• BABG

Jessie Fauset: Poetry

(1882-1961)

Jessie Redmon Fauset was born on April 27, 1882, in Camden County, New Jersey. She grew up in Philadelphia and attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls. She received a scholarship to study at Cornell University, where she was likely the first black female student, and she graduated with a BA in classical languages in 1905. After college, she worked as a teacher in Baltimore and Washington, D. C.

In 1912, Fauset began to write for the NAACP’s official magazine, The Crisis, which was cofounded and edited by W. E. B. Du Bois. After several years contributing poems, essays, and reviews to The Crisis, Fauset became the journal’s literary editor in 1919, moving to New York City for the position.

In her role as literary editor, Fauset introduced then-unknown writers, including Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Anne Spencer, to a national audience. In his memoir The Big Sea, Langston Hughes writes, “Jessie Fauset at The Crisis, Charles Johnson at Opportunity, and Alain Locke in Washington were the three people who midwifed the so-called New Negro literature into being. Kind and critical—but not too critical for the young—they nursed us along until our books were born.”

Along with her poetry and short fiction in The Crisis, Fauset published several novels known for their portrayal of middle-class African American life, including There Is Confusion (Boni and Liveright, 1924) and Plum Bun (Matthews & Marrot, 1928). She also edited The Brownies’ Book, a periodical for African American children, from 1920 to 1921.

Fauset left The Crisis in 1926 to teach French at a high school in the Bronx. She married Herbert Harris, a businessman, in 1929, and they lived together in New Jersey until his death in 1958. Fauset then returned to Philadelphia, where she lived until her death on April 30, 1961.

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 your 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;

Fulfilment 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.


OBLIVION


From the French of Massillon Coicou (Haiti)

I HOPE when I am dead that I shall lie

In some deserted grave—I cannot tell you why,

But I should like to sleep in some neglected spot

Unknown to every one, by every one forgot.

There lying I should taste with my dead breath

The utter lack of life, the fullest sense of death;

And I should never hear the note of jealousy or hate,

The tribute paid by passersby to tombs of state.

To me would never penetrate the prayers and tears

That futilely bring torture to dead and dying ears;

There I should lie annihilate and my dead heart would bless

Oblivion—the shroud and envelope of happiness.

© 2019 by MJ Fievre