Anne Spencer is an influential figure in Black Love Poetry
Anne Spencer (1882-1975) was a unique poet who wrote fine black love poetry. Her stature in American literature is still growing, but it is already clear that she transcends categorisation as merely a black love poetry writer.
Her career displayed the free, independent spirit she prided above all else, and her singlemindedness draws comparison with that other unique American poetess, Emily Dickinson.
Anne Spencer loved nature, and built a beautiful garden in her home, which for over fifty years provided a conducive environment for meeting with her circle of literati cogniscenti ranging from George Washington Carver to Martin Luther King, Jr.; from Mary McLeod Bethune to W. E. B. DuBois and from Adam Clayton Powell to Thurgood Marshall.
This garden, and her little den, containing her memorabilia is today the centre of a House and Garden Museum dedicated to her life and works. It also provided her the necessary inspiration for the poems that would establish and secure her reputation as a thinker and writer of national significance.
Anne Spencer wrote fine black love poetry and is often classified as a Harlem Renaissance poet, but truth is she had been writing poetry for many years before the famous rebirth movement that started in th 1920's when she was already in her forties. While it is true she had a wide acquaintance with civil rights leaders, literary dignitaries, lecturers, and other prominent citizens, black and white, she was not particularly a pleader of causes. Though she rarely commented on race issues in her poetry, her works still clearly expressed her contempt for racial prejudice.
Her poetic style, including her black love poetry reveals her marked individuality and affinity for nature imagery. She is more of a neo romantic who displayed the conventions of British and American romantics. Thus it is no surprise that she was an admirer of the English poet Robert Browning.
Anne's poems are filled with themes of friendship, human relations, personal rights of women, and contempt for racial discrimination. Her settings, moods, and themes came directly from her everyday life. She masterfully created metaphors for human life by using images in her garden, such as birds, flowers, and insects. Many of her black love poetry show dramatic compression and sharpness of image and phrase which exhibit form and colour and a rich and varied vocabulary.
Let us start off her black love poetry with 'The Wife-Woman' followed by 'Lines to a Nasturtium'
Maker-of-Sevens in the scheme of things
From earth to star;
Thy cycle holds whatever is fate, and
Over the border the bar.
Though rank and fierce the mariner
Sailing the seven seas,
He prays as he holds his glass to his eyes,
Coaxing the Pleiades.
I cannot love them; and I feel your glad,
Chiding from the grave,
That my all was only worth at all, what
Joy to you it gave,
These seven links the Law compelled
For the human chain--
I cannot love them; and you, oh,
Seven-fold months in Flanders slain!
A jungle there, a cave here, bred six
And a million years.
Sure and strong, mate for mate, such
Love as culture fears;
I gave you clear the oil and wine;
You saved me your hob and hearth--
See how even life may be ere the
Sickle comes and leaves a swath.
But I can wait the seven of moons,
Or years I spare,
Hoarding the heart's plenty, nor spend
A drop, nor share--
So long hilt outlives a smile and a silken gown;
Then gaily reach up from my shroud,
And you, glory-clad, reach down..
Lines to a Nasturtium
A lover muses
Flame-flower, Day-torch, Mauna Loa,
I saw a daring bee, today, pause, and soar,
Into your flaming heart;
Then did I hear crisp crinkled laughter
As the furies after tore him apart?
A bird, next, small and humming,
Looked into your startled depths and fled....
Surely, some dread sight, and dafter
Than human eyes as mine can see,
Set the stricken air waves drumming
In his flight.
Day-torch, Flame-flower, cool-hot Beauty,
I cannot see, I cannot hear your fluty
Voice lure your loving swain,
But I know one other to whom you are in beauty
Born in vain;
Hair like the setting sun,
Her eyes a rising star,
Motions gracious as reeds by Babylon, bar
All your competing;
Hands like, how like, brown lilies sweet,
Cloth of gold were fair enough to touch her feet . . . .
