Read DIALECT POEMS (FROM "BEFO' DE WAR") of The Coast of Bohemia, free online book, by Thomas Nelson Page, on ReadCentral.com.

  Uncle GABE’S white folks

  Sarvent, Marster!  Yes, suh, dat ’s me ­
    ‘Olé Unc’ Gabe’ ’s my name;
  I thankee, Marster; I ’m ‘bout, yo’ see. 
    “An’ de olé ’ooman?” She ’s much de same: 
  Po’ly an’ c’plainin’, thank de Lord! 
  But de Marster’s gwine ter come back from ’broad.

  “Fine olé place?” Yes, suh, ’t is so;
    An’ mighty fine people my white folks war ­
  But you ought ter ‘a’ seen it years ago,
    When de Marster an’ de Mistis lived up dyah;
  When de niggers ‘d stan’ all roun’ de do’,
  Like grains o’ corn on de cornhouse flo’.

  “Live’ mons’ous high?” Yes, Marster, yes;
    D’ cut ‘n’ onroyal ‘n’ gordly dash;
  Eat an’ drink till you could n’ res’. 
    My folks war n’ none o’ yo’ po’-white-trash;
  Nor, suh, dey was of high degree ­
  Dis heah nigger am quality!

  “Tell you ’bout ’em?” You mus’ ‘a’ hearn
    ‘Bout my olé white folks, sho’! 
  I tell you, suh, dey was gre’t an’ stern;
  D’ didn’ have nuttin’ at all to learn;
    D’ knowed all dar was to know;
  Gol’ over dey head an’ onder dey feet;
  An’ silber! dey sowed ’t like folks sows wheat.

  “Use’ ter be rich?” Dat warn’ de wud! 
    D’ jes’ wallowed an’ roll’ in wealf. 
  Why, none o’ my white folks ever stir’d
    Ter lif’ a han’ for d’ self;
  De niggers use ter be stan’in’ roun’
  Jes’ d’ same ez leaves when dey fus’ fall down;
  De stable-stalls up heah at home
  Looked like teef in a fine-toof comb;
  De cattle was p’digious ­I mus’ tell de fac’! 
  An’ de hogs mecked de hill-sides look lite black;
  An’ de flocks o’ sheep was so gre’t an’ white
  Dey ’peared like clouds on a moonshine night. 
  An’ when my olé Mistis use’ ter walk ­

    Jes’ ter her kerridge (dat was fur
    Ez ever she walked) ­I tell you, sir,
  You could almos’ heah her silk dress talk;
    Hit use’ ter soun’ like de mornin’ breeze,
  When it wakes an’ rustles de Gre’t House trees. 
  An’ de Marster’s face! ­de Marster’s face,
    Whenever de Marster got right pleased ­
  Well, I ‘clar’ ter Gord! ’t would shine wid grace
    De same ez his countenance had been greased. 
  Dat cellar, too, had de bes’ o’ wine,
  An’ brandy, an’ sperrits dat yo’ could fine;
  An’ ev’ything in dyah was stored,
  ‘Skusin’ de Glory of de Lord!

  “Warn’ dyah a son?” Yes, suh, you knows
    He ’s de young Marster now;
  But we heah dat dey tooken he very clo’es
    Ter pay what olé Marster owe;
  He ’s done been gone ten year, I s’pose. 
  But he ‘s comin’ back some day, of co’se;
  An my olé ’ooman is aluz ’pyard,
    An’ meckin’ de Blue-Room baid;
  An’ ev’ry day dem sheets is ayard,
    An’ will be tell she ’s daid;
  An’ dem styars she ’ll scour,
    An’ dat room she ‘ll ten’,
    Ev’y blessed day dat de Lord do sen’!

  What say, Marster?  Yo’ say, you knows ? 
    He ‘s young an’ slender-like an’ fyah;
  Better-lookin’ ’n you, of co’se! 
  Hi! you ’s he?  ‘Fo’ Gord! ’t is him! 
    ‘T is de very voice an’ eyes an’ hyah,
    An’ mouf an’ smile, on’y yo’ ain’ so slim ­
  I wonder whah ­whah is de olé ’ooman? 
  Now let my soul
    Depart in peace
  For I behol’
  Dy glory, Lord! ­I knowed you, chile ­
    I knowed you soon ’s I see ’d your face! 
  Whar has you been dis blessed while? 
    Yo’ ‘s “done come back an’ buy de place? 
    Oh, bless de Lord for all his grace! 
  De ravins shell hunger, an’ shell not lack
  De Marster, de young Marster is done come back!

