The Jean Toomer Pages

Jean Toomer Biography

Jean Toomer stories - more

Jean Toomer's Poetry

Toomer Bibliography


motivation & aim

Jean Toomer's Writings

Most of these works are unpublished. At Waldo Frank's suggestion, Toomer took two poems out of Cane before its publication. He later regretted the action. The poems were For M. W. and . The rest of the poems below appear elsewhere..

poetry below - essays (click)

A Certain Man

The Lost Dancer



Evening Song

Cotton Song

Song of the Son


A poem

For M.W.


Tell Me

Her Lips Are Copper Wire


For M.W.

There is no transcience of twilight in
      The beauty of your soft dusk-dimpled face,
      No flicker of a slender flame in space,
In crucibles, fragility crystalline.
There is no fragrance of the jessamine
      About you, no pathos of some old place
      At dusk, that crumbles like moth-eater lace
Beneath the touch. Nor has there ever been.

Your love is like the folk-song's flaming rise
      In cane-lipped southern people, like their soul
             Which burst its bondage in a bold travail;
Your voice is like them singing, soft and wise,
      Your face, sweetly efflgent of the whole,
      Inviolate of ways that would feile.


A poem from Transatlantic

Note: Transatlantic [1933] was Toomer's last and most ambitious novel in which he attempted to give the most extensive treatment of his theme of human development

Stretch sea
Stretch away sea and land
We are following thee
Thy lead is dangerous
And glorius
Stretch thyself and us
And make us live
To mount the ladder of horizons
Until we step upon the radiant plateau.

Evening Song

Full moon rising on the waters of my heart,
Lakes and moon and fires,
Cloine tires,
Holding her lips apart.

Promises of slumber leaving shore to charm the moon,
Miracle made vesper-keeps,
Cloine sleeps,
And I'll be sleeping soon.

Cloine, curled like the sleepy waters whtere the moonwaves start,
Radiant, resplendently she gleams,
Cloine dreams,
Lips pressed against my heart.

        A Certain Man
unpublished self-observational poem from
The Lives of Jean Toomer
A certain man wishes to be a prince
Of this earth; he also wants to be
A saint and master of the being-world.
Conscience cannot exist in the first:
The second cannot exist without conscience.
Therefore he, who has enough conscience
To be disturbed but not enough to be
Compelled, can neither reject the one
Nor follow the other . . .

The Lost Dancer
from The Collected Poems of Jean Toomer
Spatial depths of being survive
The birth to death recurrences
Of feet dancing on earth of sand;
Vibrations of the dance survive
The sand; the sand, elect, survives
The dancer. He can find no source
Of magic adequate to bind
The sand upon his feet, his feet
Upon his dance, his dance upon
The diamond body of his being.

from The Collected Poems of Jean Toomer
There is a natty kind of mind
That slicks its thoughts,
Culls its oughts,
Trims its views,
Prunes its trues,
And never suspects it is a rind.

                          Cotton Song
     Come, brother, come. Lets lift it;
     come now, hewit! roll away!
     Shackles fall upon the Judgment Day
     But lets not wait for it.
     God's body's got a soul,
     Bodies like to roll the soul,
     Cant blame God if we dont roll,
     Come, brother, roll, roll!
     Cotton bales are the fleecy way,
     Weary sinner's bare feet trod,
     Softly, softly to the throne of God,
     "We aint agwine t wait until th Judgment Day!
     Nassur; nassur,
     Eoho, eoho, roll away!
     We aint agwine to wait until th Judgment Day!"
     God's body's got a soul,
     Bodies like to roll the soul,
     Cant blame God if we dont roll,
     Come, brother, roll, roll!


fromThe Collected Poems of Jean Toomer
To those fixed on white,
White is white,
To those fixed on black,
It is the same,
And red is red,
Yellow, yellow-
Surely there are such sights
In the many colored world,
Or in the mind.
The strange thing is that
These people never see themselves
Or you, or me.

