When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.
Robert Hayden was an American poet, essayist, and educator. He served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1976–78, a role today known as US Poet Laureate.
Hayden, born Asa Bundy Sheffey in Detroit, Michigan, was raised in a slum called Paradise Valley. Hayden’s parents separated soon after his birth and he became the foster child of Sue Ellen Westerfield and William Hayden. He earned his BA (1936) from Detroit City College, later renamed Wayne State University, and between 1936 and 1938 participated in the Detroit Federal Writer’s Project.
Some of Hayden’s books include Heart-Shape in the Dust: Poems (Falcon Press, 1940), The Lion and the Archer (Hemphill Press, 1948), Figure of Time: Poems (Hemphill Press, 1955), A Ballad of Remembrance (P. Breman, 1962), Selected Poems (October House, 1966), and several others.