Gwendolyn Bennett

Nine Poems by Gwendolyn Bennett


I shall hate you
Like a dart of singing steel
Shot through still air
At even-tide,
Or solemnly
As pines are sober
When they stand etched
Against the sky.
Hating you shall be a game
Played with cool hands
And slim fingers.
Your heart will yearn
For the lonely splendor
Of the pine tree
While rekindled fires
In my eyes
Shall wound you like swift arrows.
Memory will lay its hands
Upon your breast
And you will understand
My hatred.



This cool night is strange
Among midsummer days…
Far frosts are caught
In the moon’s pale light,
And sounds are distant laughter
Chilled to crystal tears.



When I am dead, carve this upon my stone:
Here lies a woman, fit root for flower and tree,
Whose living flesh, now mouldering round the bone,
Wants nothing more than this for immortality,
That in her heart, where love so long unfruited lay
A seed for grass or weed shall grow,
And push to light and air its heedless way;
That she who lies here dead may know
Through all the putrid marrow of her bones
The searing pangs of birth,
While none may know the pains nor hear the groans
Of she who lived with barrenness upon the earth.



I want to see the slim palm-trees,
Pulling at the clouds
With little pointed fingers….

I want to see lithe Negro girls,
Etched dark against the sky
While sunset lingers.

I want to hear the silent sands,
Singing to the moon
Before the Sphinx-still face….

I want to hear the chanting
Around a heathen fire
Of a strange black race.

I want to breathe the Lotus flow’r,
Sighing to the stars
With tendrils drinking at the Nile….

I want to feel the surging
Of my sad people’s soul
Hidden by a minstrel-smile.



Brushes and paints are all I have
To speak the music in my soul—
While silently there laughs at me
A copper jar beside a pale green bowl.

How strange that grass should sing—
Grass is so still a thing …
And strange the swift surprise of snow
So soft it falls and slow.


Street Lamps in Early Spring

Night wears a garment
All velvet soft, all violet blue…
And over her face she draws a veil
As shimmering fine as floating dew…
And here and there
In the black of her hair
The subtle hands of Night
Move slowly with their gem-starred light.


Train Monotony

My days are like these fields,
Bleak stretches
With now and then
Some homely thing—
Houses or trees
Or tiny crooked paths
Where leaden feet have trod….

Drab stretches of canvas,
Taut between the pegs
Of towns or cities,
So my days…
Barren tracks
Between the mounds
Of some joy or sadness.



I sailed in my dreams to the Land of Night
Where you were the dusk-eyed Queen,
And there in the pallor of moon-veiled light
The loveliest things were seen….

A slim-necked peacock sauntered there
In a garden of lavender hues,
And you were strange with your purple hair
As you sat in your amethyst chair
With your feet in your hyacinth shoes.

Oh, the moon gave a bluish light
Through the trees in the land of dreams and night.
I stood behind a bush of yellow-green
And whistled a song to the dark-haired Queen…



I will love you always—simple and trite, you say.
Words with which I shield against a rainy day.
We have sought many words, you and I,
To spear the moon, to cup the sea, to clutch the sky;
And in a dizzy labyrinthian maze of song
We labored, searching the whole night long
For some new word to tell the plain and ancient tale,
Syllables of fire, encomiums of wind and wave and hail
To tear the heart and rend the flesh. Shafts of ice and flame
To carve out what our hearts full well may label some new name.
Exhausted, panting, clinging each to each,
We cry aloud against the limits of our speech,
And I say simply, acknowledging our sheer defeat,
That love for you shall last within my heart so long as it shall beat.


Gwendolyn Bennett (July 8, 1902 - May 30, 1981) was active in the Harlem Renaissance period, writing poetry, fiction, and journalism, as well as creating visual art (painting, drawing, and working in batik). She lived in DC as a child (from 1906 to 1910), and moved back as an adult, when she taught in the Art Department at Howard University (1926-1929). Bennett never published her work in book form. However, her short fiction, poems, and essays appeared in Opportunity, The Crisis, Fire!!, and other journals, and was included in the anthologies Caroling Dusk and The New Negro. From 1926 to 1928, she was an assistant editor and columnist for Opportunity, a magazine sponsored by the National Urban League, where she published a monthly column on the theme of racial pride called "The Ebony Flute."