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Roscoe C. Jamison's "The Negro Soldiers"

Updated on September 30, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Roscoe C. Jamison

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Winners of the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in war

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Introduction and Text of Poem, "The Negro Soldiers"

In his poem "The Negro Soldiers," Roscoe C. Jamison celebrates the bravery of the African American soldiers who fought and died in World War I. (The term "African American" was not widely used at the time this poem was written.)

Roscoe C. Jamison's "The Negro Soldiers" appeared in 1917 in the June issue of The Crisis, a civil rights magazine founded in 1910 by W. E. B. DuBois. The poem declaims the importance of the bravery of the African American military men who fought in World War I. It highlights the irony of these brave soldiers who fought for a freedom that they were not yet completely able to enjoy.

The poem consists of two stanzas. The first stanza has eight lines with the rime scheme, ABABCBCB. The second stanza has nine lines with the rime scheme, ABCBCDEDE.

(Please note: The incorrect spelling, "rhyme," was erroneously introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson. For my explanation for using only the correct form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Negro Soldiers

These truly are the Brave,
These men who cast aside
Old memories, to walk the blood-stained pave
Of Sacrifice, joining the solemn tide
That moves away, to suffer and to die
For Freedom—when their own is yet denied!
O Pride! O Prejudice! When they pass by,
Hail them, the Brave, for you now crucified!

These truly are the Free,
These souls that grandly rise
Above base dreams of vengeance for their wrongs,
Who march to war with visions in their eyes
Of Peace through Brotherhood, lifting glad songs,
Aforetime, while they front the firing line.
Stand and behold! They take the field to-day,
Shedding their blood like Him now held divine,
That those who mock might find a better way!

Commentary

First Stanza: "These truly are the Brave"

The speaker asserts that the "Negro" soldiers are "truly" the brave ones. They rise above the unfairness they have faced from fellow citizens and go to war to fight for their country. They "suffer and [ ] die / For Freedom," even though they are denied that same freedom that the Caucasian soldiers enjoy.

The speaker calls for the audience to "hail them," that is, call them "the Brave," as they are watching the soldiers go marching off to war. Even though some of the citizenry is still suffering as if "crucified," they should admire and celebrate these soldiers for the sacrifices these brave men are making.

Second Stanza: "These truly are the Free"

In the second stanza, the speaker asserts that, "These truly are the Free." These soldiers who "rise / Above" "vengeance" are superior souls. They march off to war with "visions in their eyes"; they envision "Peace through Brotherhood." They sing "glad songs" as they face the enemy.

They meet their duties with courage and strength, knowing full well that they must shed their blood for their ideals. The speaker likens them to Christ who shed his blood for mankind.

As the divinity of Christ portended a "better way" of life for those who understood His courage and followed in His brave footsteps, those who understand and follow the courageous path of these brave black soldiers will also find "a better way."

Final Comment

This poem was written in the early part of the 20th century, and its elevated diction reveals that the poet has been influenced by the English poets such as Shakespeare and Wordsworth, as Phillis Wheatley, the first African American poet, had been.

The language is serious and dignified, appropriate for its subject. Its rime scheme and rhythm adhere to the sober, intellectual portrayal of the theme of bravery.

The bravery and dedication of the African American (known as "Negro" during the lifetime of the poet) soldiers rise above the indignity that those same soldiers have suffered as citizens of a nation not yet enlightened enough to recognize the equality of human beings, and the language of the poem portrays the subtle spiritual elevation of their sacrifice.

15th Regiment in France 1917

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© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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