Gwendolyn Brooks

(7 June 1917 – 3 December 2000 / Topeka, Kansas)

The Ballad of Rudolph Reed


Rudolph Reed was oaken.
His wife was oaken too.
And his two good girls and his good little man
Oakened as they grew.

"I am not hungry for berries.
I am not hungry for bread.
But hungry hungry for a house
Where at night a man in bed

"May never hear the plaster
Stir as if in pain.
May never hear the roaches
Falling like fat rain.

"Where never wife and children need
Go blinking through the gloom.
Where every room of many rooms
Will be full of room.

"Oh my home may have its east or west
Or north or south behind it.
All I know is I shall know it,
And fight for it when I find it."

The agent's steep and steady stare
Corroded to a grin.
Why you black old, tough old hell of a man,
Move your family in!

Nary a grin grinned Rudolph Reed,
Nary a curse cursed he,
But moved in his House. With his dark little wife,
And his dark little children three.

A neighbor would look, with a yawning eye
That squeezed into a slit.
But the Rudolph Reeds and children three
Were too joyous to notice it.

For were they not firm in a home of their own
With windows everywhere
And a beautiful banistered stair
And a front yard for flowers and a back for grass?

The first night, a rock, big as two fists.
The second, a rock big as three.
But nary a curse cursed Rudolph Reed.
(Though oaken as man could be.)

The third night, a silvery ring of glass.
Patience arched to endure,
But he looked, and lo! small Mabel's blood
Was staining her gaze so pure.

Then up did rise our Roodoplh Reed
And pressed the hand of his wife,
And went to the door with a thirty-four
And a beastly butcher knife.

He ran like a mad thing into the night
And the words in his mouth were stinking.
By the time he had hurt his first white man
He was no longer thinking.

By the time he had hurt his fourth white man
Rudolph Reed was dead.
His neighbors gathered and kicked his corpse.
"Nigger--" his neighbors said.

Small Mabel whimpered all night long,
For calling herself the cause.
Her oak-eyed mother did no thing
But change the bloody gauze.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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  • Emancipation Planz (2/25/2008 1:25:00 AM)

    Luving the read of this but saddened by the ballad such... Reed, Breed, Creed.. when is enough, enough... a house, a home, a castle.... in each other we must trust ... (Report) Reply

  • Antoinette Gregg (3/30/2007 7:26:00 PM)

    This poem is a real work of art. I love they way Gwendolyn Brooks writes. It is inspiring and informing at the same time. (Report) Reply

  • Katherine Latasa (3/10/2006 3:07:00 PM)

    I remember coming across this poem in high school 30 years ago. I loved it then. Reading this now, I still feel connection. Thank You for having such a wide variety of information. (Report) Reply

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