jueves, 6 de octubre de 2016


Melvin B. Tolson

Melvin B. Tolson. Poeta, profesor y ensayista americano. Es uno de los más importantes y distinguidos poetas de los Estados Unidos.

Nació en Moberly, Missouri, el 6 de febrero de 1898, aunque le gustaba decir a la gente que nació en el 1900, lo que está claro, sin embargo, es que Tolson vivió más tiempo de forma continua en Oklahoma que en ningún otro lugar durante todo su vida, desde 1947 hasta su muerte.

Etapas importantes de su vida

En 1922 se casó con Ruth Southall, y en 1924 se graduó con honores en la Universidad de Lincoln. Desde 1924 hasta 1947 fue profesor en Wiley College en Marshall, Texas, ausentándose por un año (1930-1931) para seguir trabajando en un título de maestría de la Universidad de Columbia. Su proyecto de tesis se centró en entrevistar a los miembros del Renacimiento de Harlem. Desde 1947 en adelante fue profesor en la Universidad de Langston en Oklahoma (donde también sirvió tres términos, desde 1954 hasta 1960, como alcalde).

Comienzos en la poesía

Desde su primer año en Nueva York surgió su primera poesía, un grupo de narraciones cortas, ligeramente aliado con el verso libre de la Antología de Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River. Algunos de los poemas de ese manuscrito se publicaron desde 1937 hasta 1939, pero el trabajo conjunto esperaría de impresión hasta finales de 1970 cuando Robert M. Farnsworth se presenta como una galería de retratos de Harlem. Su obra más destacada es una embriagadora mezcla de jerga colorido y alusiones intelectuales, con una superposición de alta de la ciudad / centro de la ciudad que apenas se mantienen unidos por el sonido encantador de las palabras y una sintaxis que rasga a lo largo a una velocidad impresionante.


Murió a la edad de 67 años, el 29 de agosto de 1966, en Dallas, Texas, unos días después de someterse a cirugía para el cáncer.

Obras destacadas

Encuentro con los Estados Unidos (1944)
Libreto de la República de Liberia (1953)
Harlem Galería (1965)

Méritos a su labor

En 1947, fue nombrado Poeta Laureado de la nación africana de Liberia, para la que escribió: “el libreto”, y más tarde obtuvo el premio a la poesía de la Academia Americana de las Artes y las Letras en 1965. Se caracterizó por ser uno de los primeros poetas afro americanos. En un diario que escribiría elocuentemente manifiesta:

"La poesía es el arte de complicar".

Su trabajo no sólo busca complicar las opiniones de una segregación de América hacia el hombre negro, sino también para cuestionar la versión del hombre negro de sí mismo. Quería abrir la experiencia del negro llamando a mostrar su complejidad inefable, por lo que su trabajo tiene una inclinación ética épica y profunda. Sus papeles se encuentran ahora en la Biblioteca del Congreso.

Andante Sostenuto

Nos dicen que olvidemos
El Golgota que pisamos
Nosotros los que azotan con odio
Con un precio por nuestras cabezas.

Aquellos que nos han puesto grilletes
nos exigen una canción
Aquellos que nos han destruido
nos ofrecen justificar sus errores.

Nos dicen que olvidemos
que desdeñan la democracia.
Nos dicen que olvidemos
que queman el Acta de Derechos.

Por 300 años hemos sido esclavos,
Aun los somos, aun sufrimos:
a pesar de que la carne y los huesos se rebelan
!Nos dicen que olvidemos!.

Oh, ¿cómo podemos olvidar
que nos niegan nuestros derechos humanos?
Oh, ¿cómo podemos olvidar
que han crucificado nuestra humanidad?.

Cuando se profana la justicia
y el ruego solo consigue maldiciones.
Cuando las puertas de la libertad son bloqueadas
Oh, ¿cómo podemos olvidar.

Andante Sostenuto

They tell us to forget
The Golgotha we tread… 
We who are scourged with hate, 
A price upon our head.

They who have shackled us 
Require of us a song, 
They who have wasted us
Bid us condone the wrong.

They tell us to forget 
Democracy is spurned. 
They tell us to forget 
The Bill of Rights is burned. 

Three hundred years we slaved, 
We slave and suffer yet: 
Though flesh and bone rebel, 
They tell us to forget! 

Oh, how can we forget 
Our human rights denied? 
Oh, how can we forget 
Our manhood crucified? 

When Justice is profaned 
And plea with curse is met, 
When Freedom’s gates are barred, 
Oh, how can we forget?

