Poem #44: From the Dark Tower by Countee Cullen

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes
Book cover to African American Poetry - An Anthology, 1773-1927, Dover Edition.

Title: From the Dark Tower

Countee Cullen

Source:  African-American Poetry: An Anthology, 1773-1927. Dover Thrift Editions. Ed. Joan R. Sherman. 1997. ISBN:  978-0-486-29604-3.

Link: You can find this poem here.


We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting fruit,
Not always countenance, abject and mute,
That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap;
Not everlastingly while others sleep
Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute,
Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made to eternally weep.

The night whose sable breast relieves the stark,
White stars is no less lovely being dark,
And there are buds that cannot bloom at all
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall;
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds,
And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds.


I read this over a few times (including aloud) to appreciate it more clearly. Something that often happens to me (and I imagine others) is that I get lost in the lines and sometimes lose the train of thought.  And that's one of the hard parts about poetry.  You have the line, the sentence, and the stanza and sometimes, they are all working to communicate the poem's idea(s).  So it can take some time to piece it together from line to sentence to stanza to poem as a whole.

The poem's sense of under-appreciation and inability for others to see the innate beauty of the poem's "we".  In many ways, it's clear that the "we" are Black people given the author, the place it's published in and the repeated references and contrasts of light and dark.  Though the poem could still be read without any knowledge of that context and still value the sense that the "we" are a marginalized group speaking to their dignity and value in a world that doesn't realize or recognize it.  

The first line of the second stanza resonates with me as I find the concept of how interdependence or co-creation, even when there is tension to be fascinating.  The stars can only shine (or look special) if the background has been appropriate to bring highlight them.  In similar fashion, white culture and business could only thrive in the ways that it did because in the background, a system of Black exploitation exists to hold it up. 

Those are my thoughts.  What did you find interesting about the poem?

About the reflections
This poem is part of a 365 day challenge project that focuses on a poem a day.  Similar projects have included short shorties and photo reflections. Part of the intention of this year's project is to develop a better appreciation and means of reflecting on poetry, something that has never been a strong suit for me.  These reflections therefore do not represent a definitive assessment of the work by me. They are merely an opportunity for me to have a public conversation about what they mean in order to help myself better understand them and mayhaps have a conversation with readers for further insight.  

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