Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty (1-3)
The reference to "Liberty" in these first three lines clues us into the fact that this is a poem about race. The struggle against racial oppression is a struggle for liberty, after all. These lines also suggest the power of singing and, by extension, voicing our desire for freedom. If the speakers just sing loud enough, and demand their freedom insistently enough, they'll achieve "the harmonies of liberty."
Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chast'ning rod (11-12)
The metaphors of the "stony" road and "the chast'ning rod" allude to the long history of racial oppression in America. African-Americans had to tread a difficult path, first as slaves, and then as second-class citizens.
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our father sighed? (14-16)
The "fathers" in line 16 are the slave ancestors of the speakers of this poem. Those slave forefathers "sighed" for freedom, they wanted it for their children. And though they didn't live to see it, their children did achieve freedom from slavery. The image of the "weary feet" is another metaphor that suggests the very "weary" lives that African-Americans have had to lead in America.
Out from the gloomy past (19)
The "gloomy past" is another phrase that points to the difficult history of African-Americans. A past full of slavery is a gloomy past indeed.
True to our native land (33)
By saying that they are true to their native land, the speakers suggest that, despite the fact that their native land hasn't treated them very well, they're still loyal to it.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died (11-13)
The "stony" road and "chast'ning rod" allude to all the suffering that African-Americans have had to endure in America. The metaphor of the "chast'ning rod" reflects the violence that African-Americans have faced, especially during slavery. During those times, there was no hope. The personification of "hope" as a baby who has died reflects just how hopeless African-Americans felt when they first arrived in this country.
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered (17-18)
The metaphor of a path "watered" with "tears" and "blood" reflects how sorrowful and violent the African-American experience has been in America. These images sum up the extent of the suffering that the speakers have lived through.
God of our weary years
God of our silent tears (22-23)
These lines also allude to suffering. The "weary years" suggest how long the speakers have had to endure suffering. They haven't been suffering for days, or even months, but for years. The "silent tears" also suggest that that the speakers have had to suffer in silence.
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 (7-8)
The song that the speakers are singing is full of "faith" and "hope." It's a faith and hope that stems from a "dark past." This suggests that, even though they've gone through some really tough times, the speakers have managed to persevere. They're at a place where they have hope in the future.
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won (9-10)
The metaphor of the "rising sun" suggests the brighter future that the speakers are looking forward to. They've made it far in their struggle for freedom, and they will continue to move forward until they achieve victory.
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? (14-16)
In these lines, the speakers reflect on the fact that they're now at a place their slave forefathers only dreamed of. They're free—even if they're not equal citizens yet. By reflecting on how far they've come, the speakers suggest that their perseverance (alluded to in the "steady beat" of "weary feet) has paid off.
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast (19-21)
The speakers have made it through a "gloomy past"—a past full of suffering. They're not quite at the finish line yet, but the imagery of the gleaming white star suggests that things are looking up for them.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand (30-31)
The speakers refer to being "shadowed," or protected, by God in these lines. They want God to help them "forever stand," or to live in dignity and freedom. The hope that they'll be standing "forever" also suggests the speakers' faith in perseverance.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way (22-24)
In these lines, the speakers suggest that it's only God who has witnessed their "tears" and their "weary years." Through their sorrow and unhappiness, God has been there. Not only that, he's helped the speakers move forward.
Thou who hast by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray (25-27)
God is a strong dude. Through his "might," or strength, he's led the speakers into the "light," or into better times. The speakers pray to God to keep them on the right path: the path that leads to freedom. These lines suggest the power of God. Only He has the ability to transform the speakers' lives for the better.
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 (29-31)
In these lines, the speakers anticipate losing their connection to God. They're afraid that they will "stray" from God, or become so distracted by worldly things that they will forget Him. The speakers' words here suggest that this is a dangerous thing: without God, they're lost. It's only if they're protected by Him (or his "Hand") that they can hope to "stand" forever, or live in prosperity and freedom.
True to our God,
True to our native land (32-33)
In the final two lines of the poem, the speakers pledge allegiance to God and country. But they pledge allegiance to God before their "native land." The order of these lines suggests that, ultimately, these speakers put God above all else.