7 Poems by Jessie Redmon Fauset, Harlem Renaissance Author and Editor

Jessie Redmon Fauset

Here’s a selection of poems by Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882 – 1961), a multi-talented and influential figure in the Harlem Renaissance movement of the 1920s.

Fauset was the literary editor of the magazine of the NAACP, The Crisis, and in her own right, a poet, essayist, translator, and novelist.

While working at The Crisis, she had the opportunity to publish her own work, which included editorials, stories, and  poetry, all of which were appreciated by readers and literary critics.

Fauset edited and published the work of many noted Harlem Renaissance figures during her tenure at The Crisis; such was her influence that she’s considered one of the “midwives” of the Harlem Renaissance literary movement.

The last of Fauset’s four novels, Comedy, American Style, was published in 1933. Soon after, she dropped out of the literary life and started a second career of teaching French in secondary school.

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Jessie Fauset by Laura Wheeler Waring

Learn  more about Jessie Redmon Fauset
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Some of the subject matter of Fauset’s poems is dark and rather grim. For example, “Oblivion” tells of a desire to lie in a deserted, neglected grave far from everyone and everything. Others, like “Dead Fires” and “La Vie C’est la Vie” are fatalistic.

Ann Allen Shockley observed in Afro-American Women Writers that Fauset’s works, both fiction and poetry, “By choosing unpopular topics … Fauset challenged the preconceptions of the publishing industry and opened the way for literature which would appear in succeeding decades.”

Jessie Fauset’s writings were largely forgotten by the time of her death in 1961, but fortunately, her work has been rediscovered and is once again studied. The following poems are included in this listing:

  • Dead Fires
  • Enigma
  • La Vie C’est la Vie
  • Noblesse Oblige
  • Oblivion
  • Words! Words!
  • Touché

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Dead Fires

If this is peace, this dead and leaden thing,
Then better far the hateful fret, the sting.
Better the wound forever seeking balm
Than this gray calm!
Is this pain’s surcease? Better far the ache,
The long-drawn dreary day, the night’s white wake,
Better the choking sigh, the sobbing breath
Than passion’s death!

Analysis of “Dead Fires”


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There is no peace with you,
Nor any rest!
Your presence is a torture to the brain.
Your words are barbed arrows to the breast,
And one but greets
To wish you sped again.
Frustrate you make desire
And action vain.
There is no peace with you.
No peace . . .
Nor any rest.
Yet in your absence
Longing springs anew,
And hopefulness besets the baffled brain.
“If only you were you and yet not you!”
If you such joy could give as you give pain!
Then what an unguent for the burning breast!
And for the harassed heart
What rapture true!
“If only you were you and yet not you!”
There is no peace with you
Nor ever any rest!

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La Vie C’est la Vie

On summer afternoons I sit
Quiescent by you in the park,
And idly watch the sunbeams gild
And tint the ash-trees’ bark.

Or else I watch the squirrels frisk
And chaffer in the grassy lane;
And all the while I mark your voice
Breaking with love and pain.

I know a woman who would give
Her chance of heaven to take my place
To see the love-light in your eyes,
The love-glow on your face!

And there’s a man whose lightest word
Can set my chilly blood afire;
Fulfilment of his least behest
Defines my life’s desire.

But he will none of me, Nor I
Of you. Nor you of her. ‘Tis said
The world is full of jests like these —
I wish that I were dead.


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Jessie Redmon Fauset

Jessie Redmon Fauset:
“Literary midwife” of the Harlem Renaissance

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Noblesse Oblige

Lolotte, who attires my hair,
Lost her lover. Lolotte weeps;
Trails her hand before her eyes;
Hangs her head and mopes and sighs,
Mutters of the pangs of hell.
Fills the circumambient air
With her plaints and her despair.
Looks at me:
“May you never know, Mam’selle,
Love’s harsh cruelty.”
Love’s dart lurks in my heart too,–
None may know the smart
Throbbing underneath my smile.
Burning, pricking all the while
That I dance and sing and spar,
Juggling words and making quips
To hide the trembling of my lips.
I must laugh
What time I moan to moon and star
To help me stand the gaff.

