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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Irwin Russell (1853–1879)

From ‘Christmas Night in the Quarters’

GO ’way fiddle! folks is tired o’ hearin’ you a-squawkin’;

Keep silence fur yo’ betters!—don’t you heah de banjo talkin’?

About de ’possum’s tail she’s gwine to lecter—ladies, listen—

About de ha’r whut isn’t dar, an’ why de ha’r is missin’.

“Dar’s gwine to be a oberflow,” said Noah, lookin’ solemn,—

Fur Noah tuk de Herald, an’ he read de ribber column;—

An’ so he sot his hands to wuk a-cl’arin’ timber patches,

An’ ’lowed he’s gwine to build a boat to beat de steamah Natchez.

Ol’ Noah kep’ a-nailin’, an’ a-chippin’, an’ a-sawin’;

An’ all the wicked neighbors kep’ a-laughin’ an’ a-pshawin’,

But Noah didn’t min’ ’em, knowin’ what wuz gwine to happen;

An’ forty days an’ forty nights de rain it kep’ a-drappin’.

Now, Noah had done catched a lot of ebry sort of beas’es:

Ob all de shows a-trabbelin’, it beat ’em all to pieces!

He had a Morgan colt an’ sebral head o’ Jarsey cattle—

An’ druv ’em ’board de Ark as soon ’s he heered de thunder rattle.

Den sech anoder fall ob rain! It come so awful hebby,

De ribber riz immejitly, and busted troo de lebbee;

De people all wuz drownded out—’cep’ Noah an’ de critters,

An’ men he’d hired to work de boat, an’ one to mix de bitters.

De Ark she kep’ a-sailin’ an’ a-sailin’ an’ a-sailin’;

De lion got his dander up, an’ like to bruk de palin’;

De sarpints hissed; de painters yelled,—tell whut wid all de fussin’,

You c’u’d’nt hardly heah de mate a-bossin’ ’roun’ an’ cussin’.

Now Ham, de only nigger whut wuz runnin’ on de packet,

Got lonesome in de barber-shop, an’ c’u’dn’t stand de racket;

An’ so, fur to amuse hisse’f, he steamed some wood an’ bent it,

An’ soon he had a banjo made—de fust dat wuz invented.

He wet de ledder, stretched it on; made bridge an’ screws an’ aprin,

An’ fitted in a proper neck—’twas berry long an’ tap’rin’;

He tuk some tin, an’ twisted him a thimble fur to ring it:

An’ den de mighty question riz—how wuz he gwine to string it?

De ’possum had as fine a tail as dis dat I’s a-singin’;

De ha’rs so long an’ thick an’ strong—des fit for banjo-stringin’:

Dat nigger shaved ’em off as short as washday-dinner graces;

An’ sorted ob ’em by de size, from little E’s to basses.

He strung her, tuned her, struck a jig—’twuz “Nebber min’ de wedder”—

She soun’ like forty-lebben bands a-playin’ all togedder.

Some went to pattin’, some to dancin’; Noah called de figgers,

An’ Ham he sot an’ knocked de tune, de happiest ob niggers!

Now, sence dat time—it’s mighty strange—dere’s not de slightes’ showin’

Ob any ha’r at all upon de ’possum’s tail a-growin’;

An’ curi’s, too, dat nigger’s ways—his people nebber los’ ’em—

Fur whar you finds de nigger, dar’s de banjo an’ de ’possum.