Are they not in their minds?
Are we not in the world?
This is a curious blindness
For those that are color blind.
What queer beliefs
That men who believe in sights
Disbelieve in seers.

O people, if you but used
Your other eyes
You would see beings.

Tell Me

Tell me, dear beauty of the dusk,
When purple ribbons bind the hill,
Do dreams your secret wish fulfill,
Do prayers, like kernels from the husk
Come from your lips? Tell me if when
The mountains loom at night, giant shades
Of softer shadow, swift like blades
Of grass seeds come to flower. Then
Tell me if the night winds bend
Them towards me, if the Shenandoah
As it ripples past your shore,
Catches the soul of what you send.

Song of the Son
Pour O pour that parting soul in song
O pour it in the sawdust glow of night
Into the velvet pine-smoke air tonight,
And let the valley carry it along.
And let the valley carry it along.
O land and soil, red soil and sweet-gum tree,
So scant of grass, so proligate of pines,
Now hust before an epoch's sun declines
Thy son, in time, I have returned to thee,
Thy son, I have in time returned to thee.
In time, for though the sun is setting on
A song-lit race of slaves, it has not set;
Though late, O soil, it is not too late yet
To catch thy plaintive soul, leaving, soon gone,
Leaving, to catch thy plaintive soul soon gone.
O Negro slaves, dark purple ripened plums,
Squeezed, and bursting in the pine-wood air,
Passing, before they stripped the old tree bare
One plum was saved for me, one seed becomes
an everlasting song, a singing tree,
Caroling softly souls of slavery,
What they were, and what they are to me,
Caroling softly souls of slavery.

Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones
Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones
In their hip-pockets as a thing that's done,
And start their silent swinging, one by one.
Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds,
His belly close to ground. I see the blade,
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade.


The sky, lazily disdaining to pursue
  The settling sun, too indolent to hold
  A lengthened tournament for flashing gold,
Passively darkens for night's barbecue,
A feast of moon and men and barking hounds,
  An orgy for some genius of the South
  With blood-hot   eyes   and   cane-lipped   scented mouth,
Surprised in making folk-songs from soul sounds.
The sawmill blows its whistle, buzz-saws stop,
  And silence breaks the bud of knoll and hill,
  Soft settling pollen where ploughed lands fulfill
Their early promise of a bumper crop.
Smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile
  Curls up, blue ghosts of trees, tarrying low
  Where only chips and stumps are left to show
The solid proof of fromer domicile.
Meanwhile, the men, with vestiges of pomp,
  Race memories of king and caravan,
  High-priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man,
Go singing through the footprints of the swamp.
Their voices rise . . . the pine trees are guitars,
  Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain . . .
  There voices rise . . . the chorus of the cane
Is carolling a vesper to the stars.
O singers, resinous and soft your songs
  Above the sacred whisper of the pines,
  Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines,
Bring dreams of Christ to dusky cane-lipped throngs.

A Portrait in Georgia

Hair-braided chestnut,
            coiled like a lyncher's rope,
       Lips-old scars, or the first red blisters,
       Breath-the last sweet scent of cane,
       And her slim body, white as the ash
            of black flesh after flame.

 African Guardian of Souls,
 Drunk with rum,
 Feasting on strange cassava,
 Yielding to new words and a weak palabra
 Of a white-faced sardonic god--
 Grins, cries
 Shouts hosanna.

Her Lips Are Copper Wire

whisper of yellow globes
gleaming on lamp-posts that sway
like bootleg licker drinkers in the fog

and let your breath be moist against me
like bright beads on yellow globes

telephone the power-house
that the main wires are insulate

(her words play softly up and down
dewy corridors of billboards)

then with your tongue remove the tape
and press your lips to mine
till they are incandescent

back to The Jean Toomer Pages

Jean Toomer Biography

Jean Toomer stories - more

Jean Toomer's Poetry

references and bibliography



aim for creatinmg these pages