James Weldon Johnson

Mother Night

Volume 16:1, January 2015
Sonnet Issue

Mother Night

Eternities before the first-born day,
Or ere the first sun fledged his wings of flame,
Calm Night, the everlasting and the same,
A brooding mother over chaos lay.
And whirling suns shall blaze and then decay,
Shall run their fiery courses and then claim
The haven of the darkness whence they came;
Back to Nirvanic peace shall grope their way.

So when my feeble sun of life burns out,
And sounded is the hour for my long sleep,
I shall, full weary of the feverish light,
Welcome the darkness without fear or doubt,
And heavy-lidded, I shall softly creep
Into the quiet bosom of the Night.


James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 - June 26, 1938) lived in DC while working for the NAACP. He later worked as US Consul to Venezuela (1906-1908) and US Consul to Nicaragua (1909-1913) and Chair of Creative Literature at Fisk University. He wrote novels, poems, song lyrics, and collections of folklore. Johnson's books of poems include: To a Friend (1892), Lift Every Voice and Sing (1899), O Black and Unknown Bards (1908), Fifty Years (1917), and God's Trombones (1927). He is also the author of the fictional The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), and edited The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922) and The Book of American Negro Spirituals (1925).