“Love takes off the masks ….”, James Baldwin

James Baldwin (1924-1987), American poet, novelist, playwright, social critic

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”  James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time



The giver (for Berdis)

If the hope of giving

is to love the living,

the giver risks madness

in the act of giving.

 

Some such lesson I seemed to see

in the faces that surrounded me.

 

Needy and blind, unhopeful, unlifted,

what gift would give them the gift to be gifted?

The giver is no less adrift

than those who are clamouring for the gift.

 

If they cannot claim it, if it is not there,

if their empty fingers beat the empty air

and the giver goes down on his knees in prayer

knows that all of his giving has been for naught

and that nothing was ever what he thought

and turns in his guilty bed to stare

at the starving multitudes standing there

and rises from bed to curse at heaven,

he must yet understand that to whom much is given

much will be taken, and justly so:

I cannot tell how much I owe.

© James Baldwin estate, excerpt from Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems (Beacon Press, 2014) [recommended]

JAMES BALDWIN (1924-1987) was a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, and one of America’s foremost writers. His essays, such as Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-twentieth-century America. A Harlem, New York, native, he primarily made his home in the south of France.

Baldwin’s novels include Giovanni’s Room (1956), about a white American expatriate who must come to terms with his homosexuality, and Another Country (1962), about racial and gay sexual tensions among New York intellectuals. His inclusion of gay themes resulted in much savage criticism from the black community. Going to Meet the Man (1965) and Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968) provided powerful descriptions of American racism. As an openly gay man, he became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against lesbian and gay people. Bio via James Baldwin’s Amazon page HERE.

Photo of James Baldwin taken in Hyde Park is courtesy of Allan warren under CC BY-SA 3.0

If you are viewing this post from an email subscription, you will likely have to link through to the site to watch this video. I happened on it today, which inspired this evening post. Twenty-eight well-spent minutes.

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