  Little Jack

  Yes, suh.  ‘T was jes’ ’bout sundown
    Dad went ­two months ago;
  I always used ter run down
    Dat time, bec’us’, you know,
  I wudden like ter had him die,
    An’ no one nigh.

  You see, we cudden git him
    Ter come ’way off dat lan’ ­
  ‘E said New House did n’ fit him,
    No mo’ ‘n new shoes did; an’
  Gord moût miss him at Jedgment day,
    Ef he moved ’way.

  “How olé?” Ef we all wondered
    How olé he was, he ’d frown
  An’ say he was “a hundred an ­
    Olé Miss done sot it down,
  An’ she could tell ­’t was fo’ or five ­
    Ef she was live.”

  Well, when, as I was sayin’,
    Dat night I come on down,
  I see he bench was layin’
    Flat-sided on de groun’;
  An’ I kinder hurried to’ds de do’ ­
    Quick-like, you know.

  Inside I see him layin’
    Back, quiet, on de bed;
  An’ I heahed him kep on sayin’: 
    “Dat ’s what olé Marster said;
  An’ Marster warn’ gwine tell me lie,
    He ’ll come by-m’-by.”

  I axed how he was gettin’. 
    “Nigh ter de furrow’s een’,”
  He said; “dis ebenin’, settin’
    Outside de do’, I seen
  De thirteen curlews come in line,
    An’ knowed de sign.

  “You know, olé Marster tole me
    He ’d come for me ‘fo’ long;
  ‘Fo’ you was born, he sole me ­
    But den he pined so strong
  He come right arter Little Jack,
    An’ buyed him back.

  “I went back ter de kerrige
    An’ tuk dem reins ag’in. 
  I druv him ter his marriage;
    An’, nigger, ’t was a sin
  Ter see de high an’ mighty way
    I looked dat day!

  “Dat coat had nary button
    ‘Skusin’ it was ob gole;
  My hat ­but dat warn’t nuttin’! 
    ’T was noble ter behole
  De way dem hosses pawed de yar,
    Wid me up dyar.

  “Now all ‘s w’ared out befo’ me! ­
    Marster, an’ coat, an’ all;
  Me only lef ­you know me! ­
    Cheat wheat ‘s de lars’ ter fall: 
  De rank grain ben’s wid its own weight,
    De light stan’s straight.

  “But heah!  Olé Marster ’s waitin’ ­
    So I mus’ tell you:  raise
  De jice dyar; ’neaf de platin’ ­
    De sweat o’ many days
  Is in dat stockin’ ­toil an’ pain
    In sun an’ rain.

  “I worked ter save dem figgers
    Ter buy you; but de Lord
  He sot free all de niggers,
    Same as white-folks, ‘fo’ Gord! 
  Free as de crows!  Free as de stars! 
    Free as olé hyars!

  “Now, chile, you teck dat money,
    Git on young Marster’s track,
  An’ pay it ter him, honey;
    An’ tell him Little Jack
  Worked forty year, dis Chris’mus come,
    Ter save dat sum;

  “An’ dat ’t was for olé Marster,
    To buy your time f’om him;
  But dat de war come farster,
    An’ squandered stock an’ lim’ ­
  Say you kin work an’ don’t need none,
    An’ he carn’t, son.

  “He ain’ been use ter diggin’
    His livin’ out de dirt;
  He carn’t drink out a piggin,
    Like you; an’ it ’ud hurt
  Olé Marster’s pride, an’ make him sw’ar,
    In glory dyar!”

  Den all his strength seemed fallin’;
    He shet his eyes awhile,
  An’ den said:  “Heish! he ‘s callin’! 
    Dyar he!  Now watch him smile! 
  Yes, suh ­ You niggers jes’ stan’ back! 
    Marster, here ’s Jack!”

  Ashcake

  Well, yes, suh, dat am a comical name
    It are so, an’ for a fac’ ­
  But I knowed one, down in Ferginyer,
    Could ‘a’ toted dat on its back.

  “What was it?” I ’m gwine to tell you ­
    ’T was mons’us long ago: 
  ‘T was, “Ashcake,” suh; an’ all on us
    Use’ ter call ‘im jes’, “Ashcake,” so.

