cover image My Soul's High Song

My Soul's High Song

Countee Cullen. Anchor Books, $16.95 (618pp) ISBN 978-0-385-41295-7

This is a prodigious volume of work by one of the most important black writers of the 1920s and '30s, a period of intense creative activity in Afro-American literature. As exemplified by the novel One Way to Heaven , Cullen (1903-1946) was perpetually caught between the morality of the church and the hedonism of a prospering Harlem, between the noble purity of his African roots and the bourgeois blandness resulting from miscegenation. Known primarily as a lyric poet, one of Cullen's greatest influences was Keats, whose spirit can be felt in many of the poems collected here, including ``The Ballad of the Brown Girl,'' in which a lord chooses to marry a rich black girl over the poor Caucasian woman whom he truly loves; ``Heritage,'' which answers the question ` `What is Africa to me? '' ; ``The Black Christ,'' confronting the relationship between Christianity and color; and scores of others about the beauty of love and the pain of death. This is a worthy collection by a writer whose myriad views deserve the recognition that has long been lost to them. Early is the author of Tuxedo Junction: Essays Towards a Cultural Definition of America. (Jan.)