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About this poet

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was born on September 24, 1825, in Baltimore, Maryland, and raised by her aunt and uncle. A poet, novelist, and journalist, she was also a prominent abolitionist and temperance and women's suffrage activist. She traveled to multiple states to lecture and give speeches about these issues. 

In May 1866, she delivered the speech, "We Are All Bound Up Together" at the National Women's Rights Convention in New York, sharing the stage with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. "You white women speak here of rights," she said. "I speak of wrongs."

With Margaret Murray Washington, the wife of Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, and other prominent African American women, she helped found the National Association of Colored Women and served as its vice president in 1897.

She authored numerous books, including the poetry collections Forest Leaves (1845) and Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854), the novel Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted (1892), and several short stories. Before marrying Fenton Harper, a widower, with whom she had a daughter, she worked at Union Seminary in Ohio, where she taught sewing.

She died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 22, 1911. 

Learning to Read

Very soon the Yankee teachers 
    Came down and set up school; 
But, oh! how the Rebs did hate it,— 
    It was agin' their rule. 

Our masters always tried to hide 
    Book learning from our eyes; 
Knowledge didn't agree with slavery—
    'Twould make us all too wise. 

But some of us would try to steal 
    A little from the book, 
And put the words together, 
    And learn by hook or crook. 

I remember Uncle Caldwell, 
    Who took pot-liquor fat 
And greased the pages of his book, 
    And hid it in his hat. 

And had his master ever seen 
    The leaves up on his head, 
He'd have thought them greasy papers, 
    But nothing to be read. 

And there was Mr. Turner's Ben, 
    Who heard the children spell, 
And picked the words right up by heart, 
    And learned to read 'em well. 

Well, the Northern folks kept sending 
    The Yankee teachers down; 
And they stood right up and helped us, 
    Though Rebs did sneer and frown. 

And, I longed to read my Bible, 
    For precious words it said; 
But when I begun to learn it, 
    Folks just shook their heads, 

And said there is no use trying, 
    Oh! Chloe, you're too late; 
But as I was rising sixty, 
    I had no time to wait. 

So I got a pair of glasses, 
    And straight to work I went, 
And never stopped till I could read 
    The hymns and Testament. 

Then I got a little cabin—
    A place to call my own— 
And I felt as independent 
    As the queen upon her throne.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was born on September 24, 1825. She was a prominent abolitionist and temperance and women's suffrage activist, as well as a poet. 

by this poet

poem
The dying words of Goethe.
 
"Light! more light! the shadows deepen,
   And my life is ebbing low,
Throw the windows widely open:
   Light! more light! before I go."
 
"Softly let the balmy sunshine
   Play around my dying bed,
poem
Till our world, so sad and weary,
   Finds the balmy rest of peace—
Peace to silence all her discords—
   Peace till war and crime shall cease.
 
Peace to fall like gentle showers,
   Or on parchéd flowers dew,
Till our hearts proclaim with
poem
When the gates of pearl are opened
     May we there this friend behold,
 Drink with him from living fountains,
     Walk with him the streets of gold.
 
 When life's shattered cords of music
     Shall again be sweetly sung;
 Then our hearts