Fifty years & other poems
James Weldon Johnson
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Seems lak to me de stars don't shine so bright,
Seems lak to me de sun done loss his light,
Seems lak to me der's nothin' goin' right,
Sence you went away.
Seems lak to me de sky ain't half so blue,
Seems lak to me dat ev'ything wants you,
Seems lak to me I don't know what to do,
Sence you went away.
Seems lak to me dat ev'ything is wrong,
Seems lak to me de day's jes twice as long,
Seems lak to me de bird's forgot his song,
Sence you went away.
Seems lak to me I jes can't he'p but sigh,
Seems lak to me ma th'oat keeps gittin' dry,
Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,
Sence you went away.
Page  64


(Negro Love Song)

Breeze a-sighin' and a-blowin',
Southern summer night.
Stars a-gleamin' and a-glowin',
Moon jes shinin' right.
Strollin', like all lovers do,
Down de lane wid Lindy Lou;
Honey on her lips to waste;
'Speck I'm gwine to steal a taste.
Oh, ma lady's lips am like de honey,
Ma lady's lips am like de rose;
An' I'm jes like de little bee a-buzzin'
'Round de flower wha' de nectah grows.
Ma lady's lips dey smile so temptin',
Ma lady's teeth so white dey shine,
Oh, ma lady's lips so tantalizin',
Ma lady's lips so close to mine.
Bird a-whistlin' and a-swayin'
In de live-oak tree;
Seems to me he keeps a-sayin',
"Kiss dat gal fo' me."
Look heah, Mister Mockin' Bird,
Gwine to take you at yo' word;
If I meets ma Waterloo,
Gwine to blame it all on you.
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Oh, ma lady's lips am like de honey,
Ma lady's lips am like de rose;
An' I'm jes like de little bee a-buzzin'
'Round de flower wha' de nectah grows.
Ma lady's lips dey smile so temptin',
Ma lady's teeth so white dey shine,
Oh, ma lady's lips so tantalizin',
Ma lady's lips so close to mine.
Honey in de rose, I spose, is
Put der fo' de bee;
Honey on her lips, I knows, is
Put der jes fo' me.
Seen a sparkle in her eye,
Heard her heave a little sigh;
Felt her kinder squeeze ma han',
'Nuff to make me understan'.
Page  66


(A Lecture on Modern Education)

Look heah, Tunk! — Now, ain't dis awful! T'ought I sont you off to school.
Don't you know dat you is growin' up to be a reg'lah fool?
Whah's dem books dat I's done bought you? Look heah, boy, you tell me quick,
Whah's dat Webster blue-back spellah an' dat bran' new 'rifmatic?
W'ile I'm t'inkin' you is lahnin' in de school, why bless ma soul!
You off in de woods a-playin'. Can't you do like you is tole?
Boy, I tell you, it's jes scan'lous d'way dat you is goin' on.
An' you sholy go'n be sorry, jes as true as you is bo'n.
Heah I'm tryin' hard to raise you as a credit to dis race,
An' you tryin' heap much harder fu' to come up in disgrace.
Page  67
Dese de days w'en men don't git up to de top by hooks an' crooks;
Tell you now, dey's got to git der standin' on a pile o' books.
W'en you sees a darkey goin' to de fiel' as soon as light,
Followin' a mule across it f'om de mawnin' tel de night,
Wukin' all his life fu' vittles, hoein' 'tween de cott'n rows,
W'en he knocks off ole an' tiah'd, ownin' nut'n but his clo'es,
You kin put it down to ignunce, aftah all what's done an' said,
You kin bet dat dat same darkey ain't got nut'n in his head.
Ain't you seed dem w'ite men set'n in der awfice? Don't you know
Dey goes der 'bout nine each mawnin'? Bless yo' soul, dey's out by fo'.
Dey jes does a little writin'; does dat by some easy means;
Gals jes set an' play piannah on dem printin' press muchines.
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Chile, dem men knows how to figgah, how to use dat little pen,
An' dey knows dat blue-back spellah f'om beginnin' to de en'.
Dat's de 'fect of education; dat's de t'ing what's gwine to rule;
Git dem books, you lazy rascal! Git back to yo' place in school!
Page  69


