Black History Month: Thomas Washington Talley’s “Negro Folk Rhymes –– Wise and Otherwise” (1922)

Vintage Valentine 1

Selections from: Thomas Washington Talley’s “Negro Folk Rhymes –– Wise and Otherwise” (1922)
. . .

Love is just a Thing of Fancy
Love is jes a thing o’ fancy,
Beauty’s jes a blossom;
If you wants to git yo’ finger bit,
Stick it at a ‘possum.
Beauty, it’s jes skin deep;
Ugly, it’s to de bone.
Beauty, it’ll jes fade ‘way;
But Ugly’ll hold ‘er own.
. . .
Joe and Malinda Jane
Ole Joe jes swore upon ‘is life
He’d make Merlindy Jane ‘is wife.
W’en she hear ‘im up ‘is love an’ tell,
She jumped in a bar’l o’ mussel shell.
She scrape ‘er back till de skin come off.
Nex’ day she die wid de Whoopin’ Cough.
. . .
I love Somebody
I loves somebody, yes I do;
An’ I wants somebody to love me too.
Wid my chyart an’ oxes stan’in ‘roun’,
Her pretty liddle foot needn’ tetch de groun’.
I loves somebody, yes I do,
Dat randsome, handsome, Stickamastew.
Wid her reddingoat an’ waterfall,
She’s de pretty liddle gal dat beats ’em all.
. . .
Likes and Dislikes
I sho’ loves Miss Donie! Oh yes, I do!
She’s neat in de waist,
Lak a needle in de case;
An’ she suits my taste.
I’se gwineter run wid Mollie Roalin’! Oh yes, I will!
She’s pretty an’ nice
Lak a bottle full o’ spice,
But she’s done drap me twice.
I don’t lak Miss Jane! Oh no, I don’t.
She’s fat an’ stout,
Got her mouf sticked out,
An’ she laks to pout.
. . .
Sugar Loaf Tea
Bring through yo’ Sugar-lo’ tea, bring through yo’ Canday,
All I want is to wheel, an’ tu’n, an’ bow to my Love so handy.
You tu’n here on Sugar-lo’ tea, I’ll turn there on Candy.
All I want is to wheel, an tu’n, an’ bow to my Love so handy.
Some gits drunk on Sugar-lo’ tea, some gits drunk on Candy,
But all I wants is to wheel, an’ tu’n, an’ bow to my Love so handy.
. . .
Kissing Song
A sleish o’ bread an’ butter fried,
Is good enough fer yo’ sweet Bride.
Now choose yo’ Lover, w’ile we sing,
An’ call ‘er nex’ onto de ring.
“Oh, my Love, how I loves you!
Nothin’ ‘s in dis worl’ above you.
Dis right han’, fersake it never.
Dis heart, you mus’ keep forever.
One sweet kiss I now takes from you;
Caze I’se gwine away to leave you.”

. . .

Kneel on this Carpet
Jes choose yo’ Eas’; jes choose yo’ Wes’.
Now choose de one you loves de bes’.
If she hain’t here to take ‘er part
Choose some one else wid all yo’ heart.
Down on dis chyarpet you mus’ kneel,
Shore as de grass grows in de fiel’.
Salute yo’ Bride, an’ kiss her sweet,
An’ den rise up upon yo’ feet.
. . .
Sweet Pinks and Roses
Sweet pinks an’ roses, strawbeers on de vines,
Call in de one you loves, an’ kiss ‘er if you minds.
Here sets a pretty gal,
Here sets a pretty boy;
Cheeks painted rosy, an’ deir eyes battin’ black.
You kiss dat pretty gal, an’ I’ll stan’ back.
. . .
You love your Girl
You loves yo’ gal?
Well, I loves mine.
Yo’ gal hain’t common?
Well, my gal’s fine.
I loves my gal,
She hain’t no goose –
Blacker ‘an blackberries,
Sweeter ‘an juice.
. . .
Down in the Lonesome Garden
Hain’t no use to weep, hain’t no use to moan;
Down in a lonesome gyardin.
You cain’t git no meat widout pickin’ up a bone,
Down in a lonesome gyardin.
Look at dat gal! How she puts on airs,
Down in de lonesome gyardin!
But whar did she git dem closes she w’ars,
Down in de lonesome gyardin?
It hain’t gwineter rain, an’ it hain’t gwineter snow;
Down in my lonesome gyardin.
You hain’t gwineter eat in my kitchen doo’,
Nor down in my lonesome gyardin.
. . .
A Wind-Bag
A Nigger come a-struttin’ up to me las’ night;
In his han’ wus a walkin’ cane,
He tipped his hat an’ give a low bow;
“Howdy-doo! Miss Lize Jane!”
But I didn’t ax him how he done,
Which make a hint good pinned,
Dat I’d druther have a paper bag,
When it’s sumpin’ to be filled up wid wind.
. . .
Why look at Me?
What’s you lookin’ at me for?
I didn’ come here to stay.
I wants dis bug put in yo’ years,
An’ den I’se gwine away.
I’se got milk up in my bucket,
I’se got butter up in my bowl;
But I hain’t got no Sweetheart
Fer to save my soul.
. . .
A Short Letter
She writ me a letter
As long as my eye.
An’ she say in dat letter:
“My Honey –– Good-by!
. . .
A Request to Sell
Gwineter ax my daddy to sell ole Rose,
So’s I can git me some new clo’s.
Gwineter ax my daddy to sell ole Nat,
So’s I can git a bran’ new hat.
Gwineter ax my daddy to sell ole Bruise,
Den I can git some Brogran shoes.
Now, I’se gwineter fix myse’f “jes so”,
An’ take myse’f down to Big Shiloh.
I’se gwine right down to Big Shiloh
To take dat t’other Nigger’s beau.

