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.
Robert Hayden (1913-1980) was an American poet, essayist and educator, and the first African-American to serve as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. “Frederick Douglass” is taken from The Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, (Liveright, 1997). Copyright © Robert Hayman, 1966.
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