Abraham Lincoln of Rock Spring Farm 


Along the Wilderness Road, through Cumberland Gap,
The black ox hours limped toward Sunday’s sun,
Across a buff clay belt with scrawls of stone,
Where bird and beast quailed in the bosom brush
From February’s fang and claw; the stars,
Blue white, like sheer icicles, spired aglow
As if the three wise men barged in the East
Or priests in sackcloth balked the Scourge of God.

Foursquare by the rite of arm and heart and law,
The scrubby log cabin dared the compass points
Of Rock Spring farm, man’s world, God’s universe,
The babel of the circumstance and era.
The frozen socket of its window stared
Beyond the spayed crabapple trees, to where
The skulls of hills, the skeletons of barrens,
Lay quiet as time without the watch’s tick.

Not knowing muck and star would vie for him,
The man Tom sank upon ax-split stool,
Hands fisted, feet set wide to brace the spirit,
Big shoulders shoved, dark hazel eyes glazed by
Grotesqueries of flame that yawled and danced
Up, up, the stick-clay chimney. While fire imps combed
The black and bristling hair, the acids of thoughts
Made of the orby face an etching-plate.


Near pyrotechnic logs, the purling kettle,
Aunt Peggy puffed her pipe on God’s rich time:
A granny at a childbed on the border,
Where head and backbone answered the tomahawk
Her wise old eyes had seen a hundred Nancys
In travail tread the dark winepress alone;
Her wise old hands had plucked a stubborn breed
Into the outer world of pitch and toss.

The cabin that her myth and mission entered
Became a castle in which Aunt Peggy throned
A dynasty of grunts and nods and glances.
The nest, the barn, the hovel had schooled her in
The ABC of motherhood, and somehow
She’d lost her ego in the commonweal:
She sensed so accurately a coming child
That rakes dubbed her the St. Bernard of Sex!

And now her keyhole look explored Tom Lincoln
Beneath the patched homespun, the hue and cry
Of malice, until she touched his loneliness,
The taproot that his fiber gave no tongue.
Then, lulling the wife, troubled in flesh and mind,
She eased the sack quilts higher and mused the while:
There’s but one way of coming into the world,
And seven times seventy ways of leaving it!


The woman Nancy, like a voyager sucked
Into the sea’s whale belly by a wreck,
Buoyed to the surface air of consciousness
And clutched the solace of her corn-husk bed.
Her dark face, sharped in forehead, cheekbone, chin,
Cuddled in dark brown hair; her eyes waxed grayer
With wonder of the interlude: her beauty
And courage choked Aunt Peggy’s hyperbole!

Out of the fog of pain, the bog of bygones,
The bag of cabin cant and tavern tattle,
She picked the squares to piece tomorrow’s quilt:
She puzzled now, as then, about her father
Who let wild Lucy Hanks bundle and carry
Flesh of his flesh beyond the Cumberland Gap;
A strange roof is no roof when imps of fear
Pilfer the fatherless in blossom time.

Year in, year out, the daughter tinkered with
The riddle of her birth; the mother chided
The woman Nancy as she had the child,
“Hush thee, hush thee, thy father’s a gentleman.”
The butt of bawd, grand jury, Sunday bonnet,
Lucy, driven, taught her daughter the Word,
And Nancy, driven, taught her son the Word,
And Abraham, driven, taught his people the Word!


The man Tom bit his fingernails, then rammed
His pockets with the hector hands that gave
Raw timber the shape of cabinet and coffin,
And in his lame speech said: “Aunt Peggy, listen,
Now that our Nancy’s time is come, I’m haunted
By my own nothingness. Why breed nobodies?”
He tapped the dirt floor with the iron-capped boot
That aided fist and skull in border fights.

Aunt Peggy counseled: “Tom, you say the say
Poor Joseph probably said in that low stable
Ere Jesus came into this mishmash world.”
She paused, then boxed the ears of cynicism:
“It’s true, down in the barnyard, blood speaks loud,
Among the hogs, the chickens, the cows, the horses;
But, when it comes to Man, who knows, who knows
What greatness feeds down in the lowliest mother?”

The man Tom turned and spat: his naked surmise
Ranged out and out. Aunt Peggy’s innermost said:
“Your father Abraham, bred like Daniel Boone,
Conquered a land with gun and ax and plow,
Baptized it in his blood! I say, I’ve said,
What’s in a baby is God Almighty’s business;
How the elders wring it out is worry enough!
The best, the worst—it’s all, all human nature.”


