Black History Feature: Robert Hayden’s The Ballad of Nat Turner

February 21, 2015

Hello again….Today’s Black History Feature is The Ballad of Nat Turner by Robert Hayden. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, be blessed.

image courtesy of bahaiteachings.org


The Ballad of Nat Turner

BY ROBERT HAYDEN

Then fled, O brethren, the wicked juba
       and wandered wandered far
from curfew joys in the Dismal’s night.
       Fool of St. Elmo’s fire
In scary night I wandered, praying,
       Lord God my harshener,
speak to me now or let me die;
       speak, Lord, to this mourner.
And came at length to livid trees
       where Ibo warriors
hung shadowless, turning in wind
       that moaned like Africa,
Their belltongue bodies dead, their eyes
       alive with the anger deep
in my own heart. Is this the sign,
       the sign forepromised me?
The spirits vanished. Afraid and lonely
       I wandered on in blackness.
Speak to me now or let me die.
       Die, whispered the blackness.
And wild things gasped and scuffled in
       the night; seething shapes
of evil frolicked upon the air.
       I reeled with fear, I prayed.
Sudden brightness clove the preying
       darkness, brightness that was
itself a golden darkness, brightness
       so bright that it was darkness.
And there were angels, their faces hidden
       from me, angels at war
with one another, angels in dazzling
       combat. And oh the splendor,
The fearful splendor of that warring.
       Hide me, I cried to rock and bramble.
Hide me, the rock, the bramble cried. . . .
       How tell you of that holy battle?
The shock of wing on wing and sword
       on sword was the tumult of
a taken city burning. I cannot
       say how long they strove,
For the wheel in a turning wheel which is time
       in eternity had ceased
its whirling, and owl and moccasin,
       panther and nameless beast
And I were held like creatures fixed
       in flaming, in fiery amber.
But I saw I saw oh many of
       those mighty beings waver,
Waver and fall, go streaking down
       into swamp water, and the water
hissed and steamed and bubbled and locked
       shuddering shuddering over
The fallen and soon was motionless.
       Then that massive light
began a-folding slowly in
       upon itself, and I
Beheld the conqueror faces and, lo,
       they were like mine, I saw
they were like mine and in joy and terror
       wept, praising praising Jehovah.
Oh praised my honer, harshener
       till a sleep came over me,
a sleep heavy as death. And when
       I awoke at last free
And purified, I rose and prayed
       and returned after a time
to the blazing fields, to the humbleness.
       And bided my time.

Robert Hayden, “The Ballad of Nat Turner” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1962, 1966 by Robert Hayden. Copyright © 1985 by Emma Hayden. Reprinted with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Source: Collected Poems (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1985)

 

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