A Double Standard

BY Frances Harper

Do you blame me that I loved him?

   If when standing all alone

I cried for bread a careless world

   Pressed to my lips a stone.

Do you blame me that I loved him,

   That my heart beat glad and free,

When he told me in the sweetest tones

   He loved but only me?

Can you blame me that I did not see

   Beneath his burning kiss

The serpent’s wiles, nor even hear

   The deadly adder hiss?

Can you blame me that my heart grew cold

   That the tempted, tempter turned;

When he was feted and caressed

   And I was coldly spurned?

Would you blame him, when you draw from me

   Your dainty robes aside,

If he with gilded baits should claim

   Your fairest as his bride?

Would you blame the world if it should press

   On him a civic crown;

And see me struggling in the depth

   Then harshly press me down?

Crime has no sex and yet to-day

   I wear the brand of shame;

Whilst he amid the gay and proud

   Still bears an honored name.

Can you blame me if I’ve learned to think

   Your hate of vice a sham,

When you so coldly crushed me down

   And then excused the man?

Would you blame me if to-morrow

   The coroner should say,

A wretched girl, outcast, forlorn,

   Has thrown her life away?

Yes, blame me for my downward course,

   But oh! remember well,

Within your homes you press the hand

   That led me down to hell.

I’m glad God’s ways are not our ways,

   He does not see as man,

Within His love I know there’s room

   For those whom others ban.

I think before His great white throne,

   His throne of spotless light,

That whited sepulchres shall wear

   The hue of endless night.

That I who fell, and he who sinned,

   Shall reap as we have sown;

That each the burden of his loss

   Must bear and bear alone.

No golden weights can turn the scale

   Of justice in His sight;

And what is wrong in woman’s life

   In man’s cannot be right.

Learning to Read

BY Frances Harper

Very soon the Yankee teachers

   Came down and set up school;

But, oh! how the Rebs did hate it,—

   It was agin’ their rule.

Our masters always tried to hide

   Book learning from our eyes;

Knowledge did’nt agree with slavery—

   ’Twould make us all too wise.

But some of us would try to steal

   A little from the book.

And put the words together,

   And learn by hook or crook.

I remember Uncle Caldwell,

   Who took pot liquor fat

And greased the pages of his book,

   And hid it in his hat.

And had his master ever seen

   The leaves upon his head,

He’d have thought them greasy papers,

   But nothing to be read.

And there was Mr. Turner’s Ben,

   Who heard the children spell,

And picked the words right up by heart,

   And learned to read ’em well.

Well, the Northern folks kept sending

   The Yankee teachers down;

And they stood right up and helped us,

   Though Rebs did sneer and frown.

And I longed to read my Bible,

   For precious words it said;

But when I begun to learn it,

   Folks just shook their heads,

And said there is no use trying,

   Oh! Chloe, you’re too late;

But as I was rising sixty,

   I had no time to wait.

So I got a pair of glasses,

   And straight to work I went,

And never stopped till I could read

   The hymns and Testament.

Then I got a little cabin

   A place to call my own—

And I felt independent

   As the queen upon her throne.

Source: African-American Poetry of the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology (University of Illinois Press, 1992)

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