. . .
Coffee grows on White Folks’ Trees
Coffee grows on w’ite folks’ trees,
But de Nigger can git dat w’en he please.
De w’ite folks loves deir milk an’ brandy,
But dat black gal’s sweeter dan ‘lasses candy.
Coffee grows on w’ite folks’ trees,
An’ dere’s a river dat runs wid milk an’ brandy.
De rocks is broke an’ filled wid gold,
So dat yaller gal loves dat high-hat dandy.
. . .
Kept Busy
Jes as soon as de sun go down,
My True-love’s on my min’.
An’ jes as soon as de daylight breaks
De white folks is got me a gwine.
She’s de sweetes’ thing in town;
An’ when I sees dat Nig,
She make my heart go “pitty-pat”,
An’ my head go “whirly-gig.”
. . .
Pretty little Pink
My pretty liddle Pink,
I once did think,
Dat we-uns sho’ would marry;
But I’se done give up,
Hain’t got no hope,
I hain’t got no time to tarry.
I’ll drink coffee dat flows,
From oaks dat grows,
‘Long de river dat flows wid brandy.
. . .
A bitter Lovers’ Quarrel – side One
You nasty dog! You dirty hog!
You thinks somebody loves you.
I tells you dis to let you know
I thinks myse’f above you.
. . .
Do I Love You?
Does I love you wid all my heart?
––I loves you wid my liver;
An’ if I had you in my mouf,
I’d spit you in de river.
. . .
She hugged Me and kissed Me
I see’d her in de Springtime,
I see’d her in de Fall,
I see’d her in de Cotton patch,
A cameing from de Ball.
She hug me, an’ she kiss me,
She wrung my han’ an’ cried.
She said I wus de sweetes’ thing
Dat ever lived or died.
She hug me an’ she kiss me.
Oh Heaben! De touch o’ her han’!
She said I wus de puttiest thing
In de shape o’ mortal man.
I told her dat I love her,
Dat my love wus bed-cord strong;
Den I axed her w’en she’d have me,
An’ she jues say “Go long!”
. . .
You have made Me weep
You’se made me weep,
you’se made me mourn,
you’se made me tears an’ sorrow.
So far’ you well, my pretty liddle gal,
I’se gwine away to-morrow.
. . .
Me and my Lover
Me an’ my Lover, we fall out.
How d’you reckon de fuss begun?
She laked licker, an’ I laked fun,
An’ dat wus de way de fuss begun.
Me an’ my Lover, we fall out.
W’at d’you reckon de fuss wus ’bout?
She loved bitters, an’ I loved kraut,
An’ dat wus w’at de fuss wus ’bout.
Me an’ my Lover git clean ‘part.
How d’you reckon dat big fuss start?
She’s got a gizzard, an’ I’se got a heart,
An’ dat’s de way dat big fuss start.
. . .
I wish I was an Apple
I wish I wus an apple,
An’ my Sallie wus anudder.
What a pretty match we’d be,
Hangin’ on a tree togedder!
If I wus an apple,
An’ my Sallie wus anudder;
We’d grow up high, close to de sky,
Whar de Niggers couldn’ git ‘er.
We’d grow up close to de sun
An’ smile up dar above;
Den we’d fall down ‘way in de groun’
To sleep an’ dream ’bout love.
W’en we git through a dreamin’,
We’d bofe in Heaben wake.
No Nigger shouldn’t git my gal
W’en ‘is time come to bake.
. . .
Invited to take the Escort’s Arm
Miss, does you lak strawberries?
Den hang on de vine.
Miss, does you lak chicken?
Den have a wing dis time.
. . .
Sparking or Courting
I’se heaps older dan three.
I’se heaps thicker dan barks;
An’ de older I gits,
De mo’ harder I sparks.
I sparks fast an’ hard,
For I’se feared I mought fail.
Dough I’se gittin’ ole,
I don’t co’t lak no snail.
. . .
A clandestine Letter
Kind Miss,
If I sent you a letter,
By de crickets,
Through de thickets,
How’d you answer better?
Kind Suh,
I’d sen’ you a letter,
By de mole,
Not to be tol’;
Fer dat’s mo’ secretter.
. . .
Antebellum Marriage Proposal
(A proposal of marriage with the answer deferred)
De ocean, it’s wide; de sea, it’s deep.
Yes, in yo’ arms I begs to sleep,
Not fer one time, not fer three;
But long as we-uns can agree.
Please gimme time, Suh, to “reponder”;
Please gimme time to “gargalize”;
