James Weldon Johnson

De Amerikaanse dichter, schrijver en diplomaat James Weldon Johnson werd geboren op 17 juni 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida Vooral door zijn moeder werd Johnson aangemoedigd om de Engelse literatuur en de Europese muzikale traditie te bestuderen. Hij studeerde aan Atlanta University met de bedoeling dat het onderwijs dat hij daar kreeg zou worden gebruikt om de belangen van de zwarte mensen te bevorderen. Na zijn afstuderen kreeg hij een baan als schoolhoofd in Jacksonville. In 1900 schreef hij het ​​nummer “Til Ev’ry Voice and Sing” ter gelegenheid van de verjaardag van Lincoln. Het lied dat immens populair werd in de zwarte gemeenschap werd bekend als de “Negro National Anthem.” Johnson verhuisde naar New York in 1901 om samen te werken met zijn broer Rosamond, een componist, en kreeg een beetje succes als songwriter voor Broadway, maar koos er in 1906 uiteindelijk voor om Amerikaanse consul in Venezuela te worden. In dienst van het corps diplomatique publiceerde Johnson gedichten in Century Magazine en in The Independent. In 1912, publiceerde Johnsononder een pseudoniem “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man”, het verhaal van een muzikant die zijn zwarte roots verwerpt voor een leven van materieel comfort in de witte wereld. De roman onderzoekt de kwestie van raciale identiteit in de twintigste eeuw, een gemeenschappelijk thema bij de schrijvers van de Harlem Renaissance.



See! There he stands; not brave, but with an air
Of sullen stupor. Mark him well! Is he
Not more like brute than man? Look in his eye!
No light is there; none, save the glint that shines
In the now glaring, and now shifting orbs
Of some wild animal caught in the hunter’s trap.

How came this beast in human shape and form?
Speak, man! – We call you man because you wear
His shape-How are you thus? Are you not from
That docile, child-like, tender-hearted race
Which we have known three centuries? Not from
That more than faithful race which through three wars
Fed our dear wives and nursed our helpless babes
Without a single breach of trust? Speak out!
I am, and am not.

Then who, why are you?

I am a thing not new, I am as old
As human nature. I am that which lurks,
Ready to spring whenever a bar is loosed;
The ancient trait which fights incessantly
Against restraint, balks at the upward climb;
The weight forever seeking to obey
The law of downward pull; and I am more:
The bitter fruit am I of planted seed;
The resultant, the inevitable end
Of evil forces and the powers of wrong.

Lessons in degradation, taught and learned,
The memories of cruel sights and deeds,
The pent-up bitterness, the unspent hate
Filtered through fifteen generations have
Sprung up and found in me sporadic life.
In me the muttered curse of dying men,
On me the stain of conquered women, and
Consuming me the fearful fires of lust,
Lit long ago, by other hands than mine.
In me the down-crushed spirit, the hurled-back prayers
Of wretches now long dead, – their dire bequests, –
In me the echo of the stifled cry
Of children for their bartered mothers’ breasts.

I claim no race, no race claims me; I am
No more than human dregs; degenerate;
The monstrous offspring of the monster, Sin;
I am-just what I am . . . . The race that fed
Your wives and nursed your babes would do the same
To-day, but I –
Enough, the brute must die!
Quick! Chain him to that oak! It will resist
The fire much longer than this slender pine.
Now bring the fuel! Pile it ‘round him! Wait!
Pile not so fast or high! or we shall lose
The agony and terror in his face.
And now the torch! Good fuel that! the flames
Already leap head-high. Ha! hear that shriek!
And there’s another! Wilder than the first.
Fetch water! Water! Pour a little on
The fire, lest it should burn too fast. Hold so!
Now let it slowly blaze again. See there!
He squirms! He groans! His eyes bulge wildly out,
Searching around in vain appeal for help!
Another shriek, the last! Watch how the flesh
Grows crisp and hangs till, turned to ash, it sifts
Down through the coils of chain that hold erect
The ghastly frame against the bark-scorched tree.

Stop! to each man no more than one man’s share.
You take that bone, and you this tooth; the chain –
Let us divide its links; this skull, of course,
In fair division, to the leader comes.

And now his fiendish crime has been avenged;
Let us back to our wives and children. – Say,
What did he mean by those last muttered words,
‘Brothers in spirit, brothers in deed are we’?

James Weldon Johnson (17 juni 1871 – 26 juni 1938)

Portret door Laura Wheeler Waring, 1943

Dolce far niente 12 (Bij Vaderdag)


Dolce far niente 12 (Bij Vaderdag)


Kijken hoe vader werkt, Albert Neuhuys (10 juni 1844 –6 februari 1914)


My Father

The memory of my father is wrapped up in
white paper, like sandwiches taken for a day at work.

Just as a magician takes towers and rabbits
out of his hat, he drew love from his small body,

and the rivers of his hands
overflowed with good deeds.


Yehuda Amichai (3 mei 1924 – 22 September 2000)

Doorgaan met het lezen van “Dolce far niente 12 (Bij Vaderdag)”