Harry T. Burleigh meets Antonin Dvorak, 1893

by Tyehimba Jess


Burleigh met Dvorak at the American Conservatory of Music, where they exchanged ideas on music.


I want to hold the true sound of American love.
I want the hoarse silk of my grandfather’s song,_______________I want to score the moan of a splinted republic,
And I want to harness the holiness of its baptism in body –
its steely grace. I’ve got hands clasped for abolition’s absolution__________to transcribe a people singing themselves whole,
with brute, open mouthed wonder. It roils
spilling out salvation. I want to sing his hymnal’s aching__________soul open with head tilted back. I want to shoulder this hymn
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin’ for to carry me home…
to my people. I want our voices to be____________________lifted up towards self. I want ancestral canticles,
burdened in nothing but glory –
consecrated. I carry the sound of one man singing in blindness__________A peasant’s song strapped to an orchestra’s back,
heaved up from whole and half note mysteries. I want to be
bending each note into a personal benediction,__________spirit blessed. To fill concert halls with American oaths –
wrung out between treble and bass cleff,
in praise of an ex-slaves’ struggle toward light.____________________in the throes of Brahms and Blackness –
I want to sing into the ears of nations
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin’ for to carry me home…
I know the way to rapture through notes and keys______________to discover the way across dark seas
riddled with worry. I’ve searched out this country’s shout
I know it from the bloody inside out______________of shaken faith. I’ve studied this country’s face
I know how to write it down, sing it out
I’ve pitched in its darkness like a sacred psalm______________I’ve seen it bruise the gospel storm
and bear witness to this American sound:
comin’ for to carry me home…
Swing low, sweet chariot…


Author’s note: A recent invention, the Bop was created by Afaa Michael Weaver during a summer retreat of the African American poetry organization Cave Canem. Not unlike the Shakespearean sonnet in trajectory, the Bop is a form of poetic argument consisting of three stanzas, each stanza followed by a repeated line, or refrain, and each undertaking a different purpose in the overall argument of the poem.

The first stanza (six lines long) states the problem, and the second stanza (eight lines long) explores or expands upon the problem. If there is a resolution to the problem, the third stanza (six lines long) finds it. If a substantive resolution cannot be made, then this final stanza documents the attempt and failure to succeed.

“Harry T. Burleigh meets Antonin Dvorak, 1893″ is a Syncopated Bop, which combines two voices into one poem in order to create a call and response dialectic between two characters.  Each may be read all the way across to combine the voices, interstitially in order to single out part of each voice on each side, and backwards from left to right.


Read Tyehimba Jess’ “Sonnet Crown for Blind Tom”

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