Den ‘haps I’ll tu’n to “cattlegog”,
An’ answer up ‘greeable fer a s’prise.
. . .
(A proposal of marriage with its acceptance)
Kind Miss,
I’se on de stage o’ action,
Pleadin’ hard fer satisfaction,
Pleadin’ ‘fore de time-thief late;
Darfore, Ma’m, now, “cravenate”.*
If I brung to you a gyarment;
To be cut widout scissors,
An’ to be sewed widout thread;
How (I ax you) would you make it,
Widout de needle sewin’
An’ widout de cloth spread?
Kind Suh,
I’d make dat gyarment
Wid love from my heart,
Wid tears on yo’ head;
We never would part.
. . .
Presenting a Hat to Phoebe
Sister Phoebe,
Happy wus we,
W’en we sot under dat Juniper tree.
Take dis hat it’ll keep yo’ head warm.
Take dis kiss, it’ll do you no harm.
Sister Phoebe,
De hours, dey’re few;
But dis hat’ll say I’se thinkin’ ’bout you.
Sugar, it’s sugar; an’ salt, it’s salt;
If you don’t love me, it’s sho’ yo’ own fault.
. . .
W’at is dat a wukin
At yo’ han’bill on de wall,
So’s yo’ sperit, it cain’t res’,
An’ a gemmun’s heat, it call?
Is you lookin’ fer sweeter berries
Growin’ on a higher bush?
An’ does my combersation suit?
If not, w’at does you wush?
. . .
When I go to marry
W’en I goes to marry,
I wants a gal wid money.
I wants a pretty black-eyed gal
To kiss an’ call me “Honey”.
Well, w’en I goes to marry,
I don’t wanter git no riches.
I wants a man ’bout four foot high,
So’s I can w’ar de britches.
. . .
Good-by, Wife!
I had a liddle wife,
An’ I didn’ want to kill ‘er;
So I tuck ‘er by de heels,
An’ I throwed ‘er in de river.
“Good-by, Wife! Good-by, Honey!
Hadn’t been fer you,
I’d a had a liddle money.”
My liddle fussy wife
Up an’ say she mus’ have scissors;
An’ druther dan to fight,
I’d a throwed ‘er in three rivers.
But she crossed dem fingers, w’en she go down,
An’ a liddle bit later
She walk out on de groun’.
. . .
My Baby
I’se de daddy of dis liddle black baby.
He’s his mammy’s onliest sweetes liddle Coon.
Got de look on de forehead lak his daddy,
Pretty eyes jes as big as de moon.
I’se de daddy of dis liddle black baby.
Yes, his mammy keep de “Sugar” rollin’ over.
She feed him wid a tin cup an’ a spoon;
An’ he kick lak a pony eatin’ clover.
. . .
My Folks and your Folks
If you an’ yo’ folks
Likes me an’ my folks
Lak me an’ my folks
Likes you an’ yo’ folks;
You’s never seed folks
Since folks ‘as been folks
Like you an’ yo’ folks
Lake me an’ my folks.
. . .
Fed from the Tree of Knowledge
I nebber starts to break my colt,
Till he’s ole enough to trabble.
I nebber digs my taters up
W’en dey’s only right to grabble.
So w’en you sees me risin’ up
To structify in meetin’,
You can know I’se climbed de Knowledge Tree
An’ done some apple eatin’.
. . .
The Tongue
Got a tongue dat jes run when it walk?
It cain’t talk.
Got a tongue dat can hush when it talk?
––It cain’t squawk.
. . .
Don’t tell All You know
Keep dis in min’, an’ all ‘ll go right;
As on yo’ way you goes;
Be shore you knows ’bout all you tells,
But don’t tell all you knows.
. . .
Thomas Washington Talley (1870 – 1952) taught chemistry and biology at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He also sang with the New Fisk Jubilee Singers and conducted the Fisk choir for several seasons. But mainly, today, he is known as a seminal scholar of African-American rhymes and folksongs. Some of the rhymes he compiled dated as far back as the mid-19th-century – the final decades of slavery. In middle age Talley had begun to search out and collect rural black folk songs, many of which were disappearing with the gradual demise of the older generation. Professor Talley compiled several hundred rhymes and songs, and in 1922 published his anthology: Negro Folk Rhymes (Wise and Otherwise).

