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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Mr. Hosea Biglow to the Editor of the Atlantic Monthly
By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)
 
DEAR SIR,—Your letter come to han’
  Requestin’ me to please be funny;
But I ain’t made upon a plan
  Thet knows wut’s comin’, gall or honey:
Ther’s times the world doos look so queer,        5
  Odd fancies come afore I call ’em;
An’ then agin, for half a year,
  No preacher ’thout a call ’s more solemn.
 
You’re ’n want o’ sunthin’ light an’ cute,
  Rattlin’ an’ shrewd an’ kin’ o’ jingleish,        10
An’ wish, pervidin’ it ’ould suit,
  I’d take an’ citify my English.
I ken write long-tailed, ef I please,—
  But when I’m jokin’, no, I thankee:
Then, ’fore I know it, my idees        15
  Run helter-skelter into Yankee.
 
Sence I begun to scribble rhyme,
  I tell ye wut, I hain’t ben foolin’;
The parson’s books, life, death, an’ time
  Hev took some trouble with my schoolin’:        20
Nor th’ airth don’t git put out with me,
  Thet love her ’z though she wuz a woman;
Why, th’ ain’t a bird upon the tree
  But half forgives my bein’ human.
 
An’ yit I love th’ unhighschooled way        25
  Ol’ farmers hed when I wuz younger:
Their talk wuz meatier, an’ ’ould stay,
  While book froth seems to whet your hunger;
For puttin’ in a downright lick
  ’Twixt Humbug’s eyes, ther’s few can metch it;        30
An’ then it helves my thoughts ez slick
  Ez stret-grained hickory doos a hetchet.
 
But when I can’t, I can’t, thet’s all;
  For Natur’ won’t put up with gullin’;
Idees you hev to shove an’ haul        35
  Like a druv pig, ain’t wuth a mullein:
Live thoughts ain’t sent for; thru all rifts
  O’ sense they pour an’ resh ye onwards,
Like rivers when south-lyin’ drifts
  Feel thet th’ old airth’s a-wheelin’ sunwards.        40
 
Time wuz, the rhymes come crowdin’ thick
  Ez office-seekers arter ’lection,
An’ into ary place ’ould stick
  Without no bother nor objection:
But since the war my thoughts hang back        45
  Ez though I wanted to enlist ’em,
An’ subs’tutes,—they don’t never lack,
  But then they’ll slope afore you’ve mist ’em.
 
Nothin’ don’t seem like wut it wuz;
  I can’t see wut there is to hender,        50
An’ yit my brains jes’ go buzz, buzz,
  Like bumblebees agin a winder:
’Fore these times come, in all airth’s row,
  Ther’ wuz one quiet place, my head in,
Where I could hide an’ think—but now        55
  It’s all one teeter, hopin’, dreadin’.
 
Where’s Peace? I start, some clear-blown night,
  When gaunt stone walls grow numb an’ number,
An’, creakin’ ’cross the snow-crus’ white,
  Walk the col’ starlight into summer;        60
Up grows the moon, an’ swell by swell
  Thru the pale pasturs silvers dimmer
Than the last smile thet strives to tell
  O’ love gone heavenward in its shimmer.
 
I hev been gladder o’ sech things        65
  Than cocks o’ spring or bees o’ clover:
They filled my heart with livin’ springs,
  But now they seem to freeze ’em over;
Sights innercent ez babes on knee,
  Peaceful ez eyes o’ pastur’d cattle,        70
Jes’ coz they be so, seem to me
  To rile me more with thoughts o’ battle.
 
In-doors an’ out by spells I try:
  Ma’am Natur’ keeps her spin-wheel goin’,
But leaves my natur’ stiff and dry        75
  Ez fiel’s o’ clover arter mowin’;
An’ her jes’ keepin’ on the same,
  Calmer ’n a clock, an’ never carin’,
An’ findin’ nary thing to blame,
  Is wus than ef she took to swearin’.        80
 
Snowflakes come whisperin’ on the pane
  The charm makes blazin’ logs so pleasant;
But I can’t hark to wut they’re say’n’,
  With Grant or Sherman ollers present:
The chimbleys shudder in the gale,        85
  Thet lulls, then suddin takes to flappin’
Like a shot hawk; but all’s ez stale
  To me ez so much sperit-rappin’.
 
