American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

For a Commonplace Book 7

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I found this gleeful dirge while poking through Documenting the American South; it comes from Life and Narrative of William J. Anderson, Twenty-four Years a Slave (1857), one of four “Songs of Freedom” appended to the final chapter — an antidote to the tearful death scenes in Uncle Tom’s Cabin:

The Slave’s Song When the Tyrant Master Dies

Come all my brethren and let us take a rest,
While the moon shines so bright and so clear;
Old master has died, and left us all at last,
He has gone to the bar to appear.
CHORUS: — Brethren, hang up the shovel and the hoe,
Take down the fiddle and the bow;
Old master’s gone to the slaveholder’s rest,
He’s gone where they all ought to go.

He will no more trample on the neck of the slave,
His back he’ll no longer score;
Old master is dead and he’s laying in his grave,
He is gone where they all ought to go.
CHORUS: — Brethren, &c.

I heard the old doctor say, the other night,
As he passed by the dining room door,
“Perhaps the old gentleman may live thro’ the night,
But I think he will die about four.”
CHORUS: — Brethren, &c.

Then old mistress sent me, at the peril of my life,
For the pastor to come down to pray;
“For,” says she, “old master is now about to die;”
And I says, “God speed him on his way.”
CHORUS: — Brethren, &c.

At four o’clock this morning the family were called
Around the old man’s dying bed,
And I tell you now I laughed to myself when I was told
That the old man’s spirit had fled.
CHORUS: — Brethren, &c.

The children all did grieve, and so did I pretend;
The old mistress nearly went mad;
And the old parson groaned so that the heavens fairly rend,
But I tell you now I felt mighty glad.
CHORUS: — Brethren, &c.

Written by Ben Friedlander

December 19, 2009 at 11:31 pm

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