coiled like a lyncher’s rope,
Lips–old scars, or the first red blisters,
Breath–the last sweet scent of cane,
And her slim body, white as the ash
of black flesh after flame.”
When addressing a controversial, hotbed topic, many poor writer will skate around it. Not Toomer. He cuts straight to the bone, using powerful, violent imagery to portray the South, and the way it treats African-Americans. This could just as easily be called Portrait of the South
“He listened in reverent silence now to the priest’s appeal and through the words he heard even more distinctly a voice bidding him approach, offering him secret knowledge and secret power. He would know then what was the sin of Simon Magus and what the sin against the Holy Ghost for which there was no forgiveness. He would know obscure things, hidden from others, from those who were conceived and born children of wrath. He would know the sins, the sinful longings and sinful thoughts and sinful acts, of others, hearing them murmured into his ears in the confessional under the shame of a darkened chapel by the lips of women and of girls; but rendered immune mysteriously at his ordination by the imposition of hands, his soul would pass again uncontaminated to the white peace of the altar. No touch of sin would linger upon the hands with which he would elevate and break the host; no touch of sin would linger on his lips in prayer to make him eat and drink damnation to himself not discerning the body of the Lord. He would hold his secret knowledge and secret power, being as sinless as the innocent, and he would be a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedec.”
I loved the use of the priesthood as temptation in this passage, because it is both evidence that Stephen’s newfound piety will not last long due to his own nature, and a good critique on the allure of the church’s power that so many people have taken advantage of.
“When the possibilities themselves had accordingly turned stale, when the secret of the gods had grown faint, had perhaps even quite evaporated, that, and that only, was failure. It wouldn’t have been failure to be bankrupt, dishonoured, pilloried, hanged; it was failure not to be anything.”
Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories and Essays (New York: Library of America, 1999)
I feel this quote is the epitome of all of the deathbed regrets that have ever been expressed: the regret of passivity over activity.