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“The Struggle Staggers Us”

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The Struggle Staggers Us, by Margaret Walker

Our birth and death are easy hours, like sleep
and food and drink. The struggle staggers us
for bread, for pride, for simple dignity.
And this is more than fighting to exist,
more than revolt and war and human odds.
There is a journey from the Me to You.
There is a journey from the You to Me.
A union of the two strange worlds must be.

Ours is a struggle from a too-warm bed,
too cluttered with a patience full of sleep.
Out of this blackness we must struggle forth;
from want of bread, of pride, of dignity.
Struggle between the morning and the night,
this marks our years, this settles, too, our plight.

Published in Poetry in 1938.

Lately, I’ve finished two books, Jubilee by Margaret Walker and Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. These are fitting companions: one narrates the struggle of a woman yearning for jubilee; the other, the struggle of a former slave fighting for America’s absolute commitment to freedom. Walker’s Jubilee draws upon her family’s heritage and paints a painful story of freedom only partially realized. Freed from slavery, the protagonist builds a new life that is threatened by the collapse of Reconstruction. It is a compelling novel that fills one with a sense of foreboding, as if ones own freedom were being jeopardized — and, indeed, her story is America’s too. Blight’s Frederick Douglass recounts the statesman’s rise from slavery, but also his advocacy for America’s redemption through racial reconciliation. If your knowledge of Reconstruction is incomplete, these two works are highly recommended.

The poem, “The Struggle Staggers Us,” speaks for us: “Out of this blackness we must struggle forth; from want of bread, of pride, of dignity.”

© 2020, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Bill M April 16, 2020, 9:14 am

    Good poem. the first I’ve heard of Margaret Walker. I need to get the book. I’ve been Profit of Freedom, yet I keep delaying.

  • Richard P April 16, 2020, 3:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing this fine poem (in Olympia Congress font!).
    Douglass is one of my heroes, a really brilliant and courageous man.

    • Mark Adams April 17, 2020, 4:24 pm

      That’s a beautiful font indeed. Do you know what typewriter that is in the picture?

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