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About this Poem 

“Before a Painting” was published in Fifty Years & Other Poems (The Cornhill Company, 1917). 

Before a Painting

I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
    What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
    He had created life and love and heart
On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
    Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
    Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
But mutely gazed upon that face divine.

And over me the sense of beauty fell,
    As music over a raptured listener to
        The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
    There falls the aureate glory filtered through
        The windows in some old cathedral dim.
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

This poem is in the public domain. 

James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson, born in Florida in 1871, was a national organizer for the NAACP and an author of poetry and nonfiction. Perhaps best known for the song "Lift Every Voice and SIng," he also wrote several poetry collections and novels, often exploring racial identity and the African American folk tradition.

by this poet

poem

Eternities before the first-born day,
Or ere the first sun fledged his wings of flame,
Calm Night, the everlasting and the same,
A brooding mother over chaos lay.
And whirling suns shall blaze and then decay,
Shall run their fiery courses and then claim
The haven of the
poem
Seems lak to me de stars don’t shine so bright,
Seems lak to me de sun done loss his light,
Seems lak to me der’s nothin’ goin’ right,
    Sence you went away.

Seems lak to me de sky ain’t half so blue,
Seems lak to me dat ev’ything wants you,
Seems lak to me I don’t know what to do,
    Sence you went away.
poem

How would you have us, as we are?
Or sinking 'neath the load we bear?
Our eyes fixed forward on a star?
Or gazing empty at despair?

Rising or falling? Men or things?
With dragging pace or footsteps fleet?
Strong, willing sinews in your wings?
Or tightening chains about your