The tavern, Tom remembered, the New Year’s Eve,
The clubfoot scholar bagged in Old World clothes,
With arrowy eyes and a hoary mushroom beard.
An Oxford don, he hymned the Bastille’s fall
In spite of the hair-hung sword; his betters set
Him free to hail new truths in new lands, where
He seined with slave and master, knave and priest,
And out of all fished up the rights of man:

“As Citizen Lincoln asks, ‘What’s human nature?’
His full mug says a clear mind puts the question
Which ties the fogey scholar in a knot!
My new idea fed to his new baby
Would fetch the New World and the New Year peace!
The sum of anything unriddles the riddle:
The child whose wet nurse is the mother-of-all
Grows like a pine unmarked by rock or wind.

“To make a New World and a New Year, Plato
And Jesus begged the boon of little children!
Now Citizen Lincoln asks, ‘What’s human nature?’
It’s what we elders have: no baby has it.
It’s what our good and bad graft on the neutral.
It’s what our rulers feed the boy and girl.
It’s what society garbs nature in.
It’s a misnomer: call it human nurture!”


Aunt Peggy hovered closer, with flawless rites
Grown lyrical from habit: muffled pain sounds
Dragged from the bed of cleated poles; she hawed
Tom Lincoln, as one turns a nag aside,
Then swooped her way, even as a setting hen
Carves a dictatorship from yard to nest.
And Tom again was squeezed into a cell
Whose inmates were the ghosts of unsuccess.

Later his memories climbed a gala peak,
His Nancy’s infare that ran riotous:
The bear meat, venison, wild turkey, duck,
The maple sugar hanging for the whiskey,
The red ham, gourds of syrup, bowls of honey,
The wood coal pit with brown and juicy sheep,
The guzzling, fiddling, guttling, monkeyshining:
A continent sprawled between that day and this!

A havenot on the frontier is no havenot;
A Crusoe without Friday has no conscience:
Yet Tom’s grub living gnawed him like the teeth
Of slavery, land titles, melancholy.
He, like his forebears, visioned a Promised Land
And tidied ways and means to fly the barrens
That doomed the flesh to peck, to patch, to pinch,
And wrung the soul of joy and beauty dry.


The black ox hours limped by, and day crawled after.
White prongs of ice, like dinosaur fangs, gleamed in
The cavernous mouth of Rock Spring; snowbirds shivered
And chirped rebellion; a cow with jags and gaps
Chewed emptily; hogs squealed in hunger fits;
And scrags of dogs huddled against the chimney,
Which shoveled smoke dust into the throats and noses
Of ragged winds kicking up snow in the desert.

Nancy lay white, serene, like virgin milk
After the udder’s fury in the pail.
Beneath the sack quilts and the bearskin robe,
In yellow petticoat and linsey shirt,
The baby snuggled at her breast and gurgled—
An anonymity of soft red wrinkles.
Aunt Peggy, hovering, grinned, “He’s Sabbath-born.
Remember …Sunday—it’s red-letter day!”

Like ax and helve, like scythe and snath, the bond
Held Tom and Nancy; she smiled at his halt smile,
His titan’s muss in picking up the baby.
Tom frowned and spat, then gulped, “He’s legs! All legs!”
Aunt Peggy beamed, “Long legs can eat up miles.”
Tom gloomed, “The hands—look at the axman’s hands!”
And Nancy mused, “The Hankses’ dream, the Lincolns’,
Needs such a man to hew and blaze the way.”

The Birth of John Henry 

The night John Henry is born an ax 
            of lightning splits the sky, 
and a hammer of thunder pounds the earth, 
      and the eagles and panthers cry! 

      John Henry—he says to his Ma and Pa: 
            “Get a gallon of barleycorn. 
      I want to start right, like a he-man child, 
            the night that I am born!” 

Says:   “I want some ham hocks, ribs, and jowls, 
            a pot of cabbage and greens; 
      some hoecackes, jam, and buttermilk, 
            a platter of pork and beans!” 

      John Henry’s Ma—she wrings her hands, 
            and his Pa—he scratches his head. 
      John Henry—he curses in giraffe-tall words, 
            flops over, and kicks down the bed. 

      He’s burning mad, like a bear on fire— 
            so he tears to the riverside. 
As he stoops to drink, Old Man River gets scared 
            and runs upstream to hide! 

    Some say he was born in Georgia—O Lord! 
            Some say in Alabam. 
But it’s writ on the rock at the Big Bend Tunnel: 
            “Lousyana was my home.   So scram!” 


Doubt not
the artist and his age
(though bald as the pilled head of garlic),
married or divorced
and even vying downstage,
are both aware
that God or Caesar is the handle
to the camel’s hair.

