January 18, 2012

Harris: Ole Satun is loose

Joel Chandler Harris was not among the first American authors to write with an authentic dialect, nor was he the first to try it out in the form of vernacular poetry. Nevertheless, the Georgia-born author is remembered for his "Uncle Remus" stories employing the style which defined him. His first attempt at dialect in poetry is "Revival Hymn," published in the Constitution for January 18, 1877. It was soon reprinted, particularly in Southern newspapers, occasionally with the variation on the title "Revival Song," and was later set to music. It also inspired at least one attempt at a copy of the style but the critics quickly judged it as sub-par to Harris's own work.

Oh, whar shill we go w'en de great day comes,
Wid de blowin' er de trumpits en de bangin' er de drums?
How many po' sinners'll be kotched out late
En fine no latch ter de golden gate?
No use fer ter wait twel ter-morrer!
De sun musn't set on yo' sorrer,
Sin's ez sharp ez a bamboo-brier—
Oh, Lord! fetch de mo'ners up higher!

W'en de nashuns er de earf is a stan'in all aroun,
Who's a gwineter be choosen fer ter w'ar de glory-crown?
Who's a gwine fer ter stan' stiff-kneed en bol'
En answer to der name at de callin' er de roll?
You better come now ef you comm—
Ole Satun is loose en a bummin'—
De wheels er distruckshun is a hummin'—
Oh, come long, sinner, ef you comin'!

De song er salvashun is a mighty sweet song,
En de Pairidise win' blow fur en blow strong,
En Aberham's bosom, hit's saft en hit's wide,
En right dar's de place whar de sinners oughter hide!
Oh, you nee'nter be a stoppin' en a lookin';
Ef you fool wid ole Satun you'l git took in;
Youil hang on de aidge en get shook in,
Ef you keep on a stoppin' en a lookin'.

De time is right now, en dish yer's de place—
Let de sun er salvashun shine squar' in yo' face;
Fight de battles er de Lord, fight soon en fight late,
En you'll allers fine a latch ter de golden gate.
No use fer ter wait twel ter-morrer,
De sun musn't set on yo' sorrer—
Sin's ez sharp ez a bamboo-brier,
Ax de Lord fer ter fetch you up higher!

* For information in this post, I am particularly indebted to Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus, and the 'Cornfield Journalist': The Tale of Joel Chandler Harris (2000) by Walter M. Brasch.

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