The Poetic Hill: Changing Hearts, Right or Wrong


In something of a departure this month, we’re reaching back in time to highlight a poet featured in Kim Roberts’s new anthology, “By Broad Potomac’s Shore” (see review opposite). Carrie Williams Clifford (1862-1934) was a poet and writer whose work was published in the leading African American journals of her time. She and her husband moved to DC in 1910, where she hosted salons for artists and intellectuals of color at her home at 939 S St. NW.

In the preface to “The Widening Light,” her book of poems published in 1923, she wrote, “The author makes no claim to unusual poetic excellence or literary brilliance. She is seeking to call attention to a condition, which she, at least, considers serious… [She] sends these lines forth with the prayer that they may change some heart or right some wrong.”

As, when some filthy sore grows menacing,
Polluting all the currents of pure air,
Dispersing its vile atoms everywhere
While with death-poisoned tentacles they cling,
To our hearts’ treasuries, devouring,
And laying waste the temples of our care,
The surgeon with blade kind but firm lays bare
And cuts away the flesh, foul, festering:
So must the learned doctors of the State
Relentlessly cut the leprous sore
Of prejudice! else will they find too late,
Its rank corruption eating thro’ the core
Of human brotherhood! Grim germs of Hate,
Razing our kingdom with titanic roar!

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