects that preoccupied her.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Grimké was part of a family of biracial civil rights activists, and in earlier generations, abolitionists. Her father served some time as the Vice-President of the NAACP. Her great-aunts (including the similarly named Angelina Grimké Weld) were well-known abolitionists and advocates for women’s rights in the 19th century. They were significant influences for Grimké’s use of literature as a propagandist tool.

With a mixed-race father and white mother, Grimké was 75% white, but she identified as Black. After her parents separated when she was a child, she was raised by her father in Boston, where she attended school. As a woman of color, she was deeply invested in issues affecting the African-American community.

After completing her studies, she moved to Washington D.C. where she began connecting with fellow poet Georgia Douglas Johnson. Shortly after, she wrote her first articles and poems about racism and the black experience in America. After her father’s death, which devastated her, she moved to New York City where she lived fairly reclusively until her death. 

In Afro-American Women Writers (1988), Ann Allen Shockley wrote of Grimké’s poetic work:

As a poet, she became a familiar contributor to magazines and anthologies of the Harlem Renaissance. Sixteen of her poems appeared in Countee Cullen’s classic Caroling Dusk. They were also featured in the pages of The Crisis and Opportunity magazines, although none was collected for publication.

The poems were conventional verses on nature, love, life, and death. She was considered an imagist poet in the mode of the “old lapidaries,” who wrote from her own private emotions about what she felt and saw in a sensitive, poignant, and beautiful way.

Gloria T. Hull, who exhumed Grimké from near literary oblivion, said of her work: “Grimké’s poetry is very delicate, musical, romantic, and pensive. It draws extensively on the natural world for allusions and figures of speech.” Hull found some of her unpublished poetry lesbian in nature. Of this, she wrote: “Most of these lyrics either chronicle a romance which is now dead or record a cruel and unrequited love.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

The Black Finger

I have just seen a beautiful thing
Slim and still,
Against a gold, gold sky,
A straight cypress,
Sensitive
Exquisite,

A black finger
Pointing upwards.
Why, beautiful, still finger are you black?
And why are you pointing upwards?

. . . . . . . . . .

 

At April

Toss your gay heads,
Brown girl trees;
Toss your gay lovely heads;
Shake your brown slim bodies;
Stretch your brown slim arms;
Stretch your brown slim toes.
Who knows better than we,
With the dark, dark bodies,
What it means
When April comes a-laughing and a-weeping
Once again
At our hearts?

. . . . . . . . . .

Trees

God made them very beautiful, the trees:
He spoke and gnarled of bole or silken sleek
They grew; majestic bowed or very meek;
Huge-bodied, slim; sedate and full of glees.
And He had pleasure deep in all of these.
And to them soft and little tongues to speak
Of Him to us, He gave wherefore they seek
From dawn to dawn to bring unto our knees.
Yet here amid the wistful sounds of leaves,
A black-hued gruesome something swings and swings;
Laughter it knew and joy in little things
Till man’s hate ended all. -And so man weaves.
And God, how slow, how very slow weaves He-
Was Christ Himself not nailed to a tree?

. . . . . . . . . .

A Winter Twilight

A silence slipping around like death,
Yet chased by a whisper, a sigh,
a breath; One group of trees, lean,
naked and cold,
Inking their cress ‘gainst a
sky green-gold;

One path that knows where the
corn flowers were;
Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir;
And over it softly leaning down,
One star that I loved ere the
fields went brown

. . . . . . . . . .

 

Tenebris

There is a tree, by day,
That, at night, Has a shadow,
A hand huge and black,
With fingers long and black.
All through the dark,
Against the white man’s house,

In the little wind,
The black hand plucks and plucks
At the bricks.
The bricks are the color of blood
and very small.
Is it a black hand,
Or is it a shadow?

. . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . .

The Eyes Of My Regret

Always at dusk, the same tearless experience,
The same dragging of feet up the same well-worn path
To the same well-worn rock;
The same crimson or gold dropping away of the sun
The same tints, – rose, saffron, violet, lavender, grey
Meeting, mingling, mixing mistily;
Before me the same blue black cedar rising jaggedly to
a point;
Over it, the same slow unlidding of twin stars,
Two eyes, unfathomable, soul-searing,
Watching, watching, watching me;
The same two eyes that draw me forth, against my will
dusk after dusk;
The same two eyes that keep me sitting late into the
night, chin on knees
Keep me there lonely, rigid, tearless, numbly
miserable –
The eyes of my Regret.

. . . . . . . . . .

 

Death

When the lights blur out for thee and me,
And the black comes in with a sweep,
I wonder — will it mean life again,
Or sleep?

. . . . . . . . . .

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The Puppet-Player

Sometimes it seems as though some puppet-player
A clenched claw cupping a craggy chin,
Sits just beyond the border of our seeing,
Twitching the strings with slow, sardonic grin.

. . . . . . . . . .

Vigil

You will come back, sometime, somehow;
But if it will be bright or black
I cannot tell; I only know
You will come back.

Does not the spring with fragrant pack
Return unto the orchard bough?
Do not the birds retrace their track?

All things return. Some day the glow
Of quick’ning dreams will pierce your lack;
And when you know I wait as now
You will come back. 

. . . . . . . . . .

 

Hushed by the Hands Of Sleep

Hushed by the hands of Sleep,
By the beautiful hands of Sleep.
Very gentle and quiet he lies,
With a little smile of sweet surprise,
Just softly hushed at lips and eyes,
Hushed by the hands of Sleep,
By the beautiful hands of Sleep.

Hushed by the hands of Sleep,
By the beautiful hands of Sleep.
Death leaned down as his eyes grew dim,
But oh! it was beautiful to him.
Hushed by the hands of Sleep,
By the beautiful hands of Sleep. 

. . . . . . . . . .

For the Candle-Light

The sky was blue, so blue that day
And each daisy white, so white,
O, I knew that no more could rains fall grey
And night again be night . . . . .

I knew, I knew. Well, if night is night,
And the grey skies greyly cry.
I have in a book for the candle light,
A daisy dead and dry.

. . . . . . . . . .

Angelina Grimke

Learn more about Angelina Weld Grimké
See more of her poetic work at Academy of American Poets
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Skyler Isabella Gomez is a 2019 SUNY New Paltz graduate with a degree in Public Relations and a minor in Black Studies. Her passions include connecting more with her Latin roots by researching and writing about legendary Latina authors. 

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