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By W. E. B. Du Bois

I am the Smoke King

I am black!

I am swinging in the sky,

I am wringing worlds awry;

I am the thought of the throbbing mills,

I am the soul of the soul-toil kills,

Wraith of the ripple of trading rills;

Up I’m curling from the sod,

I am whirling home to God;

I am the Smoke King

I am black.


I am the Smoke King,

I am black!

I am wreathing broken hearts,

I am sheathing love’s light darts;

Inspiration of iron times

Wedding the toil of toiling climes,

Shedding the blood of bloodless crimes—

Lurid lowering ’mid the blue,

Torrid towering toward the true,

I am the Smoke King,

I am black.


I am the Smoke King,

I am black!

I am darkening with song,

I am hearkening to wrong!

I will be black as blackness can—

The blacker the mantle, the mightier the man!

For blackness was ancient ere whiteness began.

I am daubing God in night,

I am swabbing Hell in white:

I am the Smoke King

I am black.


I am the Smoke King

I am black!

I am cursing ruddy morn,

I am hearsing hearts unborn:

Souls unto me are as stars in a night,

I whiten my black men—I blacken my white!

What’s the hue of a hide to a man in his might?

Hail! great, gritty, grimy hands—

Sweet Christ, pity toiling lands!

I am the Smoke King

I am black.


W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Song of the Smoke” from Creative Writings by W. E. B Du Bois (KrausThomson Organization Limited, 1985). Reprinted with the permission of the Estate of W. E. B. Du Bois.

Source: Creative Writings by W. E. B. Du Bois (Kraus-Thomson Organization, 1985)

Poet Bio

W. E. B. Du Bois was an American civil rights activist, leader, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, editor, poet, and scholar. Born in Massachusetts, he attended Fisk University and Harvard University. As a sociologist, Du Bois began to study and document the oppression of Black Americans and their striving for equality in the 1890s. By 1903 Du Bois had produced one of his major works, The Souls of Black Folk, in which he wrote: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” A few years later, Du Bois joined other black leaders to found the Niagra Movement, a group that tried to abolish all distinctions based on race. In 1963, at the age of 95, he became a naturalized citizen of Ghana; he died there that year, and was given a state funeral.

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