  You see, suh, my olé Marster, he
    Was a pow’ful wealfy man,
  Wid mo’ plantations dan hyahs on you haid ­
    Gre’t acres o’ low-groun’ lan’: 

  Jeems River bottoms, dat used ter stall
    A fo’-hoss plough, no time;
  An’ he ‘d knock’ you down ef you jes’ had dyared
    Ter study ’bout guano ‘n’ lime.

  De corn used ter stan’ in de row dat thick
    You jes’ could follow de balk;
  An’ rank! well I ‘clar’ ter de king, Ise seed
    Five ’coons up a single stalk!

  He owned mo’ niggers ‘n arr’ a man
    About dyar, black an’ bright;
  He owned so many, b’fo’ de Lord,
    He did n’ know all by sight!

  Well, suh, one evelin’, long to’ds dusk,
    I seen de Marster stan’
  An’ watch a yaller boy pass de gate
    Wid a ashcake in his han’.

  He never had no mammy at all ­
    Leastways, she was dead by dat ­
  An’ de cook an’ de hands about on de place
    Used ter see dat de boy kep’ fat.

  Well, he trotted along down de parf dat night,
    An’ de Marster he seen him go,
  An’ hollered, “Say, boy ­say, what ’s yer name?”
    “A ­ashcake, suh,” says Joe.

  It ’peared ter tickle de Marster much,
    An’ he called him up to de do’. 
  “Well, dat is a curisome name,” says he;
    “But I guess it suits you, sho’.”

  “Whose son are you?” de Marster axed. 
    “Young Jane’s,” says Joe; “she ’s daid.” 
  A sperrit cudden ‘a’ growed mo’ pale,
    An’, “By Gord!” I heerd him said.

  He tuk de child ’long in de house,
    Jes’ ‘count o’ dat ar whim;
  An’, dat-time-out, you nuver see
    Sich sto’ as he sot by him.

  An’ Ashcake swung his cradle, too,
    As clean as ever you see;
  An’ stuck as close ter olé Marster’s heel
    As de shader sticks to de tree.

  ’Twel one dark night, when de river was out,
    De Marster an’ Ashcake Joe
  Was comin’ home an’ de skiff upsot,
    An’ bofe wo’d ‘a’ drowned, sho’,

  Excusin’ dat Ashcake cotch’d olé Marst’r
    An’ gin him holt o’ de boat,
  An’ saved him so; but ’t was mo’n a week
    B’fo’ his body comed afloat.

  An’ de Marster buried dat nigger, suh,
    In de white-folks’ graveyard, sho! 
  An’ he writ ‘pon a white-folks’ tombstone,
    “Ashcake” ­jes’ “Ashcake” so.

  An’ de Marster he grieved so ’bouten dat thing,
    It warn’ long, suh, befo’ he died;
  An’ he ’s sleep, ’way down in Perginyer,
    Not fur from young Ashcake’s side.

  ZEKYL’S infidelity

      Mistis, I r’al’y wish you ’d hole
        A little conversation
      Wid my old Zekyl ’bout his soul. 
        Dat nigger’s sitiwation
      Is mons’us serious, ’deed ‘n’ ’t is,
      ‘Skusin’ he change dat co’se o’ his.

      Dat evil sinner ’s sot he face
        Ginst ev’y wud I know;
      Br’er Gabrul say, he ’s fell from grace,
        An’ Hell is got him sho’!

      He don’ believe in sperits,
        ‘Skusin’ ’t is out a jug! 
      Say ‘tain’ got no mo’ merits
        Den a olé half-cured lug;
      ‘N’ dat white cat I see right late,
      One evelin’ nigh de grave-yard gate,
      Warn’t nuttin’ sep some olé cat whar
      Wuz sot on suppin’ off old hyah.

      He ’oont allow a rooster
        By crowin’ in folks’ do’,
      Kin bring death dyah; and useter
        Say, he wish mine would crow. 
      An’ he even say, a hin moût try,
      Sep woman-folks would git so spry,
      An’ want to stick deeselves up den,
      An’ try to crow over de men.

      ’E say ‘t ain’ no good in preachin’;
        Dat niggers is sich fools ­
      Don’ know no mo’ ‘bout teachin’
      ’N white-folks does ’bout mules;
      An’ when br’er Gabrul’s hollered tell
      You mos’ kin see right into Hell,
      An’ rambled Scriptures fit to bus’,
      Dat hard-mouf nigger ‘s wus an’ wus.

