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A Banjo Song
Paul Laurence Dunbar


Oh, dere's lots o' keer an' trouble 
In dis world to swaller down; 
An' ol' Sorrer's purty lively 
In her way o' gittin' roun'. 
Yet dere 's times when I furgit 'em,-- 
Aches an' pains an' troubles all,-- 
An' it 's when I tek at ebenin' 
My ol' banjo f'om de wall. 

'Bout de time dat night is fallin' 
An' my daily wu'k is done, 
An' above de shady hilltops 
I kin see de settin' sun; 
When de quiet, restful shadders 
Is beginnin' jes' to fall,-- 
Den I take de little banjo 
F'om its place upon de wall. 

Den my fam'ly gadders roun' me 
In de fadin' o' de light, 
Ez I strike de strings to try 'em 
Ef dey all is tuned er-right. 
An' it seems we 're so nigh heaben 
We kin hyeah de angels sing 
When de music o' dat banjo 
Sets my cabin all er-ring. 

An' my wife an' all de othahs,-- 
Male an' female, small an' big,-- 
Even up to gray-haired granny, 
Seem jes' boun' to do a jig; 
'Twell I change de style o' music, 
Change de movement an' de time, 
An' de ringin' little banjo 
Plays an ol' hea't-feelin' hime. 

An' somehow my th'oat gits choky, 
An' a lump keeps tryin' to rise 
Lak it wan'ed to ketch de water 
Dat was flowin' to my eyes; 
An' I feel dat I could sorter 
Knock de socks clean off o' sin 
Ez I hyeah my po' ol' granny 
Wif huh tremblin' voice jine in. 

Den we all th'ow in our voices 
Fu' to he'p de chune out too, 
Lak a big camp-meetin' choiry 
Tryin' to sing a mou'nah th'oo. 
An' our th'oahts let out de music, 
Sweet an' solemn, loud an' free, 
'Twell de raftahs o' my cabin 
Echo wif de melody. 

Oh, de music o' de banjo, 
Quick an' deb'lish, solemn, slow, 
Is de greates' joy an' solace 
Dat a weary slave kin know! 
So jes' let me hyeah it ringin', 
Dough de chune be po' an' rough, 
It 's a pleasure; an' de pleasures 
O' dis life is few enough. 

Now, de blessed little angels 
Up in heaben, we are told, 
Don't do nothin' all dere lifetime 
'Ceptin' play on ha'ps o' gold. 
Now I think heaben 'd be mo' homelike 
Ef we 'd hyeah some music fall 
F'om a real ol'-fashioned banjo, 
Like dat one upon de wall.

This poem is in the public domain.

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was from Ohio. He wrote his first poem at the age of six, was editor of his high school newspaper, and published his first book at twenty. His writing attracted attention from the very beginning, and Paul became well-known in both America and around the world. Like James Whitcomb Riley, who was a fan of his young contemporary's work, Paul wrote many of his poems in dialect. Besides a dozen books of poetry, Paul wrote four short story collections, five novels, a play, and the first  Broadway musical ever written and performed by African-Americans. A tremendously successful poet whose work was being published in all the major literary publications of his day, Paul's life was cut tragically short by tuberculosis.




Post New Comment:
YES, thanks for choosing Mr. Dunbar. I was in the first graduating class of a Jr. H. S. named after him in the Bronx, N.Y. I never knew who he was until many years later. In this poem, it feels as if you were there looking in on this family and sharing their emotions.
Posted 01/29/2014 12:48 PM
Mary Lou Taylor:
He's one of my favorites, too. Dialect makes this poem.Thanks for choosing him, Jayne.
Posted 01/28/2014 12:05 PM

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