Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

  • Not a critical or scholarly text but a reading text for a seminar

Countee Cullen

"From the Dark Tower"


Countee Cullen (1903-46)

From the Dark Tower
(To Charles S. Johnson)

We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting fruit,
Not always countenance, abject and mute,
That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap;            4
Not everlastingly while others sleep
Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute,
Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made eternally to weep.                                8
The night whose sable breast relieves the stark     
[sable = black]
White stars is no less lovely being dark,
And there are buds that cannot bloom at all
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall;                                12
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds,
And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds.

Discussion questions:

1. What's Romantic (or not) about the poem?

1a. As the poem is written by an African American poet, what pressures to read the poem either separately from Romanticism or as part of it?

2. What gothic or sublime elements are identifiable? What mood or tone do they build?

2a. If the gothic light-dark color code appears, how do the standard Western values of light / white = good and dark / black = evil change from an African American perspective or voice?

Symbols & color codes in Langston Hughes, "Dream Variations" & Countee Cullen, "From the Dark Tower"