What a silly thing is pride!
Lolotte bares her heart.
Heedless that each runner reads
All her thoughts and all her needs.
What I hide with my soul’s life
Lolotte tells with tear and cry.
Blurs her pain with sob and sigh
Happy Lolotte, she!
I must jest while sorrow’s knife
Stabs in ecstasy.

“If I live, I shall outlive.”
Meanwhile I am barred
From expression of my pain.
Let my heart be torn in twain,
Only I may know the truth.
Happy Lolotte, blessed she
Who may tell her agony!
On me a seal is set.
Love is lost, and — bitter truth —
Pride is with me yet!


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Women writers of the Harlem Renaissance
Renaissance Women: 12 Female Writers of the Harlem Renaissance

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I hope when I am dead that I shall lie
In some deserted grave — I cannot tell you why,
But I should like to sleep in some neglected spot
Unknown to every one, by every one forgot.

There lying I should taste with my dead breath
The utter lack of life, the fullest sense of death;
And I should never hear the note of jealousy or hate,
The tribute paid by passersby to tombs of state.

To me would never penetrate the prayers and tears
That futilely bring torture to dead and dying ears;
There I should lie annihilate and my dead heart would bless
Oblivion — the shroud and envelope of happiness.

Analysis of “Oblivion”

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Words! Words!

How did it happen that we quarreled?
We two who loved each other so!
Only the moment before we were one,
Using the language that lovers know.
And then of a sudden, a word, a phrase
That struck at the heart like a poignard’s blow.
And you went berserk, and I saw red,
And love lay between us, bleeding and dead!
Dead! When we’d loved each other so!
How could it happen that we quarreled!
Think of the things we used to say!
“What does it matter, dear, what you do?
Love such as ours has to last for aye!”
—”Try me! I long to endure your test!”
—”Love, we shall always love, come what may!”
What are the words the apostle saith?
“In the power of the tongue are Life and Death!”
Think of the things we used to say!


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DEAR, when we sit in that high, placid room,
“Loving” and “doving” as all lovers do,
Laughing and leaning so close in the gloom,—

What is the change that creeps sharp over you?
Just as you raise your fine hand to my hair,
Bringing that glance of mixed wonder and rue?

“Black hair,” you murmur, “so lustrous and rare,
Beautiful too, like a raven’s smooth wing;
Surely no gold locks were ever more fair.”

Why do you say every night that same thing?
Turning your mind to some old constant theme,
Half meditating and half murmuring?

Tell me, that girl of your young manhood’s dream,
Her you loved first in that dim long ago
Had she blue eyes? Did her hair goldly gleam?

Does she come back to you softly and slow,
Stepping wraith-wise from the depths of the past?
Quickened and fired by the warmth of our glow?

There I’ve divined it! My wit holds you fast.
Nay, no excuses ; ’tis little I care.
I knew a lad in my own girlhood’s past,–
Blue eyes he had and such waving gold hair!

Analysis of Touché
(First published in Caroling Dusk1927)


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Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset

More about Jessie Redmon Fauset


4 Responses to “7 Poems by Jessie Redmon Fauset, Harlem Renaissance Author and Editor”

  1. Thank you for these, and for the entire site too! I want to be helpful by pointing out that the first photograph might be Crystal Bird Fauset.

    • Karen, you’re right! One needs to be careful with Google image search. I’ve removed it and replaced with one of the few extant photos of Jessie Redmon Fauset. Thank you for taking the time to point that out.

  2. When I first read this poem I thought it was a treatise to Writers’ Block. As I read it again I saw a relationship between a male and female. But when I read it a third time I returned to my original analysis that it was about Writer’s Block. This may not have been the writer’s inspiration in writing this poem, but it is a strong example of Ambiguity.!

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