"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Countee Cullen

This c. 1925 portrait of Countee Cullen (1903 -1946) by Winold Reiss hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
"'Yet do I marvel at this curious thing, / to make a poet black and bid him sing!' With these words, Countee Cullen described the ambiguous position of the black artist in American society in the 1920s. By the age of twenty-two, Cullen had graduated with honors from New York University and com­pleted Color (1925), his first volume of verse. He would become a leading figure of the literary and artistic movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. Winold Reiss's portrait of Cullen appeared in the  'Harlem' issue of Survey Graphic magazine, an overview of the Harlem Renaissance that would be republished as The New Negro. Here, Reiss conveys the poet's introspection with tilted head and averted glance. Celebrating Cullen's literary accomplish­ments, the portrait also captures the progressive spirit of the Harlem Renaissance and its quest for a new social awakening." -- National Portrait Gallery

Yet I do marvel

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must someday die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
-- Countee Cullen

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