(A Negro Serenade)

De river is a-glistenin' in de moonlight,
De owl is set'n high up in de tree;
De little stars am twinklin' wid a sof' light,
De night seems only jes fu' you an' me.
Thoo de trees de breezes am a-sighin',
Breathin' out a sort o' lover's croon,
Der's nobody lookin' or a-spyin',
Nobody but de owl an' de moon.
Nobody's lookin' but de owl an' de moon,
An' de night is balmy; fu' de month is June;
Come den, Honey, won't you? Come to meet me soon,
W'ile nobody's lookin' but de owl an' de moon.
I feel so kinder lonely all de daytime,
It seems I raly don't know what to do;
I jes keep sort a-longin' fu' de night-time,
'Cause den I know dat I can be wid you.
An' de thought jes sets my brain a-swayin',
An' my heart a-beatin' to a tune;
Come, de owl won't tell w'at we's a-sayin',
An' cose you know we kin trus' de moon.
Page  70



Shet yo' eyes, ma little pickaninny, go to sleep
Mammy's watchin' by you all de w'ile;
Daddy is a-wukin' down in de cott'n fiel',
Wukin' fu' his little honey child.
An' yo' mammy's heart is jes a-brimmin' full o' lub
Fu' you f'om yo' head down to yo' feet;
Oh, no mattah w'at some othah folks may t'ink o' you,
To yo' mammy's heart you's mighty sweet.
You's sweet to yo' mammy jes de same;
Dat's why she calls you Honey fu' yo' name.
Yo' face is black, dat's true,
An' yo' hair is woolly, too,
But, you's sweet to yo' mammy jes de same.
Up der in de big house w'ere dey lib so rich an' gran'
Dey's got chillen dat dey lubs, I s'pose;
Chillen dat is purty, oh, but dey can't lub dem mo'
Dan yo' mammy lubs you, heaben knows!
Page  71
Dey may t'ink you's homely, an' yo' clo'es dey may be po',
But yo' shinin' eyes, dey hol's a light
Dat, my Honey, w'en you opens dem so big an' roun',
Makes you lubly in yo' mammy's sight.


W'en ole Mister Sun gits tiah'd a-hangin'
High up in de sky;
W'en der ain't no thunder and light'nin' a-bangin',
An' de crap's done all laid by;
W'en yo' bones ain't achin' wid de rheumatics,
Den yo' ride de mule to town,
Git a great big jug o' de ole corn juice,
An' w'en you drink her down—
Jes lay away ole Trouble,
An' dry up all yo' tears;
Yo' pleasure sho' to double
An' you bound to lose yo' keers.
Jes lay away ole Sorrer
High upon de shelf;
And never mind to-morrer,
'Twill take care of itself.
Page  72
W'en ole Mister Age begins a-stealin'
Thoo yo' back an' knees,
W'en yo' bones an' jints lose der limber feelin',
An' am stiff'nin' by degrees;
Now der's jes one way to feel young and spry,
W'en you heah dem banjos soun'
Git a great big swig o' de ole corn juice,
An' w'en you drink her down—
Jes lay away ole Trouble,
An' dry up all yo' tears;
Yo' pleasure sho' to double
An' you bound to lose yo' keers.
Jes lay away ole Sorrer
High upon de shelf;
And never mind to-morrer,
'Twill take care of itself.
Page  73


I'm back down in ole Georgy w'ere de sun is shinin' hot,
W'ere de cawn it is a-tasslin', gittin' ready fu' de pot;
W'ere de cott'n is a-openin' an' a-w'itenin' in de sun,
An' de ripenin' o' de sugah-cane is mighty nigh begun.
An' de locus' is a-singin' f'om eveh bush an' tree,
An' you kin heah de hummin' o' de noisy bumblebee;
An' de mule he stan's a-dreamin' an' a-dreamin' in de lot,
An' de sun it is a-shinin' mighty hot, hot, hot.
But evehbody is a-restin', fu' de craps is all laid by,
An' time fu' de camp-meetin' is a-drawin' putty nigh;
An' we's put away de ploughshare, an' we's done hung up de spade,
An' we's eatin' watermelon, an' a-layin' in de shade.
Page  74


