Lucille Clifton’s Song of Myself

Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton


I wrote last week about how friends and fans of Lucille Clifton gathered at a special St. Mary’s College of Maryland commemoration of the poet, who taught at the college for 16 years. My friend Iris Ford, an African American Professor of Anthropology, read the Whitmanesque “won’t you celebrate with me” as she told how much Lucille supported and inspired her, especially when times got tough.

Lucille certainly went through a lot, enduring the early death of her husband, cancer, a kidney transplant, and the death of two of her children. And that’s in additition to the challenges encountered by a black woman born in 1936.

In “won’t you celebrate with me,” Lucille begins with a question but, after looking over how she shaped her life, concludes with a confident imperative. Although she was born in Babylon, a captive in a foreign land (nonwhite and a woman in America), she made up an identity for herself and grew into it. Composed of starshine and clay, something spiritual and something earthly, she carried herself into life (“My one hand carried my other hand”) and defied all that attempted to kill her.

Use the poem to get your day off on the right foot. A poetic caffeine jolt.

won’t you celebrate with me

By Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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