Robert Hayden


    Biographical information

  1. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)
  2. Frederick Douglass
  3. Full Moon
  4. Middle Passage
  5. Monet's Waterlilies
  6. O Daedalus, Fly Away Home
  7. Perseus
  8. Runagate Runagate
  9. Soledad
  10. The Prisoners
  11. The Whipping
  12. Those Winter Sundays

    Biographical information
      Name: Robert Hayden
      Place and date of birth: Detroit, Michigan (United States); August 4, 1913
      Place and date of death: Ann Arbor, Michigan (United States); February 25, 1980 (aged 66)

      El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)
        O masks and metamorphoses of Ahab, Native Son


        The icy evil that struck his father down
        and ravished his mother into madness
        trapped him in violence of a punished self
        struggling to break free.

        As Home Boy, as Dee-troit Red,
        he fled his name, became the quarry of
        his own obsessed pursuit.

        He conked his hair and Lindy-hopped,
        zoot-suited jiver, swinging those chicks
        in the hot rose and reefer glow.

        His injured childhood bullied him.
        He skirmished in the Upas trees
        and cannibal flowers of the American Dream--

        but could not hurt the enemy
        powered against him there.

      Frederick Douglass
        When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
        and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
        usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
        when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
        reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
        than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
        this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
        beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
        where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
        this man, superb in love and logic, this man
        shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues' rhetoric,
        not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
        but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
        fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

      Full Moon
        No longer throne of a goddess to whom we pray,
        no longer the bubble house of childhood's
        tumbling Mother Goose man,

        The emphatic moon ascends--
        the brilliant challenger of rocket experts,
        the white hope of communications men.

        Some I love who are dead
        were watchers of the moon and knew its lore;
        planted seeds, trimmed their hair,

        Pierced their ears for gold hoop earrings
        as it waxed or waned.
        It shines tonight upon their graves.

        And burned in the garden of Gethsemane,
        its light made holy by the dazzling tears
        with which it mingled.

        And spread its radiance on the exile's path
        of Him who was The Glorious One,
        its light made holy by His holiness.

        Already a mooted goal and tomorrow perhaps
        an arms base, a livid sector,
        the full moon dominates the dark.

      Middle Passage

        Jesús, Estrella, Esperanza, Mercy:

        Sails flashing to the wind like weapons,
        sharks following the moans the fever and the dying;
        horror the corposant and compass rose.

        Middle Passage:
        voyage through death
        to life upon these shores.

        "10 April 1800--
        Blacks rebellious. Crew uneasy. Our linguist says
        their moaning is a prayer for death,
        our and their own. Some try to starve themselves.
        Lost three this morning leaped with crazy laughter
        to the waiting sharks, sang as they went under."

        Desire, Adventure, Tartar, Ann:

        Standing to America, bringing home
        black gold, black ivory, black seed.

        Deep in the festering hold thy father lies, of his bones
        New England pews are made, those are altar lights that were his eyes.

        Jesus Saviour Pilot Me
        Over Life's Tempestuous Sea

        We pray that Thou wilt grant, O Lord,
        safe passage to our vessels bringing
        heathen souls unto Thy chastening.

        Jesus Saviour

        "8 bells. I cannot sleep, for I am sick
        with fear, but writing eases fear a little
        since still my eyes can see these words take shape
        upon the page & so I write, as one
        would turn to exorcism. 4 days scudding,
        but now the sea is calm again. Misfortune
        follows in our wake like sharks (our grinning
        tutelary gods). Which one of us
        has killed an albatross? A plague among
        our blacks--Ophthalmia: blindness--& we
        have jettisoned the blind to no avail.
        It spreads, the terrifying sickness spreads.
        Its claws have scratched sight from the Capt.'s eyes
        & there is blindness in the fo'c'sle
        & we must sail 3 weeks before we come
        to port."

        What port awaits us, Davy Jones' or home? I've
        heard of slavers drifting, drifting, playthings of wind and storm and
        chance, their crews gone blind, the jungle hatred crawling
        up on deck.

