Helene Johnson Poems

Helene Johnson (1906-1995) was an African-American poet associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Boston, she gained recognition for her poems that depicted ghetto life and explored African-American experiences. Although she published extensively in the 1920s and ’30s, she did not release original poetry later in life.

Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem

by Helene Johnson

‘Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem’ by Helene Johnson is a deeply affecting poem that lucidly attempts to uncover a man’s shortcomings alongside all that makes his superbly admirable.

This poem by Helene Johnson utilizes the sonnet form to laud both praises and critiques upon the image of a Black man seen in Harlem. The poet captures all the different facets of his appearance as perceived by both himself and those around him. It is a beautiful poem that serves as a reminder of the rebellious and unabashed side of individuality.

You are disdainful and magnificent—

Your perfect body and your pompous gait,

Your dark eyes flashing solemnly with hate,

Small wonder that you are incompetent

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