W'en de banjos wuz a-ringin',
An' de darkies wuz a-singin',
Oh, wuzen dem de good times sho!
All de ole folks would be chattin',
An' de pickaninnies pattin',
As dey heah'd de feet a-shufflin' 'cross de flo'.
An' how we'd dance, an' how we'd sing!
Dance tel de day done break.
An' how dem banjos dey would ring,
An' de cabin flo' would shake!
Come along, come along,
Come along, come along,
Don't you heah dem banjos a-ringin'?
Gib a song, gib a song,
Gib a song, gib a song,
Git yo' feet fixed up fu' a-wingin'.
W'ile de banjos dey go plunka, plunka, plunk,
We'll dance tel de ole flo' shake;
W'ile de feet keep a-goin' chooka, chooka, chook,
We'll dance tel de day done break.
Page  75


Der ain't no use in sayin' de Lawd won't answer prah;
If you knows how to ax Him, I knows He's bound to heah.
De trouble is, some people don't ax de proper way,
Den w'en dey git's no answer dey doubts de use to pray.
You got to use egzac'ly de 'spressions an' de words
To show dat 'tween yo' faith an' works, you 'pends on works two-thirds.
Now, one time I remember — jes how long I won't say—
I thought I'd like a turkey to eat on Chris'mus day.
Fu' weeks I dreamed 'bout turkeys, a-struttin' in der pride;
But seed no way to get one — widout de Lawd pervide.
An' so I went to prayin', I pray'd wid all my might;
Page  76
"Lawd, sen' to me a turkey." I pray'd bofe day an' night.
"Lawd, sen' to me a turkey, a big one if you please."
I 'clar to heaben I pray'd so much I mos' wore out ma knees.
I pray'd dat prah so often, I pray'd dat prah so long,
Yet didn't git no turkey, I know'd 'twas sump'n wrong.
So on de night 'fore Chris'mus w'en I got down to pray,
"Lawd, sen' me to a turkey," I had de sense to say.
"Lawd, sen' me to a turkey." I know dat prah was right,
An' it was sholy answer'd; I got de bird dat night.
Page  77


Skin as black an' jes as sof' as a velvet dress,
Teeth as white as ivory —well dey is I guess.
Eyes dat's jes as big an' bright as de evenin' star;
An' dat hol' some sort o' light lublier by far.
Hair don't hang 'way down her back; plaited up in rows;
Wid de two en's dat's behin' tied wid ribben bows.
Han's dat raly wuz'n made fu' hard work. I'm sho';
Got a little bit o' foot; weahs a numbah fo'.
You jes oughtah see dat gal Sunday's w'en she goes
To de Baptis' meetin' house, dressed in her bes' clo'es.
W'en she puts her w'ite dress on an' othah things so fine;
Now, Su', don't you know I'm proud o' dat gat o' mine.
Page  78


W'en de leaves begin to fall,
An' de fros' is on de ground,
An' de 'simmons is a-ripenin' on de tree;
W'en I heah de dinner call,
An' de chillen gadder 'round,
'Tis den de 'possum is de meat fu' me.
W'en de wintertime am pas'
An' de spring is come at las',
W'en de good ole summer sun begins to shine;
Oh! my thoughts den tek a turn,
An' my heart begins to yearn
Fo' dat watermelon growin' on de vine.
Now, de yeah will sholy bring
'Round a season fu' us all,
Ev'y one kin pick his season f'om de res';
But de melon in de spring,
An' de 'possum in de fall,
Mek it hard to tell which time o' year am bes'.
Page  79


(A Warning)