        Thou Who Walked On Galilee

        "Deponent further sayeth The Bella J
        left the Guinea Coast
        with cargo of five hundred blacks and odd
        for the barracoons of Florida:

        "That there was hardly room 'tween-decks for half
        the sweltering cattle stowed spoon-fashion there;
        that some went mad of thirst and tore their flesh
        and sucked the blood:

        "That Crew and Captain lusted with the comeliest
        of the savage girls kept naked in the cabins;
        that there was one they called The Guinea Rose
        and they cast lots and fought to lie with her:

        "That when the Bo's'n piped all hands, the flames
        spreading from starboard already were beyond
        control, the negroes howling and their chains
        entangled with the flames:

        "That the burning blacks could not be reached,
        that the Crew abandoned ship,
        leaving their shrieking negresses behind,
        that the Captain perished drunken with the wenches:

        "Further Deponent sayeth not."

        Pilot Oh Pilot Me


        Aye, lad, and I have seen those factories,
        Gambia, Rio Pongo, Calabar;
        have watched the artful mongos baiting traps
        of war wherein the victor and the vanquished

        Were caught as prizes for our barracoons.
        Have seen the nigger kings whose vanity
        and greed turned wild black hides of Fellatah,
        Mandingo, Ibo, Kru to gold for us.

        And there was one--King Anthracite we named him--
        fetish face beneath French parasols
        of brass and orange velvet, impudent mouth
        whose cups were carven skulls of enemies:

        He'd honor us with drum and feast and conjo
        and palm-oil-glistening wenches deft in love,
        and for tin crowns that shone with paste,
        red calico and German-silver trinkets

        Would have the drums talk war and send
        his warriors to burn the sleeping villages
        and kill the sick and old and lead the young
        in coffles to our factories.

        Twenty years a trader, twenty years,
        for there was wealth aplenty to be harvested
        from those black fields, and I'd be trading still
        but for the fevers melting down my bones.


        Shuttles in the rocking loom of history,
        the dark ships move, the dark ships move,
        their bright ironical names
        like jests of kindness on a murderer's mouth;
        plough through thrashing glister toward
        fata morgana's lucent melting shore,
        weave toward New World littorals that are
        mirage and myth and actual shore.

        Voyage through death,
        voyage whose chartings are unlove.

        A charnel stench, effluvium of living death
        spreads outward from the hold,
        where the living and the dead, the horribly dying,
        lie interlocked, lie foul with blood and excrement.

        Deep in the festering hold thy father lies, the corpse of mercy
        rots with him, rats eat love's rotten gelid eyes. But, oh, the
        living look at you with human eyes whose suffering accuses you, whose
        hatred reaches through the swill of dark to strike you like a leper's
        claw. You cannot stare that hatred down or chain the fear that stalks
        the watches and breathes on you its fetid scorching breath; cannot
        kill the deep immortal human wish, the timeless will.

        "But for the storm that flung up barriers
        of wind and wave, The Amistad, señores,
        would have reached the port of Príncipe in two,
        three days at most; but for the storm we should
        have been prepared for what befell.
        Swift as a puma's leap it came. There was
        that interval of moonless calm filled only
        with the water's and the rigging's usual sounds,
        then sudden movement, blows and snarling cries
        and they had fallen on us with machete
        and marlinspike. It was as though the very
        air, the night itself were striking us.
        Exhausted by the rigors of the storm,
        we were no match for them. Our men went down
        before the murderous Africans. Our loyal
        Celestino ran from below with gun
        and lantern and I saw, before the cane-
        knife's wounding flash, Cinquez,
        that surly brute who calls himself a prince,
        directing, urging on the ghastly work.
        He hacked the poor mulatto down, and then
        he turned on me. The decks were slippery
        when daylight finally came. It sickens me
        to think of what I saw, of how these apes
        threw overboard the butchered bodies of
        our men, true Christians all, like so much jetsam.
        Enough, enough. The rest is quickly told:
        Cinquez was forced to spare the two of us
        you see to steer the ship to Africa,
        and we like phantoms doomed to rove the sea
        voyaged east by day and west by night,
        deceiving them, hoping for rescue,
        prisoners on our own vessel, till
        at length we drifted to the shores of this
        your land, America, where we were freed
        from our unspeakable misery. Now we
        demand, good sirs, the extradition of
        Cinquez and his accomplices to La
        Havana. And it distresses us to know
        there are so many here who seem inclined
        to justify the mutiny of these blacks.
        We find it paradoxical indeed
        that you whose wealth, whose tree of liberty
        are rooted in the labor of your slaves
        should suffer the august John Quincey Adams
        to speak with so much passion of the right
        of chattel slaves to kill their lawful masters
        and with his Roman rhetoric weave a hero's
        garland for Cinquez. I tell you that
        we are determined to return to Cuba
        with our slaves and there see justice done.
        or let us say 'the Prince'--Cinquez shall die."

