A Black Man Talks of Reaping

A Black Man Talks of Reaping


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Yet what I sowed and what the orchard yields / My brother’ sons are gathering stalk and root,

Small wonder then my children glean in fields / They have not sown, and feed on bitter fruits




Books by  Arna Bontemps

God Sends Sunday: Novel Black Thunder, Gabriel’s Revolt: Virginia, 1800  / Anyplace But Here The Harlem Renaissance Remembered

The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949  /  Bontemps, American Negro Poetry  /  Arna Bontemps-Langston Hughes Letters, 1925-1967

 The Old South;: “A summer tragedy” and other stories of the thirties / The Story of the Jubilee Singers  / Great Slave Narratives

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A Black Man Talks of Reaping & Other Poems

By Arna Bontemps


A Black Man Talks of Reaping

I have sown beside all waters in my day

I planted deep, within my heart the fear

That wind or fowl would take the grain away.

I planted safe against this stark, lean year.


I scattered seed enough to plant the land

In rows from Canada to Mexico

But for my reaping only what the hand

Can hold at once is all that I can show.


Yet what I sowed and what the orchard yields

My brother’ sons are gathering stalk and root,

Small wonder then my children glean in fields

They have not sown, and feed on bitter fruits 

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You have been good to me, I give you this:

The arms of lovers empty as our own,

marble lips sustaining one long kiss

And the hard sound of hammers breaking stone.


For I will build a chapel in the place

Where our love died and I will journey there

To make a sign and kneel before your face

And set an old bell tolling on the air.


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After the cloud embankments,

The lamentation of wind

And the starry descent into time,

We came to the flashing waters and shaded our eyes

From the glare.


Alone with the shore and the harbor,

The stems of the cocoanut trees,

The fronds of silence and hushed music,

We cried for the new revelation

And waited for miracles to rise.


Where elements touch and emerge,

Where shadows swoon like outcasts on the sand

And the tired moment waits, its courage gone—

There were we


In latitudes where storms are born.


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Anyplace But Here / Arna Wendell Bontemps : A Bibliography


Robert E Fleming.  James Weldon Johnson and Arna Wendell Bontemps: A reference guide. G. K. Hall, 1978

Kirkland C. Jones. Man from Louisiana; A Biography of Arna Wendell Bontemps.. Greenwood Press, 1992.

Sterling Brown “Arna Bontemps: Co-worker, Comrade.” Black World 22:11 (September 1973): 92-98.


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Arna Wendell Bontemps (1902-1973) — born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Creole parents —  was one of the more prolific writers of the Harlem Renaissance. He was the author of over 25 books of poetry, history, biography, fiction and anthologies. Bontemps was a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Bontemps served as head librarian at Fisk University from 1969 to 1972. He was also curator of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters at Yale University.  In 1923, Bontemps received his B.A. from Pacific Union College in Angwin. In 1924, his poetry appeared in Crisis magazine, the NACCP periodical edited by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.

In 1926 Golgotha Is a Mountain won the Alexander Pushkin Award and in 1927 Nocturne at Bethesda achieved first honors in the Crisis poetry contest. Personals, a collection of poetry was published in 1963.


Bontemps then turned to prose. In the decade of the thirties, he wrote three acclaimed novels God Sends Sunday (1931); Black Thunder (1936); and Drums at Dusk (1939). Frustrated in his ability to reach his own generation Bontemps to literature for children and young graders. In 1937 he published the Sad-Faced Boy; and others for  young audience included We Have Tomorrow (1945) Slappy Hopper (1946) and Story of the Negro (1948).

Bontemps was involved in the publication of at least three anthologies: Golden Slippers: An Anthology of Negro Poetry for Young Readers (1941);  with Langston Hughes, The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949 (1949);  and Bontemps, American Negro Poetry (1963 & 1974 rev.). Bontemps was gracious enough to include Christian’s poems in all his anthologies.

Bontemps’ beautiful short story “A Summer Tragedy” is found often in anthologies. It is indeed a treat. His poems “A Black Man Thinks of Reaping,” “Southern Mansion,” and “Nocturne at Bethesda” are often anthologized. But such poems as “My Heart Has Known Its Winter” and “Day Breakers” are also found in anthologies.

Early in his career Bontemps had wanted to get a Ph.D. in English but with his marriage in 1926 and the coming of six children he had to work. He taught for awhile at an Alabama junior college. With the coming of the Depression he worked for the Illinois WPA and supervised and assisted in the writing of a history of the Negro in Illinois. In 1943 he completed a degree in library science and served as librarian at Fisk University and developed an archive of African American cultural materials that is a major resource for study in this field.

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

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#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

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#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Drums at Dusk

By Arna Bontemps

A story of love, violence, and race set at the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution in 1791, African American writer Arna Bontemps’s Drums at Dusk immerses readers in the opulent and brutal–yet also very fragile–society of France’s richest colony, Saint Domingue.

First published in 1939, this novel explores the complex web of tensions connecting wealthy plantation owners, poor whites, free people of color, and the slaves who stunned the colony and the globe by uniting in a carefully planned uprising.

The novel’s hero, Diron Desautels, a white Creole born in Saint Domingue who belongs to the French antislavery group Société des Amis des Noirs, attempts to spread his message of “liberty, equality, fraternity” in a world fraught with conflict.

Imaginatively inhabiting a wide spectrum of Haitian voices, including those of white indentured servants, female slaves, and Toussaint L’Ouverture, who later emerged as the revolution’s best-known hero, Bontemps’s work reflects not only the intricacies of Haitian society on the eve of the revolution, but also a black artist’s vision of Haiti in the twentieth century, during the U.S. Marines’ occupation and at the brink of war in Europe. A new introduction by Michael P. Bibler and Jessica Adams reveals how Drums at Dusk–even seventy years after its original publication–contributes to contemporary studies of the American South as part of the larger plantation region of the Caribbean, and inspires a reevaluation of assumptions about revolution, race, and nationalism.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sister Grief: Defined and Conquered in Jesus

By Yvonne Terry-Lewis

“Sister Grief: Defined and Conquered in Jesus” is an engaging book that confronts the universal experience of living with death and dying. The author personifies the personal loss of loved ones as “Sister Grief.” The book, partly autobiographical, provides a holistic plan for conquering grief through faith, through a special relationship with Jesus. This plan is designed to help navigate one through the grieving process.

The book includes personal stories, poetry, testimonials, letters, practical suggestions, and strategies based on a love for the divinity in one’s life. Although the circumstances that cause grief may be sad, this book is filled with love, encouragement, and hope that lead one towards spiritual health and wholeness. What Consolation Is Christ to Suffering   

The Michael D Terry Scholarship Board

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 1 May 2009




Home  Langston Hughes Table

Related files: Southern Mansion    Illinois WPA — Arna Bontemps  Arna Bontemps Advises Christian on a Rosenwald Fellowship  Arna Bontemps Acknowledges Documents

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