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Before a Painting

James Weldon Johnson 1871 (Jacksonville) – 1938 (Wiscasset)



I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
He had created life and love and heart
On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
But mutely gazed upon that face divine.

And over me the sense of beauty fell,
As music over a raptured listener to
The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
There falls the aureate glory filtered through
The windows in some old cathedral dim.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson was an American author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and early civil rights activist. Johnson is best remembered for his leadership within the NAACP as well as for his writing, which includes novels, poems, and anthologies. He was also the first African-American professor at New York University. Later in life he was a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University. more…

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    "Before a Painting" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2022. Web. 21 Jan. 2022. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/20695/before-a-painting>.

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