        The deep immortal human wish,
        the timeless will:

        Cinquez its deathless primaveral image,
        life that transfigures many lives.

        Voyage through death
        to life upon these shores.

      Monet's Waterlilies
        Today as the news from Selma and Saigon
        poisons the air like fallout,
        I come again to see
        the serene, great picture that I love.

        Here space and time exist in light
        the eye like the eye of faith believes.
        The seen, the known
        dissolve in iridescence, become
        illusive flesh of light
        that was not, was, forever is.

        O light beheld as through refracting tears.
        Here is the aura of that world
        each of us has lost.
        Here is the shadow of its joy.

      O Daedalus, Fly Away Home
        (For Maia and Julie)

        Drifting night in the Georgia pines,
        coonskin drum and jubilee banjo.
        Pretty Malinda, dance with me.

        Night is juba, night is congo.
        Pretty Malinda, dance with me.

        Night is an African juju man
        weaving a wish and a weariness together
        to make two wings.

        O fly away home fly away

        Do you remember Africa?

        O cleave the air fly away home

        My gran, he flew back to Africa,
        just spread his arms and
        flew away home.

        Drifting night in the windy pines;
        night is laughing, night is a longing.
        Pretty Malinda, come to me.

        Night is a mourning juju man
        weaving a wish and a weariness together
        to make two wings.

        O fly away home fly away

        Her sleeping head with its great gelid mass
        of serpents torpidly astir
        burned into the mirroring shield--
        a scathing image dire
        as hated truth the mind accepts at last
        and festers on.
        I struck. The shield flashed bare.

        Yet even as I lifted up the head
        and started from that place
        of gazing silences and terrored stone,
        I thirsted to destroy.
        None could have passed me then--
        no garland-bearing girl, no priest
        or staring boy--and lived.

      Runagate Runagate
        Runs falls rises stumbles on from darkness into darkness
        and the darkness thicketed with shapes of terror
        and the hunters pursuing and the hounds pursuing
        and the night cold and the night long and the river
        to cross and the jack-muh-lanterns beckoning beckoning
        and blackness ahead and when shall I reach that somewhere
        morning and keep on going and never turn back and keep on going


        Many thousands rise and go
        many thousands crossing over
        0 mythic North
        0 star-shaped yonder Bible city

        Some go weeping and some rejoicing
        some in coffins and some in carriages
        some in silks and some in shackles

        Rise and go or fare you well

        No more auction block for me
        no more driver's lash for me

        If you see my Pompey, 30 yrs of age,
        new breeches, plain stockings, negro shoes;
        if you see my Anna, likely young mulatto
        branded E on the right cheek, R on the left,
        catch them if you can and notify subscriber.
        Catch them if you can, but it won't be easy.
        They'll dart underground when you try to catch them,
        plunge into quicksand, whirlpools, mazes,
        torn into scorpions when you try to catch them.

