Though the Flower Fades Away…

O! my heart now feels so cheerful as I go with footsteps light
      In the daily toil of my dear home; 
And I’ll tell to you the secret that now makes my life so bright—
      There’s a flower at my window in full bloom. 

It is radiant in the sunshine, and so cheerful after rain; 
        And it wafts upon the air its sweet perfume. 
It is very, very lovely! May its beauties never wane—
        This dear flower at my window in full bloom. 

Nature has so clothed it in such glorious array, 
      And it does so cheer our home, and hearts illume; 
Its dear mem’ry I will cherish though the flower fade away—
      This dear flower at my window in full bloom. 

Oft I gaze upon this flower with its blossoms pure and white. 
        And I think as I behold its gay costume, 
While through life we all are passing may our lives be always bright 
        Like this flower at my window in full bloom.

~Lucian Watkins “The Flower at My Window” 1909

Details of the life of poet Lucian Watkins are few: a black man born in 1878 in Virginia, educated as a teacher and served as a U.S. Army Sergeant in WWI, then died shortly after in 1920. He leaves behind only a handful of poems, including the one above.

There is very little information available about Lucian but three letters written by him show a young man who earnestly wanted to have both a writing career and a “bread-winning vocation.” He describes feeling compelled to compose poetry, no matter what else he accomplishes.

The obvious challenges he faced –
–as a black man looking for a suitable place to live in Illinois so he can attend a college where there are no other people of color nearby,
–as a veteran of a most horrific war,
–as a creative mind trying to find a way to make a living,
he writes passionately about the aspirational purity of a white flower outside his window. Its bright radiance represents what he longs for in his own life.

From his letter to President Bissell of Bissell Colleges in Effingham, Illinois in 1919 after President Bissell is unable to assist in finding him a place to live, having suggested that the war veteran might consider “doing light housekeeping” – essentially live as a servant in a white household:

“About this matter of a boarding place. While I had hoped to obtain board with a member of my own race in Effingham, I had not thought it imperative that I should do so. I feel sure that there is enough Christianity in Effingham to provide that a brother-stranger in their midst shall not die of hunger. What would Jesus do?

It seems that some places in the south they rise more readily to our American ideal of democracy than in the North and Middle-West. ‘The Richmond Planet’ of Richmond, Va., states that ‘right here in Richmond, the capital of the late Confederacy, colored soldiers are welcomed to aristocratic Westhampton, and with no sigh of racial discrimination or antipathy to their being there.’ What is the matter with Illinois?

I am not sure as to what your question involves. We shall talk it over when I arrive. There must be a way that is just and that will be good for all concerned. Very respectfully, signed Lucian B. Watkins

This man was not only a poet. He was a statesman.

Though Lucian Watkins’ life was cut short for reasons unknown, and his portfolio of poetry is small, he is nonetheless a gift to generations of future poets and readers. This black artist did not let the inevitable rainfall in his life discourage his world view; he himself is radiant with illumination, showing a budding cheerfulness. His work reminds us something as simple as observing a resilient flower outside our window can help heal painful hurts and fulfill our deepest longing.

In his writing, Lucian Watkins draws a thin line between joy and sorrow, embracing the joy in a simple white flower in full bloom before it, as will we all, fades away.

Flower gleam and glow
let your power shine
make the Clock reverse
bring back what once was mine
What once was mine
Heal what has been hurt
change the fate’s design
Save what has been lost
bring back what once was mine
what once was mine

~Healing Song from Tangled

No matter if you’re born
To play the king or pawn
For the line is thinly drawn ‘tween joy and sorrow
So my fantasy becomes reality
And I must be what I must be and face tomorrow
So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end
And flowers never bend with the rainfall

~Paul Simon
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3 thoughts on “Though the Flower Fades Away…

  1. I pray that when our Lord returns Mr. Watkins will be enjoying many beautiful heavenly flowers on the new Earth, along with their fragrance. God rest his soul!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an unusual story of a gifted person who gives such insights into the Black American existence in our Nation where freedom for all is taken for granted and our Democracy is the envy of most of our world — as he tries to vent his feelings, his struggle, while trying to express them through poetry. The inclusion here of the stunning, pure WHITE flowers is apt – in so many ways.
    .
    (Lucian asks, rhetorically, “WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH ILLINOIS?”
    Indeed, Lucian, what IS the matter with Illinois and ALL of our Nation’s other states in i this unique ‘freedom for all’ citizens but not just certain people who are cruelly omitted from that promise —
    where not all ‘citizens” are considered ‘free’ or ‘equal’ because of their Black, Yellow, Brown, Bronze skin!)

    Liked by 1 person

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