Negro Folk Rhymes is divided into sections: nursery rhymes, child’s-play call&response rhymes, dance rhymes, “wise sayings” and so forth. But it being Valentine’s Day today, we have chosen our selection from the Love, Courtship, and Marriage chapters of Talley’s volume!

. . . . .

Marcus Bruce Christian: “I am New Orleans” and “The Masquerader”

Marcus Bruce Christian as a boy_probably around 1912

Marcus Bruce Christian as a boy_probably around 1912

Marcus Bruce Christian in the 1960s

Marcus Bruce Christian in the 1960s

Marcus Bruce Christian
(1900 – 1976, Louisiana poet, historian and folklorist)
. . .
I am New Orleans: A Poem (excerpts)
I have known
Many people –
Many voices –
Many languages.
I have heard the soft cries of the African,
Jargoning an European tongue:
Belles des figures!
Bon petit calas! Tout chauds, chère, tout chauds!
Pralines – pistaches! Pralines – pecanes!
“Ah got duh nice yahlah bananas, lady!”
“Bla-a-a-a-a-ack ber-r-r-r-r-r-e-e-e-e-z!”
“Peenotsa! Peenotsa! Cuma gitta fromee!”
“Ah wanna qua’tee red beans,
Ena qua’tee rice,
Ena piece uh salt meat –
Tuh makkit tas’e nice:
En hurry up, Mr. Groceryman,
En put dat lan-yap in mah han’!”
“Papa Bonnibee, beat dem hot licks out! –
Ah sed, Poppa Stoppa, let dat jazz cum out!
En efyuh donh feet it,
‘Tain’t no use tellin’ yuh
Jess what it’s all about!
Now, gimme sum High Cs on dat horn ‘n’ let dem
Saints go marching in!”
Way Down Yonder In New Orleans…
Take it away, Mister Charlie!”
. . .
I am New Orleans,
A perpetual Mardi Gras
Of wild Indians, clowns, lords and ladies,
Bourbon Street Jezebels, Baby Dolls, and Fat Cats;
Peanut-vendors, flower-sellers, organ-grinders,
chimney-sweepers, and fortune-tellers.
And then, at the end, bone-rattling skeletons
and flying ghosts.
I am New Orleans –
A city that is a part of, and yet apart from all,
A collection of contradictory environments;
A conglomeration of bloods and races and classes
and colours;
Side-by-side, the New tickling the ribs of the Old;
Cheek-by-jowl, the Ludicrous making faces at the Sublime.

. . .

The Masquerader

Here, as a guest esteemed,
I do not hide;
None would dare laugh at me –
None dare deride.
For I am white now –
Far whiter than you;
How did I get that way?
Ah! if you knew!
You have been very nice!
Took me to tea,
Took me to dinners –
And made love to me.
You have been very kind –
Begged for a date –
Me — in whose veins there flows
Blood that you hate.
I, who am cherished
And part of your joy –
I am more alien than
Those you employ.
You say I am a dream?
Dreams do not last.
When I am lost to you,
Whisper, “She passed.”

. . .


I shall take your image

From out of my heart

And sweep your tracks

From its floor,


Dead yesterdays

And you.

Step by step,

As you walk away,

I go behind you

Sweeping . . .

Sweeping . . .

. . .
Inconvenient Love

Love is an inconvenient thing –
Out of nowhere it slips,
And grows into something that saves or slays,
Or something that binds or grips;
And it sets a seal upon one’s lips.
Love has its own peculiar way –
Knowing its own blind art;
Bending strong souls like reeds to the wind,
And then – when it does depart –
Stamping in frantic and frenzied pain
A signet upon one’s heart.
. . .

Bachelor’s Apartment

The curtains from Daphne,
The curtains from Chloe;
The doilies from Helen;
The pillows from Flo;
The towels from Myrtle,
The teapot from Rose;
The book-ends from Marion –
Anything goes!
The comb-set from Muriel,
The lampshade from Delia;
The picture from Mabel,
The vases from Celia;
From Bertha – the candlesticks;
Those women left things
In my heart and my home!
. . .
The Craftsman
I ply with all the cunning of my art
This little thing, and with consummate care
I fashion it—so that when I depart,
Those who come after me shall find it fair
And beautiful. It must be free of flaws—
Pointing no labourings of weary hands;
And there must be no flouting of the laws
Of beauty—as the artist understands.
Through passion, yearnings infinite—yet dumb—
I lift you from the depths of my own mind
And gild you with my soul’s white heat to plumb
The souls of future men. I leave behind
This thing that in return this solace gives:
“He who creates true beauty ever lives.”

. . .
After the Years…

After the years have carted away

The grief and the shame;

After the years have carted away

The crime and the lust;

After the years have carted away

The faith and the trust:

After the years have carted them all

I claim

–The humblest claim–

Oblivion in the dust.

. . .
The Dreamer
(for Arturo Toscanini)

I am the dreamer – one whose dream
Is a diaphanous strange thing;
I top the crags, I bridge the stream,
I make the dead page glow and sing.
I plumb the depths, I count the stars,
I strain the sinews of my soul
To break through earth’s material bars
And seek perfection at its goal.
For I he who never halts –
I never say, “This task is done.”
I climb through subterranean vaults
To tilt my lance against the sun.
I am the essence of all art –
Javelins of gold from darkness hurled
Into the light – I break my heart
To set my dream against the world.

. . .
Source for the above poems:
I Am New Orleans & Other Poems By Marcus B. Christian, edited by Rudolph Lewis & Amin Sharif
. . .

ZP Editor’s note:

Tuesday, February 9th (Mardi Gras, 2016):

Wishing to feature Black History Month poems for Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we chanced upon a poet too little known: Marcus Bruce Christian. Themes of love and loss, love across “the colour line”, labour and economic struggle, and the spirit of place (I am New Orleans: A Poem) run throughout Christian’s close to 2000 poems. Our Special Thanks to editor Rudolph Lewis of Chicken Bones: A Journal, for introducing us to this fine poet from the past!

. . . . .

Sterling Allen Brown: “She jes’ gits hold of us dataway”

The family pictured here was part of The Great Migration:  African-Americans on the move from the rural South up or over to towns and cities of the North and MidWest. They wished to escape that Life of which Ma Rainey sang...

The family pictured here was part of The Great Migration: African-Americans on the move from the rural South up or over to towns and cities of the North and MidWest. They wished to escape that Life of which Ma Rainey sang…

Sterling Allen Brown (1901-1989)

Ma Rainey” (1932)



When Ma Rainey

Comes to town,

Folks from anyplace

Miles aroun’,

From Cape Girardeau,

Poplar Bluff,

Flocks in to hear

Ma do her stuff;

Comes flivverin’ in,

Or ridin’ mules,

Or packed in trains,

Picknickin’ fools. . . .