        And before I'll be a slave
        I'll be buried in my grave

        North star and bonanza gold
        I'm bound for the freedom, freedom-bound
        and oh Susyanna don't you cry for me



        Rises from their anguish and their power,

        Harriet Tubman,

        woman of earth, whipscarred,
        a summoning, a shining

        Mean to be free

        And this was the way of it, brethren brethren,
        way we journeyed from Can't to Can.
        Moon so bright and no place to hide,
        the cry up and the patterollers riding,
        hound dogs belling in bladed air.
        And fear starts a-murbling, Never make it,
        we'll never make it. Hush that now,
        and she's turned upon us, levelled pistol
        glinting in the moonlight:
        Dead folks can't jaybird-talk, she says;
        you keep on going now or die, she says.

        Wanted Harriet Tubman alias The General
        alias Moses Stealer of Slaves

        In league with Garrison Alcott Emerson
        Garrett Douglass Thoreau John Brown
        Armed and known to be Dangerous

        Wanted Reward Dead or Alive

        Tell me, Ezekiel, oh tell me do you see
        mailed Jehovah coming to deliver me?

        Hoot-owl calling in the ghosted air,
        five times calling to the hants in the air.
        Shadow of a face in the scary leaves,
        shadow of a voice in the talking leaves:

        Come ride-a my train

        Oh that train, ghost-story train
        through swamp and savanna movering movering,
        over trestles of dew, through caves of the wish,
        Midnight Special on a sabre track movering movering,
        first stop Mercy and the last Hallelujah.

        Come ride-a my train

        Mean mean mean to be free.

        (And I, I am no longer of that world)

        Naked, he lies in the blinded room
        chainsmoking, cradled by drugs, by jazz
        as never by any lover's cradling flesh.

        Miles Davis coolly blows for him:
        O pena negra, sensual Flamenco blues;
        the red clay foxfire voice of Lady Day

        (lady of the pure black magnolias)
        sobsings her sorrow and loss and fare you well,
        dryweeps the pain his treacherous jailers

        have released him from for a while.
        His fears and his unfinished self
        await him down in the anywhere streets.

        He hides on the dark side of the moon,
        takes refuge in a stained-glass cell,
        flies to a clockless country of crystal.

        Only the ghost of Lady Day knows where
        he is. Only the music. And he swings
        oh swings: beyond complete immortal now.

      The Prisoners
        Steel doors – guillotine gates –
        of the doorless house closed massively.
        We were locked in with loss.

        Guards frisked us, marked our wrists,
        then let us into the drab Rec Hall –
        splotched green walls, high windows barred –

        where the dispossessed awaited us.
        Hands intimate with knife and pistol,
        hands that had cruelly grasped and throttled

        clasped ours in welcome. I sensed the plea
        of men denied: Believe us human
        like yourselves, who but for Grace ...

        We shared reprieving Hidden Words
        revealed by the Godlike imprisoned
        One, whose crime was truth.

        And I read poems I hoped were true.
        It's like you been there, brother, been there,
        the scarred young lifer said.

      The Whipping
        The old woman across the way
        is whipping the boy again
        and shouting to the neighborhood
        her goodness and his wrongs.

        Wildly he crashes through elephant ears,
        pleads in dusty zinnias,
        while she in spite of crippling fat
        pursues and corners him.

        She strikes and strikes the shrilly circling
        boy till the stick breaks
        in her hand. His tears are rainy weather
        to woundlike memories:

        My head gripped in bony vise
        of knees, the writhing struggle
        to wrench free, the blows, the fear
        worse than blows that hateful

        Words could bring, the face that I
        no longer knew or loved . . .
        Well, it is over now, it is over,
        and the boy sobs in his room,

        And the woman leans muttering against
        a tree, exhausted, purged--
        avenged in part for lifelong hidings
        she has had to bear.

      Those Winter Sundays
        Sundays too my father got up early
        And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
        then with cracked hands that ached
        from labor in the weekday weather made
        banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

        I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
        When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
        and slowly I would rise and dress,
        fearing the chronic angers of that house,

        Speaking indifferently to him,
        who had driven out the cold
        and polished my good shoes as well.
        What did I know, what did I know
        of love's austere and lonely offices?