Poetry

Poetry Sunday: “I Sit and Sew,” by Alice Dunbar-Nelson

 

I Sit and Sew

I sit and sew—a useless task it seems,
My hands grown tired, my head weighed down with dreams—
The panoply of war, the martial tred of men,
Grim-faced, stern-eyed, gazing beyond the ken
Of lesser souls, whose eyes have not seen Death,
Nor learned to hold their lives but as a breath—
But—I must sit and sew.

I sit and sew—my heart aches with desire—
That pageant terrible, that fiercely pouring fire
On wasted fields, and writhing grotesque things
Once men. My soul in pity flings
Appealing cries, yearning only to go
There in that holocaust of hell, those fields of woe—
But—I must sit and sew.

The little useless seam, the idle patch;
Why dream I here beneath my homely thatch,
When there they lie in sodden mud and rain,
Pitifully calling me, the quick ones and the slain?
You need me, Christ! It is no roseate dream
That beckons me—this pretty futile seam,
It stifles me—God, must I sit and sew?

 

from The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer (J. L. Nichols & Co. 1920). This poem is in the public domain.

 

Poet, essayist, diarist, and activist Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935) was born in New Orleans to mixed-race parents. Her African-American, Anglo, Native American, and Creole heritage provided experience with and understanding of gender, race, and ethnicity issues, often addressed in her work. Her first book, Violets and Other Tales(1895), was published when she was just 20. Dunbar-Nelson wrote short stories, essays, newspaper columns, and poems and edited two anthologies. One of the few recognized women African-American diarists of the early twentieth century, she addresses racism, oppression, family, work, and sexuality in her work. In 1898 she married the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, and they were both part of the Harlem Renaissance; they separated in 1902. [from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Dunbar_Nelson and https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/alice-moore-dunbar-nelson]

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