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James Weldon Johnson, ed. (1871–1938). The Book of American Negro Poetry. 1922.

To a Skull

GHASTLY, ghoulish, grinning skull,

Toothless, eyeless, hollow, dull,

Why your smirk and empty smile

As the hours away you wile?

Has the earth become such bore

That it pleases nevermore?

Whence your joy through sun and rain?

Is ’t because of loss of pain?

Have you learned what men learn not

That earth’s substance turns to rot?

After learning now you scan

Vain endeavors man by man?

Do you mind that you as they

Once was held by mystic sway;

Dreamed and struggled, hoped and prayed,

Lolled and with the minutes played?

Sighed for honors; battles planned;

Sipped of cups that wisdom banned

But would please the weak frail flesh;

Suffered, fell, ’rose, struggled fresh?

Now that you are but a skull

Glimpse you life as life is, full

Of beauties that we miss

Till time withers with his kiss?

Do you laugh in cynic vein

Since you cannot try again?

And you know that we, like you,

Will too late our failings rue?

Tell me, ghoulish, grinning skull

What deep broodings, o’er you mull?

Tell me why you smirk and smile

Ere I pass life’s sunset stile.