April is National Poetry Month. April is almost over, but better late than never. I thought that I’d share a poem by Jessie Redmond Fauset.
Harlem Renaissance writer, Jessie Redmond Fauset was a journalist, novelist, poet and civil rights advocate. She worked for the Crisis, which was an NAACP paper (founded by Dubois). The focus of many of her works was changing the perception of Black professionals. She brought the Black middle class into the limelight through her work during a time when Black people were routinely portrayed through a stereotypical lens. She pushed the Uncle Tom, Mammy and Aunt Jemima stereotypes aside and brought a more realistic, diverse portrayal of the Black middle class to life.
It makes sense that Fauset aimed to portray Black people in a more diverse, dignified light when you consider her background. Fauset was born April 27, 1882, in New Jersey and attended Philadelphia Highschool for Girls. She graduated as a valedictorian, possibly the first Black valedictorian. When she got older, she wanted to attend Bryn Mawr College, but they were so against accepting African-Americans that they were willing to pay for Fauset to attend another school of her choice. She chose to attend Cornell and graduated in 1905 with a degree in Classical Languages. Later, she earned her Masters in French from the University of Pennsylvania.
She became a teacher in the segregated Dunbar school in Washington, DC, where she taught French/Latin. Fauset also spoke and taught French in Washington, DC and New York City and spent her summers studying at the renowned La Sorbonne in France.
She wrote four novels, represented the NAACP at the Pan African conference and co-authored the Black children’s literary magazine, The Brownies Book.
She mentored Langston Hughes, the famous African-American Harlem poet and may have taught James Baldwin.
She was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta.
Fauset married to Herbert Harris, at the age of 47, and died on April 30, 1961.
Without further ado, enjoy this poem by Jessie Fauset-
La Vie C’est la Vie On summer afternoons, I sit Quiescent by you in the park, And idly watch the sunbeams gild And tint the ash-trees' bark Or else I watch the squirrels frisk And chaffer in the grassy lane; And all the while I mark you voice Breaking with love and pain. I know a woman who would give Her chance of heaven to take my place; To see the love-light in your eyes, The love-glow on your face! And there's a man whose lightest word Can set my chilly blood afire; Fulfillment of his least behest Defines my life's desire. But he will none of me, Nor I Of you. Nor you of her. 'Tis said The world is full of jests like these. I wish that I were dead.
To me, this poem speaks of love desired, but not realized. Perhaps the woman is giving all of herself and bargaining for love. Others look at her love in envy, but she wants to die. How do you interpret this poem. Am I not thinking deeply enough?
Notable Novels by Fauset:
- There is Confusion
- Plum Bun
- The Chinaberry Tree