Ah, how the senses flood at my repeating,
As once in her fire-lit heart I felt the furies
'Lines..' illustrates how much a great deal of Anne Spencer's black love poetry draws from the romantics. We can also see her copious use of imagery from nature and the garden, which is a great feature of her poetry.
Here are two more examples of great black love poetry from Anne Spencer:
For Jim, Easter Eve
If ever a garden was Gethsemane,
old tombs set high against
the crumpled olive tree--and lichen,
this, my garden, has been to me.
For such as I none other is so sweet:
Lacking old tombs, here stands my grief,
and certainly its ancient tree.
Peace is here and in every season
a quiet beauty.
The sky falling about me
evenly to the compass . . .
What is sorrow but tenderness now
in this earth-close frame of land and sky
falling constantly into horizons
of east and west, north and south;
what is pain but happiness here
amid these green and wordless patterns,--
indefinite texture of blade and leaf:
Beauty of an old, old tree,
last comfort in Gethsemane.
Life-Long, Poor Browning
Life-long, poor Browning never knew Virginia,
Or he'd not grieved in Florence for April sallies
Back to English gardens after Euclid's linear:
Clipt yews, Pomander Walks, and preached alleys;
Primroses, prim indeed, in quiet ordered hedges,
Waterways, soberly, sedately enchanneled,
No thin riotous blade even among the sedges,
All the wild country-side tamely impaneled . . .
Dead, now, dear Browning, lives on in heaven,--
(Heaven's Virginia when the year's at its Spring)
He's haunting the byways of wine-aired leaven
And throating the notes of the wildings on wing;
Here canopied reaches of dogwood and hazel,
Beech tree and redbud fine-laced in vines,
Fleet clapping rills by lush fern and basil,
Drain blue hills to lowlands scented with pines . . .
Think you he meets in this tender green sweetness
Shade that was Elizabeth . . . immortal completeness!
This example of black love poetry is a very touching tribute to Anne Spencer's favourite poet, the English romantic, Robert Browning
'Think you he meets in this tender green sweetness/ Shade that was Elizabeth . . . immortal completeness!'...
These concluding lines show us how much she had attained the art of writing cogent compressed lines, very much like Browning himself.
It is generally accepted that achieving this level of economy of phrase and compression of thought results from numerous revisions of the same poem, which any aspiring poet will readily confirm.
Here is another beautiful example of black love poetry illustrating how Spencer's economy of phrasing and compression of thoughts produces outstanding poetry:
"Once the world was young
For I was twenty and very old
And you and I knew all the answers
What the day was, how the hours would turn
One dial was there to see
Now the world is old and I am still young
For the young know nothing, nothing."
Due to the circumstances surrounding her death in 1975 at the age of 93, quite a lot of the poetry she wrote in her later years were lost, though some of these have recently been discovered.
These recent discoveries have served to augment her stature as a great figure in American Literature.
Let us bring an end to her page on black love poetry with two last examples, the passionate 'Black Man o' Mine' and 'Translation':
Black Man o' Mine
Black Man o' Mine,
If the world were your lover,
It could not give what I give to you,
Or the ocean would yield and you could discover
Its ages of treasure to hold and to view;
Could it fill half the measure of my heart's portion. . .
Just for you living, just for you giving all this devotion,
Black man o' mine.
Black man o' mine,
As I hush and caress you, close to my heart,
All your loving is just your needing what is true;
Then with your passing dark comes my darkest part,
For living without your love is only rue.
Black man o' mine, if the world were your lover
It could not give what I give to you.
WE trekked into a far country,
My friend and I.
Our deeper content was never spoken,
But each knew all the other said.
He told me how calm his soul was laid
By the lack of anvil and strife.
"The wooing kestrel," I said, "mutes his
To please the harmony of this sweet silence."
And when at the day's end
We laid tired bodies 'gainst
The loose warm sands,
And the air fleeced its particles for a coverlet;
When star after star came out
To guard their lovers in oblivion --
My soul so leapt that my evening prayer
Stole my morning song!
Black love poetry from Nikki Giovanni is next:
Nikki Giovanni 1
Famous Black Love Poetry 1
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