Lift Every Voice and Sing Poem by James Weldon Johnson Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson is a poem/song that is considered as “The Black National Anthem” as it encourages the newer generation of the Black Community to lift their voices up and fight against their oppression.  

About the poet

James Weldon Johnson, leader of NAACP and also an influential black poet is well known in the black community for writing “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. 


Stanza One 

Lift every voice and sing   

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.   

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on till victory is won.

The poem begins by the speaker encouraging people to lift their voice and sing. The speaker wants everyone to sing so loudly that their voices echo not only on earth but also in heaven.The echo that is mingled with harmonies of Liberty, ie. freedom. 

The speaker stimulates people to rejoice so that it reaches the skies that meekly listens to their singing. The speaker also wishes their rejoicing to resound as loud as the rolling sea. 

In the next lines, the speaker invigorates the people to engross their singing with faith that they learned from their dark past. A song full of hope that the present has conferred upon them. 

The speaker motivates the people to learn from their past and rejoice in their present that is full of hope for a new day to rise. As the sun rises, a new day begins and the speaker encourages the people to face the new challenges by marching towards them instead of running away or hiding. The speaker wants the people to face their battles till they win every single one of them. He wants to march towards the issues to triumph upon them. 

This poem portrays certain experiences of African American communities and the problems of inequality and slavery that they faced. 

Stanza Two 

Stony the road we trod,

Bitter the chastening rod,

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;   

Yet with a steady beat,

Have not our weary feet

Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,

Out from the gloomy past,   

Till now we stand at last

Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

In the second stanza, the speaker describes their struggles. “We” in the first verse of the second stanza refers to the African American community. The speaker talks about how they have walked over a stony road, ie, life wasn’t easy for them. They had to face many obstacles in the past. 

He further says that these hurdles often bring a moral improvement but for them this “chastening rod” is bitter. Its’ bitter because the hope that was never born, died. Due to lack of hope, the moral lessons don’t add any more specific meaning to their struggles. 

Despite the lack of hope, they still marched on with a steady beat till their feet wore-out. They reached a place that their fathers died for. 

They watered their tears to make their way that they now walk upon. They tramp over the shedded blood of their people who were slaughtered for their freedom. 

Away from this sorrowful past, they finally walk over the road and stand on their own. They stand and gaze at the white light of their brightest star that casts upon the sky. This white light can also mean the white supremacy that they stare at after fighting for their freedom. It also means looking at the bright future that they hold. 

Stanza Three

God of our weary years,   

God of our silent tears,

Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;

Thou who hast by Thy might   

Led us into the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,

Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;

Shadowed beneath Thy hand,   

May we forever stand.   

True to our God,

True to our native land.

In the last stanza, the speaker prays to the God who was with them in their hardships, who stood behind them when they shed their silent tears. The God who has led them so far towards the bright light. The speaker is grateful towards their God and worships to keep them forever on the right path. 

The speaker asks God to prevent them from losing the path where they met him. The place where they got enlightened, shall not be forgotten. Even if they find the new world pleasing, they shall not forget their God who sheltered them underneath his hand. 

The poem ends by the speaker praying to forever be grateful towards their God and their native land of Africa where they came from. It displays the speaker’s patriotic feelings and strong faith that he wants to preserve.