That’s what it’s like,

Fo’ miles on down,

To New Orleans delta

An’ Mobile town,

When Ma hits

Anywheres aroun’.



Dey comes to hear Ma Rainey from de little river settlements,

From blackbottorn cornrows and from lumber camps;

Dey stumble in de hall, jes a-laughin’ an’ a-cacklin’,

Cheerin’ lak roarin’ water, lak wind in river swamps.

An’ some jokers keeps deir laughs a-goin’ in de crowded aisles,

An’ some folks sits dere waitin’ wid deir aches an’ miseries,

Till Ma comes out before dem, a-smilin’ gold-toofed smiles

An’ Long Boy ripples minors on de black an’ yellow keys.



O Ma Rainey,

Sing yo’ song;

Now you’s back

Whah you belong,

Git way inside us,

Keep us strong. . . .

O Ma Rainey,

Li’l an’ low;

Sing us ’bout de hard luck

Roun’ our do’;

Sing us ’bout de lonesome road

We mus’ go. . . 



I talked to a fellow, an’ the fellow say,

She jes’ catch hold of us, somekindaway.

She sang Backwater Blues one day:

   It rained fo’ days an’ de skies was dark as night,

   Trouble taken place in de lowlands at night.

   ‘Thundered an’ lightened an’ the storm begin to roll

   Thousan’s of people ain’t got no place to go.

   ‘Den I went an’ stood upon some high ol’ lonesome hill,

   An’ looked down on the place where I used to live.’

An’ den de folks, dey natchally bowed dey heads an’ cried,

Bowed dey heavy heads, shet dey moufs up tight an’ cried,

An’ Ma lef’ de stage, an’ followed some de folks outside.”

Dere wasn’t much more de fellow say:

She jes’ gits hold of us dataway.

.     .     .

Ma Rainey” from The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown, edited by Sterling A. Brown. © 1932

Ma Rainey with her band in 1923_Eddie Pollack_Albert Wynn_Thomas A. Dorsey_Dave Nelson_Gabriel Washington

Ma Rainey with her band in 1923_Eddie Pollack_Albert Wynn_Thomas A. Dorsey_Dave Nelson_Gabriel Washington

.     .     .     .     .

Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson: “The Praline Woman”

Photograph of a 19th century Creole woman

Photograph of a 19th cetury Creole man

Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson(1875-1935)

The Praline Woman”

(from: The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Short Stories, published in 1899)

[ On title page: “To my best comrade – My husband [Paul Laurence Dunbar]” ]


Editor’s Note:

French settlers brought the Praline recipe to Louisiana where both sugar cane and pecan trees were plentiful. During the 19th century, chefs in New Orleans substituted pecans for the originally-used almonds, and added cream to thicken the confection. They thus created what became known throughout the American South as the Praline. Pralines have a creamy consistency, similar to fudge. They are most often made combining brown sugar, butter, and cream or buttermilk in a pot on medium-high heat, and stirring constantly until most of the water has evaporated and the mass reaches a thick texture of a brownish colour. The mixture then cools down and hardens somewhat, then is ready to eat.


The Creole people of Louisiana are descended from 18th-century colonial settlers of French – and sometimes Spanish – descent, with those of African descent via American slavery. Many Creoles in the 19th century were mixed-race people. This also included Native-American ancestry in some families. The word Creole itself has many different meanings, depending on which country, culture, and language where it is in use – throughout The Americas.


A note on the language employed by Dunbar-Nelson:

The author has created a hybrid language of her own here, combining Black-American Southern Dialect with Louisiana (French-based) Creole (primarily translated into ‘accented’ English) – so that her English-speaking readers might enjoy reading what for most would be a narrative of home-grown “exotica”.

.     .     .

The Praline Woman”


The praline woman sits by the side of the Archbishop’s quaint little old chapel on Royal Street, and slowly waves her latanier fan over the pink and brown wares.

“Pralines, pralines. Ah, ma’amzelle, you buy? S’il vous plait, ma’amzelle, ces pralines, dey be fine, ver’ fresh.

“Mais non, maman, you are not sure?

“Sho’, chile, ma bébé, ma petite, she put dese up hissef. He’s hans’ so small, ma’amzelle, lak you’s, mais brune. She put dese up dis morn’. You tak’ none? No husban’ fo’ you den!

“Ah, ma petite, you tak’? Cinq sous, bébé, may le bon Dieu keep you good!

“Mais oui, madame, I know you étrangér. You don’ look lak dese New Orleans peop’. You Lak’ dose Yankee dat come down ‘fo’ de war.”

Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong, chimes the Cathedral bell across Jackson Square, and the praline woman crosses herself.

“Hail, Mary, full of grace–

“Pralines, madame? You buy lak’ dat? Dix sous, madame, an’ one lil’ piece fo’ lagniappe fo’ madame’s lil’ bébé. Ah, c’est bon!

“Pralines, pralines, so fresh, so fine! M’sieu would lak’ some fo’ he’s lil’ gal’ at home? Mais non, what’s dat you say? She’s daid! Ah, m’sieu, ‘t is my lil’ gal what died long year ago. Misèrè, misère!