      ’E say quality (dis is mainer
        ’N all Ise told you yit) ­
      Says ‘tain’ no better ’n ’arf-strainer;
        An’ dat his master ’ll git
      Good place in Heaven ­po’-white-folks, mark! ­
      As y’ all whar come right out de ark;
      An’ dat ­now jes’ heah dis! ­dat he,
      A po’-white-folks’ nigger ’s good as me!

      He ’s gwine straight to de deble! 
        An’ sarve him jes’ right, too! 
      He ’s a outdacious rebel,
        Arter all Ise done do! ­
      Ise sweat an’ arguified an’ blowed
        Over dat black nigger mo’
      ’N would ‘a’ teck a c’nal-boat load
        Over to Canyan sho’!

      Ise tried refection ­’t warn’ no whar! 
      Ise wrastled wid de Lord in pra’r;
      Ise quoiled tell I wuz mos daid;
      Ise th’owed de spider at his haid ­
      But he olé haid ’t wuz so thick th’oo
      Hit bus’ my skillit spang in two.

  You kin dye black hyah an’ meek it light;
  You kin tu’n de Ethiope’s spots to white;
  You moût grow two or three cubics bigger ­
  But you carn’t onchange a po’-white-folks’ nigger.

  When you ‘s dwellin’ on golden harps an’ chunes,
  A po-white-foiks’ nigger’s thinkin’ bout coons;
  An’ when you ‘s snifflin’ de heaven’y blossoms,
  A po’-white-folks’ nigger ‘s studyin’ ’bout possums.

  Marse Phil

  Yes, yes, you is Marse Phil’s son; you favor ’m might’ly, too. 
    We wuz like brothers, we wuz, me an’ him. 
  You tried to fool d’ olé nigger, but, Marster, ‘twouldn’ do;
    Not do yo’ is done growed so tall an’ slim.

  Hi!  Lord!  Ise knowed yo’, honey, sence long befo’ yo’ born ­
    I mean, Ise knowed de family dat long;
  An’ dees been white folks, Marster ­dee han ’s white ez young corn ­
    An’, ef dee want to, couldn’ do no wrong.

  You’ gran’pa bought my mammy at Gen’l Nelson’s sale,
    An’ Deely she come out de same estate;
  An’ blood is jes’ like pra’r is ­hit tain’ gwine nuver fail;
    Hit ’s sutney gwine to come out, soon or late.

  When I wuz born, yo’ gran’pa gi’ me to young Marse Phil,
    To be his body-servant ­like, you know;
  An’ we growed up together like two stalks in a hill ­
    Bofe tarslin’ an’ den shootin’ in de row.

  Marse Phil wuz born in harves’, an’ I dat Christmas come;
    My mammy nussed bofe on we de same time;
  No matter what one got, suh, de oder gwine git some ­
    We wuz two fibe-cent pieces in one dime.

  We cotch olé hyahs together, an’ possums, him an’ me;
    We fished dat mill-pon’ over, night an’ day;
  Rid horses to de water; treed coons up de same tree;
    An’ when you see one, turr warn’ fur away.

  When Marse Phil went to College, ’t wuz, “Sam ­Sam ’s got to go.” 
    Olé Marster said, “Dat boy ’s a fool ’bout Sam.” 
  Olé Mistis jes’ said, “Dear, Phil wants him, an’, you know ­”
    Dat “Dear” ­hit used to soothe him like a lamb.

  So we all went to College –­’way down to Williamsburg ­
    But ‘t warn’ much l’arnin out o’ books we got;
  Dem urrs warn’ no mo’ to him ’n a olé wormy lug;
    Yes, suh, we wuz de ve’y top-de-pot.

  An’ ef he didn’ study dem Latins an’ sich things,
    He wuz de popularetis all de while
  De ladies use’ to call him, “De angel widout wings”;
    An’ when he come, I lay dee use’ to smile.

  Yo’ see, he wuz olé Marster’s only chile; an’ den,
    He had a body-servant ­at he will;
  An’ wid dat big plantation; dee ’d all like to be brides;
    Dat is ef dee could have de groom, Marse Phil.

  ‘T wuz dyah he met young Mistis ­she wuz yo’ ma, of co’se! 
    I disremembers now what mont’ it wuz: 
  One night, he comes, an’ seys he, “Sam, I needs new clo’es”;
    An’ seys I, “Marse Phil, yes, suh, so yo’ does.”

