The Old Testament beard blows
in the gale of a mighty shout;
the hair on his head raised
by the sheer force of fury; eyes
rolling under the promontory
of a frowning brow; brawny arms
outstretched in righteousness
burst the confines of the canvas –
This John Brown is anything but
a-mouldering in the grave.
This giant is girded with pistol
and sword; this prophet’s rage
raises tornados; this patriarch
dwarfs all who come near –
the settler unaware of the storm
bearing down on his wagon;
the cowering negro looking up
to the saviour that towers above him.
This John Brown is a soldier
in the Army of the Lord indeed,
and that his soul goes marching on,
of this the artist allows no doubt.
But that is not the question.
The question is whether
the voice of the black man
for whom this storm was raised
can be heard over the giant’s shouting –
if he can ever make himself understood
over the endless deafening chorus of
Glory, glory, hallelujah, Glory, glory hallelujah …