Verse > Anthologies > Louis Untermeyer, ed. > Modern American Poetry
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Louis Untermeyer, ed. (1885–1977). Modern American Poetry.  1919.
 
Vachel Lindsay. 1879–
 
81. The Congo
(A Study of the Negro Race)
 
I. THEIR BASIC SAVAGERY

FAT black bucks in a wine-barrel room,
 
Barrel-house kings, with feet unstable, 
Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table, 
  
A deep rolling bass.

Pounded on the table,
 
Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom,         5
Hard as they were able, 
Boom, boom, BOOM, 
With a silk umbrella and the handle of a broom, 
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM. 
THEN I had religion, THEN I had a vision.  10
I could not turn from their revel in derision. 
THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK, 
  
More deliberate. Solemnly chanted.

CUTTING THROUGH THE JUNGLE WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
 
Then along that riverbank 
A thousand miles  15
Tattooed cannibals danced in files; 
Then I heard the boom of the blood-lust song 
And a thigh-bone beating on a tin-pan gong. 
  
A rapidly piling climax of speed and racket.

And "BLOOD" screamed the whistles and the fifes of the warriors,
 
"BLOOD" screamed the skull-faced, lean witch-doctors,  20
"Whirl ye the deadly voo-doo rattle, 
Harry the uplands, 
Steal all the cattle, 
Rattle-rattle, rattle-rattle, 
Bing!  25
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM," 
A roaring, epic, rag-time tune 
  
With a philosophic pause.

From the mouth of the Congo
 
To the Mountains of the Moon. 
Death is an Elephant,  30
Torch-eyed and horrible, 
  
Shrilly and with a heavily accented meter.

Foam-flanked and terrible.
 
BOOM, steal the pygmies, 
BOOM, kill the Arabs, 
BOOM, kill the white men,  35
  
Like the wind in the chimney.

HOO, HOO, HOO.
 
Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost 
Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host. 
Hear how the demons chuckle and yell 
Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.  40
Listen to the creepy proclamation, 
Blown through the lairs of the forest-nation, 
Blown past the white-ants' hill of clay, 
Blown past the marsh where the butterflies play:— 
"Be careful what you do,  45
Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo, 
  
All the o sounds very golden. Heavy accents very heavy. Light accents very light. Last line whispered.

And all of the other
 
Gods of the Congo, 
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you, 
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,  50
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you." 
  
II. THEIR IRREPRESSIBLE HIGH SPIRITS

Wild crap-shooters with a whoop and a call
 
  
Rather shrill and high.

Danced the juba in their gambling-hall
 
And laughed fit to kill, and shook the town, 
And guyed the policemen and laughed them down  55
With a boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.... 
THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK, 
  
Read exactly as in first section.

CUTTING THROUGH THE JUNGLE WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
 
A negro fairyland swung into view, 
  
Lay emphasis on the delicate ideas. Keep as light-footed as possible.

A minstrel river
  60
Where dreams come true. 
The ebony palace soared on high 
Through the blossoming trees to the evening sky. 
The inlaid porches and casements shone 
With gold and ivory and elephant-bone.  65
And the black crowd laughed till their sides were sore 
At the baboon butler in the agate door, 
And the well-known tunes of the parrot band 
That trilled on the bushes of that magic land. 
A troupe of skull-faced witch-men came  70
  
With pomposity.

Through the agate doorway in suits of flame,
 
Yea, long-tailed coats with a gold-leaf crust 
And hats that were covered with diamond-dust. 
And the crowd in the court gave a whoop and a call 
And danced the juba from wall to wall.  75
But the witch-men suddenly stilled the throng 
  
With a great deliberation and ghostliness.

With a stern cold glare, and a stern old song:—
 
"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you."... 
Just then from the doorway, as fat as shotes, 
  
With overwhelming assurance, good cheer, and pomp.

Came the cake-walk princes in their long red coats,
  80
Shoes with a patent leather shine, 
And tall silk hats that were red as wine. 
And they pranced with their butterfly partners there, 
  
With growing speed and sharply marked dance-rhythm.

Coal-black maidens with pearls in their hair,
 
Knee-skirts trimmed with the jessamine sweet,  85
And bells on their ankles and little black feet. 
And the couples railed at the chant and the frown 
Of the witch-men lean, and laughed them down. 
(O rare was the revel, and well worth while 
That made those glowering witch-men smile.)  90
  
The cake-walk royalty then began 
To walk for a cake that was tall as a man 
To the tune of "Boomlay, boomlay, BOOM," 
While the witch-men laughed, with a sinister air, 
  
With a touch of negro dialect, and as rapidly as possible toward the end.

And sang with the scalawags prancing there:—
  95
Walk with care, walk with care, 
Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo, 
And all of the other 
Gods of the Congo, 
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you. 100
Beware, beware, walk with care, 
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom. 
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom, 
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom, 
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, 105
BOOM." 
Oh rare was the revel, and well worth while 
  
Slow philosophic calm.

That made those glowering witch-men smile.
 
  
III. THE HOPE OF THEIR RELIGION

A good old negro in the slums of the town
 
  
Heavy bass. With a literal imitation of camp-meeting racket, and trance.

Preached at a sister for her velvet gown.
 110
Howled at a brother for his low-down ways, 
His prowling, guzzling, sneak-thief days. 
Beat on the Bible till he wore it out, 
Starting the jubilee revival shout. 
And some had visions, as they stood on chairs, 115
And sang of Jacob, and the golden stairs. 
And they all repented, a thousand strong, 
From their stupor and savagery and sin and wrong 
And slammed their hymn books till they shook the room 
With "Glory, glory, glory," 120
And "Boom, boom, BOOM." 
THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK, 
  
Exactly as in the first section.

CUTTING THROUGH THE JUNGLE WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
 
And the gray sky opened like a new-rent veil 
And showed the apostles with their coats of mail. 125
In bright white steel they were seated round 
And their fire-eyes watched where the Congo wound. 
And the twelve apostles, from their thrones on high, 
Thrilled all the forest with their heavenly cry:— 
"Mumbo-Jumbo will die in the jungle; 130
  
Sung to the tune of "Hark, ten thousand harps and voices."

Never again will he hoo-doo you,
 
Never again will he hoo-doo you." 
  
Then along that river, a thousand miles, 
  
With growing deliberation and joy.

The vine-snared trees fell down in files.
 
Pioneer angels cleared the way 135
For a Congo paradise, for babes at play, 
For sacred capitals, for temples clean. 
Gone were the skull-faced witch-men lean. 
There, where the wild ghost-gods had wailed 
  
In a rather high key—as delicately as possible.

A million boats of the angels sailed
 140
With oars of silver, and prows of blue 
And silken pennants that the sun shone through. 
'Twas a land transfigured, 'twas a new creation. 
Oh, a singing wind swept the negro nation; 
And on through the backwoods clearing flew:— 145
"Mumbo-Jumbo is dead in the jungle. 
  
To the tune of "Hark, ten thousand harps and voices."

Never again will he hoo-doo you.
 
Never again will he hoo-doo you." 
  
Redeemed were the forests, the beasts and the men, 
And only the vulture dared again 150
By the far, lone mountains of the moon 
To cry, in the silence, the Congo tune:— 
"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you. 
  
Dying off into a penetrating, terrified whisper.

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
 
Mumbo ... Jumbo ... will ... hoo-doo ... you." 155
 
 
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