  Well, suh, he made de tailor meek ev’y thing bran’ new;
    He would n’ w’ar one stitch he had on han’ ­
  Jes’ throwed ’em in de chip box, an’ seys, “Sam, dem ’s fur you.” 
    Marse Phil, I tell yo’, wuz a gentleman.

  So Marse Phil co’tes de Mistis, an’ Sam he co’tes de maid ­
    We always sot our traps upon one parf;
  An’ when we tole olé Marster we bofe wuz gwine, he seyd,
    “All right, we ’ll have to kill de fatted calf.”

  An’ dat wuz what dee did, suh ­de Prodigal wuz home;
    Dee put de ring an’ robe upon yo’ ma. 
  Den you wuz born, young Marster, an’ den de storm hit come;
    An’ den de darkness settled from afar.

  De storm hit comed an’ wrenchted de branches from de tree ­
    De war ­you’ pa ­he ’s sleep dyah on de hill;
  An’ do I know, young Marster, de war hit sot us free? 
    I seys, “Dat ’s so; but tell me whar ’s Marse Phil?”

  “A dollar!” ­thankee, Marster, you sutney is his son;
    You is his spitt an’ image, I declar’! 
  What sey, young Marster?  Yes, suh:  you sey, “It ’s five ­not one ­”
    Yo’ favors, honey, bofe yo’ pa an’ ma!

  One mourner

(FOR IRWIN RUSSELL, WHO DIED IN NEW ORLEANS IN GREAT DESTITUTION, ON
CHRISTMAS EVE, 1879)

  Well, well, I declar’!  I is sorry. 
    He ’s ‘ceasted, yo’ say, Marse Joe? ­
  Dat gent’man down in New Orleans,
    Whar writ ’bout’n niggers so,

  An’ tole, in all dat poetry
    You read some time lars’ year,
  ‘Bout niggers, an’ ‘coons, an’ ’possums,
    An’ olé times, an’ mules an’ gear?

  Jes’ name dat ag’in, seh, please, seh;
    Destricution ‘s de word yo’ said? 
  Dat signifies he wuz mons’us po’,
    Yo’ say? ­want meat and bread?

  Hit moût:  I never knowed him
    Or hearn on him, ‘sep’ when you
  Read me dem valentines o’ his’n;
    But I lay you, dis, seh ’s, true ­

  Dat he wuz a rael gent’man,
    Bright fire dat burns, not smokes;
  An’ ef he did die destricute,
    He war n’t no po’-white-folks.

  Dat gent’man knowed ’bout niggers,
    Heah me! when niggers wuz
  Ez good ez white-folks mos’, seh,
    I knows dat thing, I does.

  An’ he could ‘a’ tetched his hat, seh,
    To me jes’ de same ez you;
  An’ folks gwine to see what a gent’man
    He wuz, an’ I wuz, too.

  He could n’ ‘a’ talked so natchal
    ‘Bout niggers in sorrow an’ joy,
  Widdouten he had a black mammy
    To sing to him ’long ez a boy.

  An’ I think, when he tole ’bout black-folks
    An’ olé-times, an’ all so sweet,
  Some nigh him moût ‘a’ acted de ravins
    An’ gin him a mouf-ful to eat,

  An’ not let him starve at Christmas,
    When things ain’t sca’ce nowhar ­
  Ef he hed been a dog, young Marster,
    I ’d ’a feeded him den, I ‘clar’!

  But wait!  Maybe Gord, when thinkin’
    How po’ he ’d been himself,
  Cotch sight dat gent’man scufflin’,
    An’ ’lowed fur to see what wealf

  Hit moût be de bes’ to gin him,
    Ez a Christmas-gif’, yo’ know;
  So he jes’ took him up to heaven,
    Whar he earn’ be po’ no mo’.

  An’ jes’ call his name ag’in, seh. 
    How? ­IRWIN RUSSELL ­so? 
  I ’se gwine fur to tell it to Nancy,
    So ef I ’d furgit, she ’d know.

  An’ I hopes dey ’ll lay him to sleep, seh,
    Somewhar, whar de birds will sing
  About him de live-long day, seh,
    An’ de flowers will bloom in Spring.

  An’ I wish, young Marster, you ’d meek out
    To write down to whar you said,
  An’ sey, dyar ’s a nigger in Richmond
    Whar ’s sorry Marse Irwin ’s dead.