March 1, 2019

Poetry to Read Aloud: Grimké and 'The Kiss'

Poems to Read Aloud , Seen|Read|Heard , Resources , Public Speaking

The Buckley School's founder believed that all public speakers should hone their presentation skills by reading poetry out loud. We keep that worthwhile practice alive by including a poem in our magazine each month for you to read aloud. Above, Angelina Weld Grimké from the 1923 publication of "Negro Poets and Their Poems."


"This is my first attempt at a diary. Poor little book to bear so great a burden; But one must talk to someone or go mad and so little book I talk to you."

– Entry in Angelina Weld Grimké’s diary, July 18, 1903

Poet, playwright, journalist, and teacher, Angelina Weld Grimké is best known for her play Rachel. It was one of the first plays that protested lynching, and Grimke was one of the first African American women to have a play performed in public. The NAACP staged Rachel to counter the movie Birth of a Nation in 1916. 

Grimké was born February 27, 1880, in Boston. She was the granddaughter of a wealthy Charleston plantation owner, Henry Grimké, and an enslaved woman, Nancy Weston. Her father, Archibald Grimké, was a lawyer and the second African American graduate of Harvard Law School.

Father, Archibald Grimké, and aunt, Angelina Grimké Weld

Grimké was named for her great-aunt, the outspoken abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Angelina Grimké Weld. Weld and Grimké’s other great-aunt, Sarah Grimké, had left Charleston for Philadelphia and were well-known speakers on the abolitionist lecture circuit.

Grimké wrote more than 170 poems, of which 31 were published. Judith Zvonkin, in a biography of Grimké, says:

When considering the sizable body of work Angelina Grimké produced, it is instructive to note that very little of her work was published. The times were not friendly to a person such as Ms. Grimké. Not only was it difficult for a Black woman to be published, but the fact that she was a Black lesbian woman at a time when such sexuality was not spoken of or in any way acceptable made it that much more difficult with regard to publication.

Grimké lived, taught, and wrote in Washington, D.C. for much of her life. After her father’s death in 1930, she moved to New York. She lived there until her death on June 10, 1958. Her manuscripts, letters, and journals are preserved at Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.  

Here’s one of her poems for you to read aloud: 

El Beso

by Angelina Weld Grimké

Twilight—and you
Quiet—the stars;
Snare of the shine of your teeth,
Your provocative laughter,
The gloom of your hair;
Lure of you, eye and lip;
Yearning, yearning,
Languor, surrender;
Your mouth,
And madness, madness,
Tremulous, breathless, flaming,
The space of a sigh;
Then awakening—remembrance,
Pain, regret—your sobbing;
And again, quiet—the stars,
Twilight—and you.

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