May 23, 2012

Birth of Olivia Ward Bush-Banks

Olivia Ward was born in Sag Harbor, New York on May 23, 1869. Less than a year later, her mother died and, when her father remarried, she was sent to Providence, Rhode Island to live with an aunt. In high school, she began writing poetry, often exploring her biracial identity (African American and Native American). She married Frank Bush in 1889, with whom she had two daughters, though they divorced. She published her first book of poems just before the turn of the century (earning the praise of Paul Laurence Dunbar). A few years later, she married Anthony Banks and moved to Chicago.

Original Poems, published in 1899, was dedicated "with proud reverence and respect" to the African American race. It included only 10 poems, concluding with "Voices":

I stand upon the haunted plain
    Of vanished day and year,
And ever o'er its gloomy waste
    Some strange, sad voice I hear.
Some voice from out the shadowed Past;
    And one I call Regret,
And one I know is Misspent Hours,
    Whose memory lingers yet.

Then Failure speaks in bitter tones,
    And Grief, with all its woes;
Remorse, whose deep and cruel stings
    My painful thoughts disclose.
Thus do these voices speak to me,
    And flit like shadows past;
My spirit falters in despair,
    And tears flow thick and fast.

But when, within the wide domain
    Of Future Day and Year
I stand, and o'er its sunlit Plain
    A sweeter Voice I hear,
Which bids me leave the darkened Past
    And crush its memory,–
I'll listen gladly, and obey
    The Voice of Opportunity.

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