O brothers mine, take care! Take care! The great white witch rides out tonight, Trust not your prowess nor your strength; Your only safety lies in flight; for in her glance there is a snare, And in her smile is a blight.
The great white witch you have not seen? Then younger brothers mine, forsooth, Like nursery children you have looked For ancient hag and snaggle-tooth; But no, not so; the witch appears In all the glowing charms of youth.
Her lips are like carnations red, Her face like new-born lilies fair,
Her eyes like ocean waters blue, She moves with subtle grace and air,
And all about her head there floats The golden glory of her hair.
But through she always thus appears In form of youth and mood of mirth,
Unnumbered centuries are hers, The infant planets saw her birth;
The child of throbbing life is she, Twin sister to the greedy earth.
And back behind those smiling lips, And down within those laughing eyes,
And underneath the soft caress Of hand and voice and purring sighs,
The shadow of the panther lurks, The spirit of the vampire lies.
For I have seen the great white witch, And she has led me to her lair,
And I have kissed her red, red lips And cruel face so white and fair;
Around me she has twined her arms, And bound me with her yellow hair.
I felt those red lips burn and sear My body like a living coal;
Obeyed the power of those eyes As the needle trembles to the pole;
And did not care although I felt The strength go ebbing from my soul.
Oh! She has seen your strong young limbs, And heard your laughter loud and gay, And in your voices she has caught The echo of a far-off day,
When man was closer to the earth; And she marked you for her prey.
She feels an old Antaean strength In you, the great dynamic beat
Of primal passion, and she sees In you the last besieged retreat
Of love relentless, lusty, fierce, Love pain-ecstatic, cruel-sweet.
O brothers mine, take care! Take care! The great white witch rides out tonight. O, younger brothers mine, beware! Look not upon her beauty bright; For in her glance there is a snare, And in her smile is a blight.
From The Book of American Negro Poetry, edited by James Weldon Johnson, published in 1922.
James Weldon Johnson