Samuel Allen

Samuel W. Allen

“We shall overcome, our voices gravely sang.”

Samuel Allen
Photo: C.B. Claiborne, 1994

Samuel Allen’s poetry has been published in four collections: Elfenbein Zãhne (1956); Ivory Tusks and Other Poems (1968); Paul Vesey’s Ledger (1975); and Every Round and Other Poems (1987). His poems have also appeared in more than two hundred anthologies. A prominent figure in Africa and African American criticism as a reviewer, translator, editor, and lecturer, his translations of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Orphee Noir and Leopold Senghor’s Anthologie de la Nouvelle Poésie Nègre made such important works available to non-French-speaking readers. Working as an attorney until 1968, Allen accepted a position as an Avalon Professor of Humanities at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and devoted himself to teaching and writing. Allen also taught briefly at Wesleyan University and later Boston College until his retirement in 1981. He also served as writer-in-residence at both Tuskegee and Rutgers University. Having a distinguished career, Allen lectured extensively on Black literature and politics at major national and international conferences, reading his poetry at institutions throughout the United States and abroad. He died in 2015.

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The Apple Trees in Sussex

	I did not climb the apple trees in Sussex
	or wait upon the queen in London town 
	they courted me in sweltering Mississippi 
	with birch and thong to bring the cotton down

For I have come 
not to bring peace
but your heads in a block, my lovelies, 
cried the captain
	of the slaver, standing
	out of Liverpool, plying 
	between Guinea 
	and the land of the glorious free
	the abiding place of the sullen, querulous slave; 
and Montaigne reminds us that stout and aging ladies, 
abandoned but not long forlorn,
plucked the eyes of their young male chattel 
to shepherd a crouched submission
into their care

Locked in the dungeon of those gutted years, doomed 
	in time 
pinned in the silent back rooms of unhindered desire, 
to each his stock of dark rolling pride, 
no seer to serve as overseer, who served as his own breeder
fertilizing the stunned flesh feeded the rows of cotton 
deep in the blistering hell of Mississippi; 
by the Delta they descended down
	into the pit
forsaken by Shango and Damballah, down
	to the fist and the terror, down
	to the whip and the whim
	to the blazing heat of the field by day
	and the raging lust of the big house by night and all pale 
		and ravenous things. 

	I did not climb the apple trees in Sussex 
	I’ll never hail the Queen in London town
	I spent eternity in Mississippi 
	whose grace was death
		to bring the cotton down.

Harriet Tubman

High in the darkening heavens
the wind swift, the storm massing
the giant arrow rose, a crackling arch, a sign
above the fleeing band of people,
joy figures in the canebrake
far below.

In the distance, moving up quickly
came the patterrollers
bloodhounds loping, silent.

Minutes before, one of the fleeing band had fallen
the others for a moment waited
but he did not rise.
A small dark woman stood above him.
His words were slow to come and more a groan:

Can't make it, just can't make it
You all go head without me.

Moses pulled out her revolver and she quietly said:

Move or die.

You ain't stoppin now
You can't stop now
You gonna move
Move or die.

If you won't go on
Gonna risk us all
Ahma send your soul to glory, I said move!

Long time now, I got it figgured out
Ev'ry Child a God got a double right. death
or liberty, Move now
or you will die.

Listen to me

Way back yonder
down in bondage
on my knee
Th' moment He gave his promise
I was free.
(Walk, children!)
He said that when destruction rages
he is a rock
Rock of Ages

Declared that when the tempest ride
He just come mosey
to my side.
(Don't you get weary!)

Promised me the desprit hour
be the signal for His power
Hounddogs closing on the track


and the thunderclap!
(How you get weary?)

Bloodhound quickenin on the scent
Over my head, yesss
the heavens rent!

O He's a father he is a mother
A sister He will
be your brother
Supplies the harvest, He raises up the grain
O don't you feel—it's fallin now
the blessed rain.

Don't make no difference if you weary
Don't mean a hoot owl if you scaird
He was with us in the six troubles
He won't desert you in the seventh.

Get on up now
That's it, no need a gettin weary
There is a glory there!

There be a great rejoicin
no more sorrow
shout 'n nevvuh tire
a great camp meetin
in that land.

By fire in heaven she was guided
saved by stream
and by water reed
by her terrible grimace of faith
beautiful and defiant,
Till the moment in the long journey
came the first faint glimpse
of the stars, the everlasting stars shining clear
over the free