'Simmons ripenin' in de fall,
You better run,
Brudder 'Possum, run!
Mockin' bird commence to call,
You better run, Brudder 'Possum, git out de way!
You better run, Brudder'Possum, git out de way!
Run some whar an' hide!
Ole moon am sinkin'
Down behin' de tree.
Ole Eph am thinkin'
An' chuckelin' wid glee.
Ole Tige am blinkin'
An' frisky as kin be,
Yo' chances, Brudder 'Possum,
Look mighty slim to me.
Run, run, run, I tell you,
Run, Brudder 'Possum, run!
Run, run, run, I tell you,
Ole Eph's got a gun.
Pickaninnies grinnin'
Waitin' fu' to see de fun.
Page  80
You better run, Brudder 'Possum, git out de way!
Run, Brudder 'Possum, run!
Brudder 'Possum take a tip;
You better run,
Brudder 'Possum, run!
'Tain't no use in actin' flip,
You better run, Brudder 'Possum, git out de way!
You better run, Brudder 'Possum, git out de way!
Run some whar an' hide.
Dey's gwine to houn' you
All along de line,
W'en dey done foun' you,
Den what's de use in sighin'?
Wid taters roun' you.
You sholy would tase fine—
So listen, Brudder 'Possum,
You better be a-flyin'.
Run, run, run, I tell you,
Run, Brudder 'Possum, run!
Run, run, run, I tell you,
Ole Eph's got a gun.
Pickaninnies grinnin'
Waitin' fu' to see de fun.
You better run, Brudder 'Possum, git out de way!
Run, Brudder 'Possum, run!
Page  81


Once der was a meetin' in de wilderness,
All de critters of creation dey was dar;
Brer Rabbit, Brer 'Possum, Brer Wolf, Brer Fox,
King Lion, Mister Terrapin, Mister B'ar.
De question fu' discussion was, "Who is de bigges' man?"
Dey 'pinted ole Jedge Owl to decide;
He polished up his spectacles an' put 'em on his nose,
An' to the question slowly he replied:
"Brer Wolf am mighty cunnin',
Brer Fox am mighty sly,
Brer Terrapin an' 'Possum — kinder small;
Brer Lion's mighty vicious,
Brer B'ar he's sorter 'spicious,
Brer Rabbit, you's de cutes' of 'em all."
Dis caused a great confusion 'mongst de animals,
Ev'y critter claimed dat he had won de prize;
Dey 'sputed an' dey arg'ed, dey growled an' dey roared,
Den putty soon de dus' begin to rise.
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Brer Rabbit he jes' stood aside an' urged 'em on to fight.
Brer Lion he mos' tore Brer B'ar in two;
W'en dey was all so tiahd dat dey couldn't catch der bref
Brer Rabbit he jes' grabbed de prize an' flew.
Brer Wolf am mighty cunnin',
Brer Fox am mighty sly,
Brer Terrapin an' Possum — kinder small;
Brer Lion's mighty vicious,
Brer B'ar he's sorter 'spicious,
Brer Rabbit, you's de cutes' of 'em all.


Look heah! 'Splain to me de reason
Why you said to Squire Lee,
Der wuz twelve ole chicken thieves
In dis heah town, includin' me.
Ef he tole you dat, my brudder,
He said sump'n dat warn't true;
W'at I said wuz dis, dat der wuz
Twelve, widout includin' you.
Oh! . . . !—
Page  83


Cuddle down, ma honey, in yo' bed,
Go to sleep an' res' yo' little head,
Been a-kind o' ailin' all de day?
Didn't have no sperit fu' to play?
Never min'; to-morrer, w'en you wek,
Daddy's gwine to ride you on his bek,
'Roun' an' roun' de cabin flo' so fas'—
Der! He's closed his little eyes at las'.
De little pickaninny's gone to sleep,
Cuddled in his trundle bed so tiny,
De little pickaninny's gone to sleep,
Closed his little eyes so bright an' shiny.
Hush! an' w'en you walk across de flo'
Step across it very sof' an' slow.
De shadders all aroun' begin to creep,
De little pickaninny's gone to sleep.
Mandy, w'at's de matter wid dat chile?
Keeps a-sighin' ev'y little w'ile;
Seems to me I heayhd him sorter groan,
Lord! his little han's am col' as stone!
W'at's dat far-off light dat's in his eyes?
Dat's a light dey's borrow'd f'om de skies;
Fol' his little han's across his breas',
Let de little pickaninny res'.
Page  84


