-Angelina Weld Grimké
1880 - 1958
Angelina Weld Grimké
Angelina Weld Grimké was named after her paternal aunt, a white southerner turned abolitionist and suffragist. Her father was the product of a white father (slave owner) and a black slave with whom he lived in his widower-hood and had three sons, Archibald Grimké among them. Archibald was the second black man to graduate from Harvard Law School. He met Sarah Stanley, a white woman, in Boston and they married despite the huge opposition to such unions, even in the north, in that day. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Sarah left Archibald, initially taking her young daughter with her to her Midwestern home.
When Angelina was 7, however, she was sent back East to live with her father and had little contact with her mother thereafter. Angelina's mother committed suicide a few years later. Angelina attended school in Washington DC where her father was serving as appointed consul to the Dominican Republic, and she stayed with her aunt and uncle when he was away from the city. She graduated from Boston Normal School of Gymnastics, later a department of Wellesley College, and obtained positions teaching first physical education and later English. She continued to take courses at Harvard University where her father had obtained his degree.
Angelina had an extraordinarily close relationship with her domineering but loving father, and she nursed him in the final days before his death in 1930. After the death of her father, Angelina became somewhat of a recluse, moving to Brooklyn, New York, and did not publish for the rest of her life. She died in 1958, aged 78 years.
Angelina Weld Grimké is considered part of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's, but much of her poetry pre-dates this noted group of poets. Her first poem to gain wide notice was "Longing" in 1901, and several others emerged in the first decade of the century. She wrote several plays as well, one of which, called Rachel (1916), was the first by a black woman to be produced on stage for the general public. With an all-black cast, the play received significant acclaim at the time.
I am including Angelina as an obscure poetess in part because, though she wrote nearly 180 poems in total, only about 30 were ever published. In addition, Angelina was almost certainly lesbian or bisexual in an age when sexuality wasn't even discussed, never mind such "deviations" from the norm accepted. Much of her poetry reflects her relationship preferences in such a soft and lovely way that I wanted to include them here. Angelina's poems were primarily published in journals and magazines rather than in book format. "The Crisis" (publication of the early NAACP) and "Opportunity" were among them. Her poems have since been included in many anthologies, particularly those of the Harlem Renaissance, African-American poets and women poets.
Angelina in later years
A Winter Twilight
A silence slipping around like death,
Yet chased like a whisper, a sigh, a breath;
One group of trees, lean, naked and cold,
Inking their cress 'gainst a sky, green-gold:
One path that knows where the corn flowers were;
Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir;
And over it softly leaning down,
One star that I loved ere the fields went brown.
The Want of You
A hint of gold where the moon will be;
Through the flocking clouds just a star or two;
Leaf sounds, soft and wet and hushed;
And oh! the crying want of you.
You are like a pale, purple flower
In the blue spring dusk
You are like a yellow star
Budding and blowing
in an apricot sky
You are like the beauty
Of a voice
Remembered after death
You are like thin, white petals
Upon the white stilled hushing
of my soul.
The Eyes of My Regret
Give Me Your Eyes
Always at dusk, the same tearless experience,
The same dragging of feet up the same well-worn path
To the same well-worn rock;
The same crimson or gold dropping away of the sun
The same tints,- rose, saffron, violet, lavender, gray
Meeting, mingling, mixing mistily;
Before me the same blue black cedar rising jaggedly to a point;
Over it, the same slow unlidding of twin stars,
Two eyes, unfathomable, soul-searing,
Watching, watching, watching me;
The same two eyes that drew me forth, against my will
dusk after dusk;
The same two eyes that keep me sitting late into the
night, chin on knees
Keep me there lonely, lonely, rigid, tearless, numbly miserable-
The eyes of my Regret.
Touch me, touch me,
Like cool grass fingers,
Elusive, delicate, grass fingers.
With your shy brushings,
Touch my face-
My naked arms-
Is there nothing that is kind?
You need not fear me.
Soon I shall be too far beneath you,
For you to reach me, even
With your tiny timorous toes.
Give me your eyes
I do not ask to touch
The hands of you, the mouth of you
Soft and sweet and fragrant though they be.
No, lift your eyes to mine;
Give me but one last look
Ere I step forth forever;
E'en though within that moment's crashing space
I shall know all of life and death and heaven and hell.
There is a tree, by day,
That, at night, Has a shadow,
A hand, huge and black.
All through the dark,
Against the white man's house,
In the little wind,
The black hand plucks and plucks
At the bricks.
The bricks are the color of blood
and very small.
Is it a black hand,
Or is it a shadow?
You will come back, sometime, somehow,
But if it will be bright or black
I cannot tell; I only know
You will come back.
Does not the spring with fragrant pack
Return unto the orchard bough?
Do not the birds retrace their track?
All things return. Someday the glow
Of quick'ning dreams will pierce your lack;
And when you know I wait as now
You will come back
As a white dove, against the deep blue sky,
Skims swiftly far away on restless wings,
As the blithe barque shakes off the clinging spray
And to the gallant breeze her ensign flings,
So longs my soul to fly away to thee.
As lights the painting dove in some far land,
And at the sunset hour sleeps on her nest,
And as the barque tossed by the blust'ring gale
At last in port lies on the ocean's breast,
So longs my soul to rest always with thee.