The Riddle Of The Sphinx


Dark daughter of the lotus leaves that watch the Southern Sea!
Wan spirit of a prisoned soul a-panting to be free!
The muttered music of thy streams, the whisper of the deep,
Have kissed each other in God’s name and kissed a world to sleep.
The will of the world is a whistling wind, sweeping a cloud-swept sky,
And not from the East and not from the West knelled that
soul-waking cry,
But out of the South,—the sad, black South—it screamed from
the top of the sky,
Crying: “Awake, O ancient race!” Wailing, “O woman, arise!”
And crying and sighing and crying again as a voice in the
midnight cries,—
But the burden of white men bore her back and the white world
stifled her sighs.
The white world’s vermin and filth:
All the dirt of London,
All the scum of New York;
Valiant spoilers of women
And conquerers of unarmed men;
Shameless breeders of bastards,
Drunk with the greed of gold,
Baiting their blood-stained hooks
With cant for the souls of the simple;
Bearing the white man’s burden
Of liquor and lust and lies!
Unthankful we wince in the East,
Unthankful we wail from the westward,
Unthankfully thankful, we curse,
In the unworn wastes of the wild:
I hate them, Oh!
I hate them well,
I hate them, Christ!
As I hate hell!
If I were God,
I’d sound their knell
This day!
Who raised the fools to their glory,
But black men of Egypt and Ind,
Ethiopia’s sons of the evening,
Indians and yellow Chinese,
Arabian children of morning,
And mongrels of Rome and Greece?
Ah, well!
And they that raised the boasters
Shall drag them down again,—
Down with the theft of their thieving
And murder and mocking of men;
Down with their barter of women
And laying and lying of creeds;
Down with their cheating of childhood
And drunken orgies of war,—
deep down,
Till the devil’s strength be shorn,
Till some dim, darker David, a-hoeing of his corn,
And married maiden, mother of God,
Bid the black Christ be born!
Then shall our burden be manhood,
Be it yellow or black or white;
And poverty and justice and sorrow,
The humble, and simple and strong
Shall sing with the sons of morning
And daughters of even-song:
Black mother of the iron hills that ward the blazing sea,
Wild spirit of a storm-swept soul, a-struggling to be free,
Where ‘neath the bloody finger-marks thy riven bosom quakes,
Thicken the thunders of God’s Voice and lo! a world awakes!

-W.E.B. DuBois