Look heah! Is I evah tole you 'bout de curious way I won
Anna Liza? Say, I nevah? Well heah's how de thing wuz done.
Lize, you know, wuz mighty purty —dat's been forty yeahs ago —
'N 'cos to look at her dis minit, you might'n spose dat it wuz so.
She wuz jes de greates' 'traction in de county, 'n bless de lam'!
Eveh darkey wuz a-co'tin, but it lay 'twix me an' Sam.
You know Sam. We both wuz wukin' on de ole John Tompkin's place.
'N evehbody wuz a-watchin' t' see who's gwine to win de race.
Hee! hee! hee! Now you mus' raley 'scuse me fu' dis snickering,
But I jes can't he'p f'om laffin' eveh time I tells dis thing.
Page  85
Ez I wuz a-sayin', me an' Sam wuked daily side by side,
He a-studyin', me a-studyin', how to win Lize fu' a bride.
Well, de race was kinder equal. Lize wuz sorter on de fence;
Sam he had de mostes dollars, an' I had de mostes sense.
Things dey run along 'bout eben tel der come Big Meetin' day;
Sam den thought, to win Miss Liza, he had foun' de shoest way.
An' you talk about big meetin's! None been like it 'fore nor sence;
Der wuz sich a crowd o' people dat we had to put up tents.
Der wuz preachers f'om de Eas', an' 'der wuz preachers f'om de Wes';
Folks had kilt mos' eveh chicken, an' wuz fattenin' up de res'.
Gals had all got new w'ite dresses, an' bought ribbens fu' der hair,
Fixin' fu' de openin' Sunday, prayin' dat de day'd be fair.
Page  86
Dat de Reveren' Jasper Jones of Mount Moriah, it wuz 'low'd,
Wuz to preach de openin' sermon; so you know der wuz a crowd.
Fu' dat man wuz sho a preacher; had a voice jes like a bull;
So der ain't no use in sayin' dat de meetin' house wuz full.
Folks wuz der f'om Big Pine Hollow, some come 'way f'om Muddy Creek,
Some come jes to stay fu' Sunday, but de crowd stay'd thoo de week.
Some come ridin' in top-buggies wid de w'eels all painted red,
Pulled by mules dat run like rabbits, each one tryin' to git ahead.
Othah po'rer folks come drivin' mules dat leaned up 'ginst de shaf',
Hitched to broke-down, creaky wagons dat looked like dey'd drap in half.
But de bigges' crowd come walkin', wid der new shoes on der backs;
'Scuse wuz dat dey couldn't weah em 'cause de heels wuz full o' tacks.
Page  87
Fact is, it's a job for Job, a-trudgin' in de sun an' heat,
Down a long an' dusty clay road wid yo' shoes packed full o' feet.
'Cose dey stopt an' put dem shoes on w'en dey got mos' to de do';
Den dey had to grin an' bear it; dat tuk good religion sho.
But I mos' forgot ma story,—well at las' dat Sunday came
And it seemed dat evehbody, blin' an' deef, an' halt an' lame,
Wuz out in de grove a-waitin' fu' de meetin' to begin;
Ef dat crowd had got converted 'twould a been de end o' sin..
Lize wuz der in all her glory, purty ez a big sunflowah,
I kin 'member how she looked jes same ez 'twuz dis ve'y houah.
But to make ma story shorter, w'ile we wuz a-waitin' der,
Down de road we spied a cloud o' dus' dat filled up all de air.
Page  88
An' ez we kep' on a-lookin', out f'om 'mongst dat ve'y cloud,
Sam, on Marse John's big mule, Cæsar, rode right slam up in de crowd.
You jes oughtah seed dat darkey, 'clar I like tah loss ma bref;
Fu' to use a common 'spression, he wuz 'bout nigh dressed to def.
He had slipped to town dat Sat'day, didn't let nobody know,
An' had car'yd all his cash an' lef' it in de dry goods sto'.
He had on a bran' new suit o' sto'-bought clo'es, a high plug hat;
He looked 'zactly like a gen'man, tain't no use d'nyin' dat.
W'en he got down off dat mule an' bowed to Liza I could see
