Two Poems by Fenton Johnson

Fenton Johnson was an African American poet who wrote before and during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and early 1930s. He self-published several collections of poetry, including A Little Dreaming (1913), Visions of the Dusk (1915), and Songs of the Soil (1916). His poetry is often anthologized and exhibits a range of style from formal and elevated to conversational modern free verse. Some of his later poetry, as in the poem “Tired” (1920), “broke away from all traditions and ideas of Negro Poetry” resulting in a “formlessness” that “voiced the disillusionment and bitterness of feeling the Negro race was then experiencing,” according to James Weldon Johnson, writing in The Book of American Negro Poetry (1931).

A Dream

by Fenton Johnson

I had a dream last night, a wonderful dream.
I saw an angel riding in a chariot–
Oh, my honey, it was a lovely chariot,
Shining like the sun when noon is on the earth.
I saw his wings spreading from moon to earth;
I saw a crown of stars upon his forehead;
I saw his robes agleaming like his chariot.
I bowed my head and let the angel pass,
Because no man can look on Glory’s work;
I bowed my head and trembled in my limbs,
Because I stood on ground of holiness.
I heard the angel in the chariot singing:
            “Hallelujah early in the morning!
            I know my Redeemer liveth–
            How is it with your soul?”

I stood on ground of holiness and bowed;
The River Jordan flowed past my feet
As the angel soothed my soul with song,
A song of wonderful sweetness.
I stooped and washed my soul in Jordan’s stream
Ere my Redeemer came to take me home;
I stooped and washed my soul in waters pure
As the breathing of a new-born child
Lying on a mammy’s breast at night.
I looked and saw the angel descending
And a crown of stars was in his hand:
“Be ye not amazed, good friend,” he said,
“I bring a diadem of righteousness,
A covenant from the Lord of life,
That in the morning you will see
Eternal streets of gold and pearl aglow
And be with me in blessèd Paradise.”

The vision faded. I awoke and heard
A mocking-bird upon my window-sill.

The Wonderful Morning

by Fenton Johnson

When it is morning in the cornfield

I am to go and meet my Jesus

            Riding on His white horse.

When it is morning in the cornfield

I am to be there in my glory.

            Shout, my brethren! Shout, my sisters!

I am to meet the King of Morning

            Way down in the cornfield.

From “Two Negro Spirituals,” originally published in Poetry magazine (December 1921). The featured photograph above (not in the public domain) is by Jonathan English.