“Here come dat lazy Indien squaw. What she good fo’, anyhow? She jes’ sit lak dat in de French Market an’ sell her filé, an’ sleep, sleep, sleep, lak’ so in he’s blanket. Hey, dere, you, Tonita, how goes you’ beezness?

“Pralines, pralines! Holy Father, you give me dat blessin’ sho’? Tak’ one, I know you lak dat w’ite one. It tas’ good, I know, bien.

“Pralines, madame? I lak’ you’ face. What fo’ you wear black? You’ lil’ boy daid? You tak’ one, jes’ see how it tas’. I had one lil’ boy once, he jes’ grow ‘twell he’s big lak’ dis, den one day he tak’ sick an’die. Oh, madame, it mos’ brek my po’ heart. I burn candle in St. Rocque, I say my beads, I sprinkle holy water roun’ he’s bed; he jes’ lay so, he’s eyes turn up, he say ‘Maman, maman,’ den he die! Madame, you tak’ one. Non, non, no l’argent, you tak’ one fo’ my lil’ boy’s sake.

“Pralines, pralines, m’sieu? Who mak’ dese? My lil’ gal, Didele, of co’se. Non, non, I don’t mak’ no mo’.

Po’ Tante Marie get too ol’. Didele? She’s one lil’ gal I’dopt. I see her one day in de strit. He walk so; hit col’ she shiver, an’ I say, ‘Where you gone, lil’ gal?’ and he can’ tell. He jes’ crip close to me, an’ cry so! Den I tak’ her home wid me, and she say he’s name Didele. You see dey wa’nt nobody dere. My lil’ gal, she’s daid, of de yellow fever; my lil’ boy, he’s daid, po’ Tante Marie all alone. Didele, she grow fine, she keep house an’ mek’ pralines. Den, when night come, she sit wid he’s guitar an’ sing:

“‘Tu l’aime ces trois jours,
Tu l’aime ces trois jours,
Ma coeur à toi,
Ma coeur à toi,
Tu l’aime ces trois jours!’

“Ah, he’s fine gal, is Didele!

“Pralines, pralines! Dat lil’ cloud, h’it look lak’ rain, I hope no.

“Here come dat lazy I’ishman down de strit. I don’t lak’ I’ishman, me, non, dey so funny. One day one I’ishman, he say to me, `Auntie, what fo’ you talk so?’ and I jes’ say back, ‘What fo’ you say “Faith an’ be jabers”?’ ‘Non, I don’t lak I’ishman, me!

“Here come de rain! Now I got fo’ to go. Didele, she be wait fo’ me. Down h’it come! H’it fall in de Meesseesip, an’ fill up– up–so, clean to de levee, den we have big crivasse, an’ po’ Tante Marie float away. Bon jour, madame, you come again? Pralines! Pralines!

.     .     .

Source for the short story above:   the online archives of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Harlem, New York City)

Photographs:  A 19th-century Creole woman, New Orleans / A 19th-century Creole man, New Orleans

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“Go on and up!”: the tight-rope-walking poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar

ZP_Paul Laurence Dunbar_a studio photographic portrait from 1896

ZP_Paul Laurence Dunbar_a studio photographic portrait from 1896

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906, Dayton, Ohio, U.S.A.)



Folks ain’t got no right to censuah othah folks about dey habits;

Him dat giv’ de squir’ls de bushtails made de bobtails fu’ de rabbits.

Him dat built de gread big mountains hollered out de little valleys,

Him dat made de streets an’ driveways wasn’t shamed to make de alleys.


We is all constructed diff’ent, d’ain’t no two of us de same;

We cain’t he’p ouah likes an’ dislikes, ef we’se bad we ain’t to blame.

Ef we’se good, we needn’t show off, case you bet it ain’t ouah doin’

We gits into su’ttain channels dat we jes’ cain’t he’p pu’suin’.


But we all fits into places dat no othah ones could fill,

An’ we does the things we has to, big er little, good er ill.

John cain’t tek de place o’ Henry, Su an’ Sally ain’t alike;

Bass ain’t nuthin’ like a suckah, chub ain’t nuthin’ like a pike.


When you come to think about it, how it’s all planned out it’s splendid.

Nuthin’s done er evah happens, ‘dout hit’s somefin’ dat’s intended;

Don’t keer whut you does, you has to, an’ hit sholy beats de dickens –

Viney, go put on de kittle, I got one o’ mastah’s chickens.


.     .     .


“A Negro Love Song”


Seen my lady home las’ night,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Hel’ huh han’ an’ sque’z it tight,

Jump back, honey, jump bck.

Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,

Seen a light gleam f’om huh eye,

An’ a smile go flittin’ by –

Jump back, honey, jump back.


Hyeahd de win’ blow thoo de pine,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Mockin’-bird was singin’ fine,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

An’ my hea’t was beatin’ so,

When I reached my lady’s do’,

Dat I couldn’t ba’ to go –

Jump back, honey, jump back.


Put my ahm aroun’ huh wais’,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Raised huh lips an’ took a tase,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Love me, honey, love me true?

Love me well ez I love you?

An’ she answe’d, “ ’Cose I do” –

Jump back, honey, jump back.


.     .     .




Lucy done gone back on me,

Dat’s de way wif life.

Evaht’ing was movin’ free,

T’ought I had my wife.

Den some dahky comes along,

Sings my gal a little song,

Since den, evaht’ing’s gone wrong,

Evah day dey’s strife.


