Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Countée

Countée CullenCountée Cullen was born today in 1903, probably in New York City. Abandoned by his parents, he was at first raised by his grandmother but then adopted by a Methodist minister. He was a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance, but unlike others his upbringing had been primarily in a white community and his poetry lacks much of the personal experience or popular black themes other members of that movement show.

Though this is not to say there isn't any... I don't imagine any black man in America at that time could really escape. But here's one of those that lack, though only that.

That Bright Chimeric Beast

That bright chimeric beast
Conceived yet never born,
Save in the poet's breast,
The white-flanked unicorn,
Never may be shaken
From his solitude;
Never may be taken
In any earthly wood.

That bird forever feathered,
Of its new self the sire,
After aeons weathered,
Reincarnate by fire,
Falcon may not nor eagle
Swerve from his eyrie,
Nor any crumb inveigle
Down to an earthly tree.

That fish of the dread regime
Invented to become
The fable and the dream
Of the Lord's aquarium,
Leviathan, the jointed
Harpoon was never wrought
By which the Lord's anointed
Will suffer to be caught.

Bird of the deathless breast,
Fish of the frantic fin,
That bright chimeric beast
Flashing the argent skin,--
If beasts like these you'd harry,
Plumb then the poet's dream;
Make it your aviary,
Make it your wood and stream.

There only shall the swish
Be heard of the regal fish;
There like a golden knife
Dart the feet of the unicorn,
And there, death brought to life,
The dead bird be reborn.

(info here and poems here)

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