Ye weeping monkeys of the Critics’ Circus
(colorless as malic acid in a Black Hamburg grape),
what profit it to argue at the wake
(a hurrah’s nest of food and wine
with Auld Lang Syne
to cheer the dead),
if the artist wrought
(contrary to what the black sanders said)
for Ars’,
the Cathedra’s, or the Agora’s sake?
No critic a Gran Galeoto
between the Art-lover and the work of art,
the world-self of the make-
believe becomes the swimming pool of a class,
the balsam apple
of the soul and by the soul and for the soul,
or silvered Scarahaeus glass
in which Necessity’s figuranti of innocence and guilt
mirror themselves as they pass.

If brass,
in the name
of Id or Sinai or Helicon, wakes up the trumpet,
is it to blame?

the moment’s mistone
and the milieu’s groan
sharp an unbearable ache
in the f of the age’s bone,
this pain is only the ghost of the pain
the artist endures,
—like Everyman—

The artist
a zinnia
first frost
blackens with a cloven hoof;
an eyeglass
—in the eye of a dusty wind—
to study the crosses and tangles in warp and woof;
an evergreen cherry
parasitic upon a winter sun;
a paltry thing with varicose veins
when the twelve fatigues are done.

Under the Lesbian rule of the seeress Nix,
blood and black bile
in the second of a bestiary-goat’s caprice,
the artist’s undivorceable spouse
a Delilah of Délice
a Xanthippe bereft
of sonnets from the Portuguese.

In Chronos Park
the Ars-powered Ferris wheel revolves
through golden age and dark
as historied isms rise and fall
and the purple of the doctor’s robe
(ephemeral as the flesh color of the fame flower)
is translated into the coffin’s pall.

The St. John’s agony
of the artist
in his gethsemane
without a St. John’s fire—
the Vedic god of the snaky noose discovers;
his far far cry,
like the noise of block tin,
crackles the sky:
“Wayfaring man
unneighbored by
a wayfaring tree
(though one may rue
this bark of the Moreton Bay laurel),
it is true
a something trans-Brow or cis-Brow
—or both—
wills one to the wings of the eagle,
or to the teats of the sow.
Yet, no lip need sneer to the beard of an ape of God,
‘Thou thing of no bowels, thou!’
So, I say as the Sire
who chastens and rewards,
‘Let thy blue eyes
resist white stars of red desire.’”

Like the shape of Africa,
the raison d’étre of Art is a question mark:
without the true flight of the bat,
it is a hanker in the dark.
Not as face answers face in water,
but as windows answer each other,
one viewer,
lyrical as Hafiz in his cups,
discovers a lark;
his companion,
flat as an open Gladstone bag,
spies out an ark.

The blow of a fist on the nape,
this question came from a Dog,
“What color can escape
the fluky flues in the cosmic flux?”
Perhaps the high-C answer lies
in the wreck the sea sucks
back into her bowels. Let
the Say be said:
“In Philae the color is blue;
in Deir-el-Baheri, red;
in Abydos, yellow—
and these are by the ravens fed.”

is not barrel copper easily separated
from the matrix;
it is not fresh tissues
—for microscopic study—
one may fix;
unique as the white tiger’s
pink paws and blue eyes,
leaves her lover as a Komitas
deciphering intricate Armenian neums,
with a wild surmise.

At once the ebony of his face
became moodless—bare
as the marked-off space
between the feathered areas of a cock;
then, his
spoon-shape straightened.
His glance
as sharp as a lance-
olate leaf, he said:
“It matters not a tinker’s dam
on the hither or thither side of the Acheron
how many rivers you cross
if you fail to cross the Rubicon!”

He was robbed and murdered in his flat,
and the only witness was a Hamletian rat.
But out of Black Bourgeoise came—
for John Laugart—
a bottle of Schiedam gin
and Charon’s grin
and infamy, 
the Siamese twin
of fame.

The Dictionary of the Wolf 

“We all declare for liberty,” Lincoln said.
“We use the word and mean all sorts of things:
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.
Rifle the basket that thy neighbor brings.”

The grizzled axman squinted at Honest Abe,
The six feet four of him, gaunt, sad of face,
The hands to split a log or cradle a babe,
The cracked palm hat, the homespun of his race.

“The wolf tears at the sheep’s throat: and the sheep
Extols the shepherd for cudgeling tyranny;
The wolf, convulsed with indignation deep,
Accuses the shepherd of murdering liberty.

“But the dictionary of the wolf is writ
In words the rats of time chew bit by bit.”


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