Didn’t answer me to-day,

W’en I called huh name,

Would you t’ink, she’d ac’ dat way

W’en I ain’t to blame?

Dat’s de way dese women do,

W’en dey fin’s a fellow true,

Den dey  ’buse him thoo an’ thoo;

Well, hit’s all de same.


Somep’n’s wrong erbout my lung,

An’ I’s glad hit’s so.

Doctah says  ’at I’ll die young,

Well, I wants to go!

Whut’s de use o’ livin’ hyeah,

W’en de gal you loves so deah,

Goes back on you clean an’ cleah –

I sh’d like to know!


.     .     .




Hit ‘s been drizzlin’ an’ been sprinklin’,

Kin’ o’ techy all day long.

I ain’t wet enough fu’ toddy,

I ‘s too damp to raise a song,

An’ de case have set me t’inkin’,

Dat dey ‘s folk des lak de rain,

Dat goes drizzlin’ w’en dey’s talkin’,

An’ won’t speak out flat an’ plain.


Ain’t you nevah set an’ listened

At a body ‘splain his min’?

W’en de t’oughts dey keep on drappin’

Was n’t big enough to fin’?

Dem ‘s whut I call drizzlin’ people,

Othahs call ’em mealy mouf,

But de fust name hits me bettah,

Case dey nevah tech a drouf.


Dey kin talk from hyeah to yandah,

An’ f’om yandah hyeah ergain,

An’ dey don’ mek no mo’ ‘pression,

Den dis powd’ry kin’ o’ rain.

En yo’ min’ is dry ez cindahs,

Er a piece o’ kindlin’ wood,

‘T ain’t no use a-talkin’ to ’em,

Fu’ dey drizzle ain’t no good.


Gimme folks dat speak out nachul,

Whut ‘ll say des whut dey mean,

Whut don’t set dey wo’ds so skimpy

Dat you got to guess between.

I want talk des’ lak de showahs

Whut kin wash de dust erway,

Not dat sprinklin’ convusation,

Dat des drizzle all de day.


.     .     .


“The Lawyer’s Ways”


I ‘ve been list’nin’ to them lawyers

In the court house up the street,

An’ I ‘ve come to the conclusion

That I’m most completely beat.

Fust one feller riz to argy,

An’ he boldly waded in

As he dressed the tremblin’ pris’ner

In a coat o’ deep-dyed sin.


Why, he painted him all over

In a hue o’ blackest crime,

An’ he smeared his reputation

With the thickest kind o’ grime,

Tell I found myself a-wond’rin’

In a misty way and dim,

How the Lord had come to fashion

Sich an awful man as him.


Then the other lawyer started,

An’ with brimmin’, tearful eyes,

Said his client was a martyr

That was brought to sacrifice.

An’ he give to that same pris’ner

Every blesséd human grace,

Tell I saw the light o’ virtue

Fairly shinin’ from his face.


Then I own ‘at I was puzzled

How sich things could rightly be;

An’ this aggervatin’ question

Seems to keep a-puzzlin’ me.

So, will some one please inform me,

An’ this mystery unroll–

How an angel an’ a devil

Can persess the self-same soul?


.     .     .




Well, mebbe ya don’t remember Tim

Little feller, lank an’ slim

Jest about as big as a minute

With an eye like coal, with a sparkle in it.

Newsboys ust to carry The Press

Littlest one on the force I guess

But he wasn’t afeared to run and holler

Spry as a cricket an’ bright as a dollar.

Wall, like a book I knowed this Tim

use to work along a’ him

When The Press was a little measley sheet,

An’ I reckon this team was hard to beat.

Sell papers, well know you’re a talkin’ sin;

When we got out we made a din

All up and down the busy street

Till every blesséd printed sheet

We had was gone, then me and Tim

We’d hurry home in the twilight dim

Down to our cellar an’ while away

The darkenin’ hours in quiet play.

Fur we wuz only kids, us two

And played like other youngsters do.

Orphans, we wuz without friend

His aid er helpin’ hand to lend

Yes we wuz poor as poor could be

But we wuz happy – Tim and me.

And the days went by like a song of joy

You know what it is to be a boy

I reckon you’ll laugh when you hear me say

That we fell in love in a boyish way.


.     .     .


“To a Captious Critic”


Dear critic, who my lightness so deplores,

Would I might study to be prince of bores,

Right wisely would I rule that dull estate –

But, sir, I may not, till you abdicate.


.     .     .




My heart to thy heart,

My hand to thine;

My lip to thy lips,

Kisses are wine

Brewed for the lover in sunshine and shade;

Let me drink deep, then, my African maid.


Lily to lily,

Rose unto rose;

My love to thy love

Tenderly grows.

Rend not the oak and the ivy in twain,

Nor the swart maid from her swarthier swain.


.     .     .


“Ode to Ethiopia”


O Mother Race! to thee I bring

This pledge of faith unwavering,

This tribute to thy glory.

I know the pangs which thou didst feel,

When Slavery crushed thee with its heel,

With thy dear blood all gory.


Sad days were those – ah, sad indeed!

But through the land the fruitful seed

Of better times was growing.

The plant of freedom upward sprung,

And spread its leaves so fresh and young –

Its blossoms now are blowing.


