Alpha Poems

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity originally served as a study and support group for African American students at Cornell, who faced racial prejudice, both educationally and socially. As such, poetry has been an important part of every Alpha Man’s journey.

The origin of these Alpha poems is something that every brother should endeavor to learn. The favorite of many is The House of Alpha by Brother Sydney P. Brown. The version we all know and love is different from the original published in The SPHINX in 1923. We also recite The Test of A Man as “Author Unknown,” but a longer version by Carlyle Straub was published in The SPHINX in 1939. The journey continues.


By William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever Gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of Circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of Chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


By Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!


By Carlyle Straub

The test of a man is the fight that he makes,
The grit that he daily shows,
The way he stands upon his feet,
And takes life’s numerous bumps and blows.

A coward can smile when there’s naught to fear.
And nothing his progress bars,
But it takes a man to stand and cheer,
While the other fellow stars.
It isn’t the victory after all
But the fight that a Brother makes.
A man when driven against the wall,
Still stands erect and takes the blows of fate
with his head held high,
bleeding and bruised and pale,
Is the man who will win and fate defied,
For he isn’t afraid to fail!

It’s the hurdles you mount and the breaks you get,
And the shocks your courage stands;
The hour of sorrow and vain regret,
For the prize that escapes your hands,
That test your mettle and prove your worth;
It isn’t the blows you deal
But the blows you take on this good old earth,
That show if your stuff is real.


By Bro. Freeman Montague, Jr.

Our family trees are not the same; we both have a different mother
And yet I’d proudly tell the world that this man is my brother.
It’s like we’ve lived our lives together, though we meet for the first time.
As this powerful sense of brotherhood makes everything seem fine.
Spectators stand and look with awe as we do our secret shake.
Never realizing that this clasping of hands DOES NOT a brother make.

We are brothers in a deeper sense than they can comprehend.
For when our bond has just begun, theirs is about to end.
When we were searching for the light, as all Sphinxmen must do.
They stood aside and laughed out loud and said “I wouldn’t do that, would you?”
And yet when we had crossed those sands, and the light we could finally see.
They stood aside and whispered softly Oh how I wish it were me!

I know the decision I made was wise, of this I’m sure and have no doubt.
Each day in my life will have blue skies for I’m an ALPHA from here on out.
And never again will I be lonely for I have brothers everywhere.
In cities of population two, I even have a brother there.

There is nothing in this whole wide world that we wouldn’t do for one another.
I’m sure I’d even give my life to save that of my brother.
But there are still those in darkness who cannot understand
why I share the burden which belongs to another man

When asked “Why weigh yourself down with the load of another?”
I simply smile at them and say,
He ain’t heavy, He’s my Brother!!!


Bro. Dr. Richard T. James, Jr.

A special bond among black college men.
We reflect an ideal,
Ignite a spark and unfold a dream,
That becomes reality.

Servants to our race,
To our community,
Ourselves and others.

A fraternal body whose purpose,
Represents a lifetime of commitment.

We are leaders.
Our determination to uplift others.
Who will one day stand on our shoulders,
Creating new paths and reaching even higher,
Toward the unknown.

A spirit of cohesiveness.
A single thought.
One mind.

We are made of the past,
Represent the present,
Create the future.

We are the guardians,
Of that which we cherish dearly.

We are our “Brother’s Keeper.”


By Bro. Sidney P. Brown

GOODWILL is the monarch of this house
Men, unacquainted, enter, shake hands,
exchange greetings, and depart friends.
Cordiality exists among all who abide within.

I am the eminent expression of friendship.
Character and temperament change under my dominant power.
Lives, once touched by me become tuned,
and are thereafter, amiable, kindly, fraternal.

I inspire the musician to play noble sentiments,
and assist the chemist to convert ungenerous personalities
into individuals of great worth.
I destroy all ignoble impulses.
I constantly invoke principles which make for common brotherhood,
and the echo resounds in all communities,
and princely men are thereby recognized.

Education, health, music, encouragement, sympathy, laughter:
All these are species of interest given of self-invested capital.
Tired moments find me a delightful treat,
Hours of sorrow a shrine of understanding,
At all times I am faithful to the creed of companionship.

To a few I am the Castle of Dreams,
Ambitious, successful, hopeful dreams.
To many, I am the Poetic Palace
where human feeling is rhymed to celestial motives.
To the great majority,
I am the Treasury of Good Fellowship.

In fact, I am the College of Friendship;
The University of Brotherly Love;
The School for the Better Making of Men.



By Clinton Howell

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low, and the debts are high,
and you you want to smile, but you have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twist and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow,
You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out,
the silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
and you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit,
It’s when things seem worst, that you must not quit.


By Fred H. Woodruff

To be an Alphaman means more than just to wear a pin,
It requires intrinsic qualities that are developed deep within,
It calls for lasting brotherhood, a word sometimes used in vain,
It means an honest devotion, not anticipation of personal gain.

Fraternity speaks of brotherly love, that’s something to achieve,
It’s more than just a grip of hands, it’s an ideal to conceive.
You’re proud to be an Alpha, and share her praises won,
Before you inflate yourself with pride, ask yourself, honestly,
how much have I done?

To realize the wealth of personal satisfaction, from knowing
you’ve given your all, To have helped her cause unfalteringly,
when you rally to her call.

To combine all these qualities, and root them deep within,
The product would be an Alphaman, deserving of his pin.
So take an honest inventory of your character within,
And for every virtue you find missing, try and weave it in.

For a man without these virtues isn’t worth a grain of sand.
It’s plain to see, it’s more than just a pin, that makes an