Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Countee Cullen, Harlem Renaissance poet

Countee Cullen
It is the birthday of poet Countee Cullen (1903), who came to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance. He started writing poetry in high school, where he helped edit the school literary magazine and served as editor of the school newspaper. He began at New York University in 1921, where he wrote most of the poems that appeared in his first three poetry volumes, Color (1925), Copper Sun (1927) and The Ballad of the Brown Girl (1927). He was known for writing in a style that emulated John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley—sonnets and quatrains and so forth. He also was influenced by William Wordsworth and William Blake. He won several prizes for poetry during the 1920s, including one from the Urban League's Opportunity magazine, for which he served as an editor. He was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and entered Harvard in 1925, where he earned a masters degree. In 1928, he married Yolande Du Bois, daughter of W.E.B. Du Bois, in a lavish wedding but the marriage lasted only two years. Later he taught French at Frederick Douglass Junior High School in New York. He died at the age of 42. Among his best known poems is Yet Do I Marvel: I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind/And did He stoop to quibble could tell why/The little buried mole continues blind,/Why flesh that mirrors Him must someday die,/Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus/Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare/If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus/To struggle up a never-ending stair./Inscrutable His ways are, and immune/To catechism by a mind too strewn/With petty cares to slightly understand/What awful brains compels His awful hand./Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:/To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

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