On every hand in this fair land,

Proud Ethiope’s swarthy children stand

Beside their fairer neighbour;

The forests flee before their stroke,

Their hammers ring, their forges smoke –

They stir in honest labour.


They tread the fields where honour calls;

Their voices sound through senate halls

In majesty and power.

To right they cling; the hymns they sing

Up to the skies in beauty ring,

And bolder grow each hour.


Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul;

Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll

In characters of fire.

High ‘mid the clouds of Fame’s bright sky

Thy banner’s blazoned folds now fly,

And truth shall lift them higher.


Thou hast the right to noble pride,

Whose spotless robes were purified

By blood’s severe baptism.

Upon thy brow the cross was laid,

And labour’s painful sweat-beads made

A consecrating chrism.


No other race, or white or black,

When bound as thou wert, to the rack,

So seldom stooped to grieving;

No other race, when free again,

Forgot the past and proved them men

So noble in forgiving.


Go on and up! Our souls and eyes

Shall follow thy continuous rise;

Our ears shall list thy story

From bards who from thy root shall spring,

And proudly tune their lyres to sing

Of Ethiopia’s glory.


.     .     .


“We Wear the Mask”


We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.


Why should the world be over-wise

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.


We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!


.     .     .




Out of my heart, one day, I wrote a song,

With my heart’s blood imbued,

Instinct with passion, tremulously strong,

With grief subdued;

Breathing a fortitude


And one who claimed much love for what I wrought,

Read and considered it,

And spoke:

“Ay, brother –  ’tis well writ,

But where’s the joke?”


.     .     .




Deep in my heart that aches with the repression,

And strives with plenitude of bitter pain,

There lives a thought that clamours for expression,

And spends its undelivered force in vain.


What boots it that some other may have thought it?

The right of thoughts’ expression is divine;

The price of pain I pay for it has bought it,

I care not who lays claim to it –’t is mine!


And yet not mine until it be delivered;

The manner of its birth shall prove the test.

Alas, alas, my rock of pride is shivered –

I beat my brow – the thought still unexpressed.


.     .     .


“A Choice”


They please me not – these solemn songs

That hint of sermons covered up.

’T is true the world should heed its wrongs,

But in a poem let me sup,

Not simples brewed to cure or ease

Humanity’s confessed disease,

But the spirit-wine of a singing line,

Or a dew-drop in a honey cup!


.     .     .




With what thou gavest me, O Master,

I have wrought.

Such chances, such abilities,

To see the end was not for my poor eyes,

Thine was the impulse, thine the forming thought.


Ah, I have wrought,

And these sad hands have right to tell their story,

It was no hard up striving after glory,

Catching and losing, gaining and failing,

Raging me back at the world’s raucous railing.

Simply and humbly from stone and from wood,

Wrought I the things that to thee might seem good.


If they are little, ah God! but the cost,

Who but thou knowest the all that is lost!

If they are few, is the workmanship true?

Try them and weigh me, whate’er be my due!


.     .     .     .     .

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1872 – less than a decade after the Emancipation Act – to a mother and a father who had been slaves in Kentucky.  His mother had learned to read expressly for the purpose of saying aloud the Bible and Dunbar learned to read at his mother’s knee – from The Good Book.  He wrote his first poem at the age of 6 and by the end of high school in Dayton he had had poems published in The Herald newspaper.  His first book of poems, Oak and Ivy, was published in 1893.  Editor and critic William Dean Howells wrote a glowing review of Dunbar’s second book of poetry, Majors and Minors, in 1896.  Combining the two books into one, Lyrics of Lowly Life, with an introduction by the influential Howells, Dunbar had a best-seller and was soon nationally famous.  Drawing attention to Dunbar’s dark skin, as if mulatto writers somehow didn’t count, Howells had written that Dunbar was “the only man of pure African blood and of African civilization to feel the Negro life aesthetically and express it lyrically”.  Hogwash, a good half of that extravagant statement.  But Howells was writing for white readers of poetry who preferred something authentic, something other than the common Coon Songs/Minstrel Music of the 1890s.  And all this just as Jim Crow legislation – ‘separate but equal’ bylaws – became firmly entrenched.

Thereafter, Dunbar would walk a literary tightrope.  He tried to be true to his own ambition to develop and showcase his considerable range as a poet while being clamoured after for Negro-Dialect poems (verses using everyday Black speech from The South – which had constituted just a quarter of the 100-plus poems in Lyrics).  And yet – Dunbar’s Negro-Dialect poems can in instances go beyond the popular Minstrel-influenced poems and songs of the era because he voiced in them a very-real sadness sometimes, some subtly subversive wit – and cynicism as well.   It is notable that he also wrote other Peoples’ dialect poems that showed a supple command of Irish, German and Southern-White speech patterns.  Briefly and unhappily Dunbar was married to Alice Ruth Moore – later a journalist and anti-lynching campaigner – from 1898 to 1902.  Diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1900 he was prescribed “the whiskey diet” plus the pure air of Colorado.   Feeling perhaps that Time was running out, he began writing essays and unusual, inventive stage plays – which scholars since the 1990s have been re-appraising (along with Dunbar’s Negro-Dialect poems).  His health worsened and he returned to Ohio in 1904, dying there in 1906 at the age of 33.   After much academic argument about Paul Laurence Dunbar’s legacy it is now agreed that he was the finest Black-American poet before the cultural blossoming of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.

.     .     .     .     .