Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A LITANY OF ATLANTA, by WILLIAM EDWARD BURGHARDT DU BOIS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

A LITANY OF ATLANTA, by                     Poet's Biography
First Line: O silent god, thou whose voice in mist and mystery hath left our ears
Last Line: Selah!
Alternate Author Name(s): Du Bois, W. E. B.
Subject(s): African Americans; Lynching; Racism; Negroes; American Blacks; Racial Prejudice; Bigotry

Done at Atlanta, in the Day of Death, 1906.

O Silent God, Thou whose voice afar in mist and mystery hath left
our ears an-hungered in these fearful days --
Hear us, good Lord!

Listen to us, Thy children: our faces dark with doubt are made in a
mockery in Thy sanctuary. With uplifted hands we front Thy heaven, O
God crying:
We beeseech Thee to hear us, good Lord!

We are not better than our fellows, Lord, we are but weak and
human men. When our devils do devilty, curse Thou the doer and the
deed: curse them as we curse them, do to them all and more than ever
they have done to innocence and weakness, to womanhood and home.
Have mercy on upon us, miserable sinners!

And yet whose is the deeper guilt? Who made these devils? Who
nursed them in crime and fed them on injustice? Who ravished and
debauched their mothers and their grandmothers? Who bought and sold
their crime, and waxed fat and rich on public iniquity?
Thou knowest, good God!

Is this Thy Justice, O Father, that guile be easier than innocence,
and the innocent crucified for the guilt of the untouched guilty?
Justice, O Judge of men!

Wherefore do we pray? Is not the God of the fathers dead? Have not
seers seen in Heaven's halls Thine hearsed and lifeless form stark
amidst the black and rolling smoke of sin, where all along bow
bitter forms of endless dead?
Awake, Thou that sleepst!

Thou art not dead, but flown afar, up hills of endless light,
thru blazing corridors of sun, where worlds do swing of good and
gentle men, of women strong and free - far from the cozenage, black
hypocrisy and chaste prostitution of this shameful speck of dust!
Turn again, O Lord, leave us not to perish in our sin!

From lust of body and lust of blood
Great God, deliver us!

From lust of power and lust of gold,
Great God, deliver us!

From the leagued lying of despot and of brute,
Great God, deliver us!

A city lay in travial, God our Lord, and from her loins sprang
twin Murder and Black Hate. Red was the midnight; clang, crack and
cry of death and fury filled the air and trembled underneath the
stars when church spires pointed silently to Thee. And all this was
to sate the greed of greedy men who hide behind the veil of
Bend us Thine ear, O Lord!

In the pale, still morning we looked upon the deed. We stopped our
ears and held our leaping hands, but they - did not wag their heads
and leer and cry with bloody jaws: Cease from Crime! The word was
mockery, for thus they train a hundred crimes while we do cure one.
Turn again our captivity, O Lord!

Behold this maimed and broken thing; dear God, it was an humble
black man who toiled and sweat to save a bit from the pittance paid
him. They told him: Work and Rise. He worked. Did this man sin? Nay,
but some one told how some one said another did - one whom he had
never seen nor known. Yet for that man's crime this man lieth maimed
and murdered, his wife naked to shame, his children, to poverty and
Hear us, O Heavenly Father!

Doth not this justice of hell stink in Thy nostrils, O God? How
long shall the mounting flood of innocent blood roar in Thine ears
and pound in our hearts for vengeance? Pile the pale frenzy of
blood-crazed brutes who do such deeds high on Thine altar, Jehovah
Jireh, and burn it in hell forever and forever!
Forgive us, good Lord; we know not what we say!

Bewildered we are, and passion-tost, mad with the madness of a
mobbed and mocked and murdered people; straining at the armposts of
Thy throne, we raise our shackled hands and charge Thee, God, by the
bones of our stolen fathers, by the tears of our dead mothers, by
the very blood of Thy crucified Christ: What meaneth this? Tell us
the plan; give us the sign!
Keep not Thou silence, O God!

Sit no longer blind, Lord God, deaf to our prayer and dumb to our
dumb suffering. Surely, Thou too art not white, O Lord, a pale,
bloodless, heartless thing?
Ah! Christ of all the Pities!

Forgive the thought! Forgive these wild, blasphemous words. Thou
art still the God of our black fathers, and in Thy soul's soul sit
some soft darkenings of the evening, some shadowings of the velvet

But whisper - speak - call, great God, for Thy silence is white
terror to our hearts! The way, O God, show us the way and point us
the path.

Whither? North is greed and South is blood; within, the coward,
and without the liar. Whither? To death?
Amen! Welcome dark sleep!

Whither? To life? But not this life, dear God, not this. Let the
cup pass from us, tempt us not beyond our strength, for there is
that clamoring and clawing within, to whose voice we would not
listen, yet shudder lest we must, and it is red, Ah! It is a red and
awful shape.

In yonder East trembles a star.
Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord!

Thy will, O Lord, be done!
Kyrie Eleison!

Lord, we have done these pleading, wavering words.
We beesch Thee to hear us, good Lord!

We bow our heads and hearked soft to the sobbing of women and
little children.
We beesch Thee to hear us, Good Lord!

Our voices sink in silence and in night.
Hear us, good Lord!

In night, O God of a godless land!

In silence, O Silent God.

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