How she looked at him so 'dmirin', an' jes kinder glanced at me.
Den I know'd to win dat gal, I sho would need some othah means
'Sides a-hangin' 'round big meetin' in a suit o' homespun jeans.
Page  89
W'en dey blow'd de ho'n fu' preachin', an' de crowd all went inside,
I jes felt ez doh I'd like tah go off in de woods an' hide.
So I stay'd outside de meetin', set'n underneat' de trees,
Seemed to me I sot der ages, wid ma elbows on ma knees.
W'en dey sung dat hymn, "Nobody knows de trouble dat I see,"
Seem'd to me dat dey wuz singin' eveh word o' it fu' me.
Jes how long I might ha' sot der, actin' like a cussed fool,
I don't know, but it jes happen'd dat I look'd an' saw Sam's mule.
An' de thought come slowly tricklin' thoo ma brain right der an' den,
Dat, perhaps, wid some persuasion, I could make dat mule ma fren'.
An' I jes kep' on a-thinkin', an' I kep' a-lookin' 'roun',
Tel I spied two great big san' spurs right close by me on de groun'.
Page  90
Well, I took dem spurs an' put em underneat' o' Cæsar's saddle,
So dey'd press down in his backbone soon ez Sam had got a-straddle.
'Twuz a pretty ticklish job, an' jes ez soon ez it wuz done,
I went back w'ere I wuz set'n fu' to wait an' see de fun.
Purty soon heah come de people, jes a-swa'min' out de do',
Talkin' 'bout de "pow'ful sermon"—"nevah heah'd de likes befo'."
How de "monahs fell convicted" jes de same ez lumps o' lead,
How dat some wuz still a-layin' same es if dey'd been struck dead.
An' to rectly heah come Liza, Sam a-strollin' by her side,
An' it seem'd to me dat darky's smile wuz 'bout twelve inches wide.
Look to me like he had swelled up to 'bout twice his natchul size,
An' I heah'd him say, "I'd like to be yo' 'scort to-night, Miss Lize."
Page  91
Den he made a bow jes like he's gwine to make a speech in school,
An' walk'd jes ez proud ez Marse John over to untie his mule,
W'en Sam's foot fust touched de stirrup he know'd der wuz sump'n wrong;
'Cuz de mule begin to tremble an' to sorter side along.
W'en Sam raised his weight to mount him, Cæsar bristled up his ear,
W'en Sam sot down in de saddle, den dat mule cummenced to rear.
An' he reared an' pitched an' caper'd, only ez a mule kin pitch,
Tel he flung Sam clean f'om off him, landed him squar' in a ditch.
W'en dat darky riz, well raly, I felt kinder bad fu' him;
He had bust dem cheap sto' britches f'um de center to de rim.
All de plug hat dat wuz lef' him wuz de brim aroun' his neck,
Smear'd wid mud f'om top to bottom, well, he wuz a sight, I'speck.
Page  92
Wuz de folks a-laffin'? Well, su', I jes sholy thought dey'd bus';
Wuz Sam laffin'? 'Twuz de fus' time dat I evah heah'd him cuss.
W'ile Sam slink'd off thoo de backwoods I walk'd slowly home wid Lize,
W'en I axed her jes one question der wuz sump'n in her eyes
Made me know der wuz no need o' any answer bein' said,
An' I felt jes like de whole world wuz a-spinnin' 'roun' ma head.
So I said, "Lize, w'en we marry, mus' I weah some sto'-bought clo'es?"
She says, "Jeans is good enough fu' any po' folks, heaben knows!"
Page  93
If homely virtues draw from me a tune
In happy jingle or a half-sad croon;
Or if the smoldering future should inspire
My hand to strike the seer's prophetic lyre;
Or if injustice, brutishness and wrong
Should make a blasting trumpet of my song;
O God, give beauty and strength —truth to my words,
Oh, may they fall like sweetly cadenced chords,
Or burn like beacon fires from out the dark,
Or speed like arrows, swift and sure, to the mark.