Countee Cullen

     Countee Cullen was born in 1903 in New York City. He began writing poetry during his high school years and his poems were published after he entered New York University. Soon after, he was published in Harper's the Century Magazine, and Poetry. His poem, Ballad of the Brown Girl, won an undergraduate poetry prize and many other awards in 1923. Harper published his first volume of poetry, Color, in the same year.

      The black community did not as easily accept Copper Sun, published in 1927, because Cullen did not deal with race in the same way he had in Color. This could be explained by the fact that he was raised and educated in a primarily white community. Because of his limited interpersonal contact with other blacks, he lacked the insight to comment on the personal experiences of the majority of the black race. His perspective on the black race, which differed from other poets of the Harlem Renaissance, only served to make his writings contrast with Renaissance writers such as Langston Hughes.

      Cullen wrote in the tradition of Keats and Shelley, and resisted the Modernists' new poetic techniques. He died in 1946.

From Color:

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 some day 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 brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!



Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,
Carl Van Vechten Collection