Under the yaller-pines I house,
  When sunshine makes ’em all sweet-scented,        90
An’ hear among their furry boughs
  The baskin’ west wind purr contented;
While ’way o’erhead, ez sweet an’ low
  Ez distant bells thet ring for meetin’,
The wedged wil’ geese their bugles blow,        95
  Further an’ further south retreatin’.
 
Or up the slippery knob I strain
  An’ see a hundred hills like islan’s
Lift their blue woods in broken chain
  Out o’ the sea o’ snowy silence;        100
The farm smokes—sweetes’ sight on airth—
  Slow thru the winter air a-shrinkin’,
Seem kin’ o’ sad, an’ roun’ the hearth
  Of empty places set me thinkin’.
 
Beaver roars hoarse with meltin’ snows,        105
  An’ rattles di’mon’s from his granite:
Time wuz, he snatched away my prose,
  An’ into psalms or satires ran it;
But he, nor all the rest thet once
  Started my blood to country-dances,        110
Can’t set me goin’ more’n a dunce
  Thet hain’t no use for dreams an’ fancies.
 
Rat-tat-tat-tattle thru the street
  I hear the drummers makin’ riot,
An’ I set thinkin’ o’ the feet        115
  Thet follered once an’ now are quiet;
White feet ez snowdrops innercent,
  Thet never knowed the paths o’ Satan,
Whose comin’ step ther’s ears thet won’t,
  No, not lifelong, leave off awaitin’.        120
 
Why, hain’t I held ’em on my knee?
  Didn’t I love to see ’em growin’,—
Three likely lads ez wal could be,
  Hahnsome an’ brave an’ not tu knowin’?
I set an’ look into the blaze        125
  Whose natur’, jes’ like theirn, keeps climbin’
Ez long ’z it lives, in shinin’ ways,
  An’ half despise myself for rhymin’.
 
Wut’s words to them whose faith an’ truth
  On War’s red techstone rang true metal,        130
Who ventered life an’ love an’ youth
  For the gret prize o’ death in battle?
To him who, deadly hurt, agen
  Flashed on afore the charge’s thunder,
Tippin’ with fire the bolt of men        135
  Thet rived the Rebel line asunder?
 
’Tain’t right to hev the young go fust,
  All throbbin’ full o’ gifts an’ graces,
Leavin’ life’s paupers dry ez dust
  To try an’ make b’lieve fill their places:        140
Nothin’ but tells us wut we miss;
  Ther’s gaps our lives can’t never fay in;
An’ thet world seems so fur from this
  Lef’ for us loafers to grow gray in!
 
My eyes cloud up for rain; my mouth        145
  Will take to twitchin’ roun’ the corners:
I pity mothers, tu, down South,
  For all they sot among the scorners;
I ’d sooner take my chance to stan’
  At Jedgment where your meanest slave is,        150
Than at God’s bar hoi’ up a han’
  Ez drippin’ red ez yourn, Jeff Davis!
 
Come, Peace! not like a mourner bowed
  For honor lost an’ dear ones wasted,
But proud, to meet a people proud,        155
  With eyes that tell o’ triumph tasted!
Come, with han’ grippin’ on the hilt,
  An’ step thet proves ye Victory’s daughter!
Longin’ for you, our sperits wilt
  Like shipwrecked men’s on raf’s for water.        160
 
Come, while our country feels the lift
  Of a gret instinct shoutin’ “Forwards!”
An’ knows thet freedom ain’t a gift
  Thet tarries long in han’s o’ cowards!
Come, sech ez mothers prayed for, when        165
  They kissed their cross with lips thet quivered,
An’ bring fair wages for brave men,
  A nation saved, a race delivered!
 
 
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