Isle of Lesbos : Poetry : Historical : Angelina Weld Grimké

 

Angelina Weld Grimké
1880-1958

Angelina Weld Grimké was born in 1880 in Boston, the only child of Archibald Grimké and Sarah Stanley. Angelina had a mixed racial background; her father was the son of a white man and a black slave, and her mother was from a prominent white family. Her parents named her after her great aunt Angelina Grimké Weld, a famous white abolitionist and women's rights advocate.

Angelina received a physical education degree at the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics in 1902. She worked as a gym teacher until 1907, when she became an English teacher, and she continued to teach until her retirement in 1926. During her teaching career, she wrote poetry, fiction, reviews, and biographical sketches. She became best known for her play entitled "Rachel." The story centers around an African-American woman (Rachel) who rejects marriage and motherhood. Rachel believes that by refusing to reproduce, she declines to provide the white community with black children who can be tormented with racist atrocities. "Rachel" was the only piece of Angelina's work to be published as a book; only some of her stories and poems were published, primarily in journals, newspapers, and anthologies.

Only her poetry reveals Angelina's romantic love toward women. The majority of her poems are love poems to women or poems about grief and loss. Some (particularly those published during her lifetime) deal with racial concerns, but the bulk of her poems are about other women, and were unlikely to be published for this reason. Only about a third of her poetry has been published to date.

Angelina's journal and letters reveal her lesbian tendencies from teenage years. At sixteen, she wrote to Mamie Burrill: "I know you are too young now to become my wife, but I hope, darling, that in a few years you will come to me and be my love, my wife! How my brain whirls how my pulse leaps with joy and madness when I think of these two words, 'my wife.'" But, despite Angelina's great passion, she kept her desires closeted throughout her life, trying to live up to her father's idea of morality. Her writing shows the effect self-denial had upon her, revealing her sorrow over her inability to find the female companionship that she so deeply desired.

Biography by Alix North

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Selected Works

Rosabel

I
Leaves, that whisper, whisper ever,
Listen, listen, pray;
Birds, that twitter, twitter softly,
Do not say me nay;
Winds, that breathe about, upon her,
(Since I do not dare)
Whisper, twitter, breathe unto her
That I find her fair.

II
Rose whose soul unfolds white petaled
Touch her soul rose-white;
Rose whose thoughts unfold gold petaled
Blossom in her sight;
Rose whose heart unfolds red petaled
Quick her slow heart's stir;
Tell her white, gold, red my love is;
And for her,--for her.

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You

I love your throat, so fragrant, fair,
The little pulses beating there;
Your eye-brows' shy and questioning air;
I love your shadowed hair.

I love your flame-touched ivory skin;
Your little fingers frail and thin;
Your dimple creeping out and in;
I love your pointed chin.

I love the way you move, you rise;
Your fluttering gestures, just-caught cries;
I am not sane, I am not wise,
God! how I love your eyes!

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Naughty Nan

I

Naughty Nan
If you can
Tell me how your frowns and smiles,
Sudden tears, and naive wiles,
Linked into a glittering band
Follow swiftly hand in hand?
Tell me wayward April-born,
Child of smiles and tears forlorn,
Have you ever felt the smart
Of a lacerated heart?
Are you but a sprite of moods?
Heartless, that fore'er deludes
Tell me naughty Nan?

II

Naughty Nan
If you can
Tell me why you have such eyes
Gleaming when not drooped in sighs
Or when veiled by falling rain?
Haughty oft but never vain
Sometime wistful orbs of brown,
Sometimes blazing in fierce scorn
But eyes that are never free
From some glance of witchery.
Tell me why you have such lips
Tempting me to stolen sips
Tender, drooping, luring, sad,
Laughing, mocking, madly glad,
Tell me naughty Nan?

III

Naughty Nan
If you can
Tell me why you play with me,
Take my heart so prettily
In your dainty, slender, hands,
Bruise its tender, loving, bands?
Tell me why your eyes are brown
Mock and glitter when I frown?
Flitting, luring, little, sprite
In a garb of moods bedight,
Dancing here, and dancing there,
Changeling strange, but ever fair
You have caught me in your snare,-
Naughty Nan.

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At April

Toss your gay heads,
Brown girl trees;
Toss your gay lovely heads;
Shake your downy russet curls
All about your brown faces;
Stretch your brown slim bodies;
Stretch your brown slim arms;
Stretch your brown slim toes.
Who knows better than we,
With the dark, dark bodies,
What it means
When April comes alaughing and aweeping
Once again
At our hearts?

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Where to Read More...

  • Women of Color, Women of Words, African American Playrights. A great resource for more information on Angelina Weld Grimké, including a photograph, bibliography, and more.
  • Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers of Color. A biography, selected bibliography and related links for the poet.
  • Angelina Weld Grimké Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimké, edited by Carolivia Herron (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991)
  • Gloria T. Hull, Color, Sex and Poetry: Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987)
  • Gloria T. Hull, "Under the Days: The Buried Life and Poetry of Angelina Weld Grimké" Conditions: Five, The Black Woman's Issue, 2: 2 (Autumn 1979)

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