May 19, 2013

Garland: I reckon I'll pay my way

"Paid His Way," a poem by Hamlin Garland, was published in the magazine America on May 19, 1888 (it was later included in his collection Prairie Songs in 1893). The poem is presented in the dialect voice of Amos, an older man in his final years who was born in Ohio and later moved to Iowa. In his old age, with his wife dead, Amos has moved in with his son Stephen, who has come to dislike the situation, as both Stephen and Stephen's wife seem unhappy having the old man in their home.

In the poem, Amos admits his willingness to leave if that's what they decide but offers his argument why he should stay by promising that he will continue, as he always has, to earn his keep (or "pay his way"). The poem also serves as a more general celebration of a humble yet hard-working generation — pioneers to the developing western and midwestern states who lived through the Civil War and faced a myriad of other challenges:

No, Steve, I aint complainin' any,
I'll go—if y' think it's right;
I don't ask a single bite n'r a penny
More n'r less 'n jest what's white—
But son, bime by, when the old man's done for,
Jest remember my words to-day.
Y' don't like to have me round h'yere,
But I reckon I've paid m' way!

I was eighty-one last January—
Born in the Buckeye State,
I've opened two farms on the prairie,
An' worked on 'em early and late.
Come rain or come shine, a scrapin't' earn
Every mouthful we eat, an' want 'o say,
That I never rode in no free concern
That I didn't pay my way.

Y'r mother and me worked mighty hard,
How hard you'll never know,
In cold and heat a-standin' guard
To keep off the rain and snow.
The mortgige kep' eatin' in nearer to bone,
And the war it come along too,
But I went—left mother alone
With Sis in the cradle—and you.
Served my time; an' commenced agin
On an Ioway prairie quarter,
An' there I plowed an' sowed an' fenced,
And nigged as no human orter,
To raise you young ones and feed m' wife—
Y'r mother scrimped and scrubbed till her hair was gray,
And I reckon we paid our way.

No! y'r high-toned tavern aint good enough
F'r a man like me to die in,
The work that's made me crooked and rough
Should 'a'earned me a bed to lie in
Under the roof of my only son—
If his wife is proud 'an gay;
For I boosted y' into the place y've won—
O I reckon I've paid my way!

Y'r wife I know is turrible set-
She's mighty hansom to see
I'll admit, but it's a turrible fret
This havin' to eat with me.
She never speaks, and she never seems
To be listnin' to what I say—
But the childern do! they don't know yet,
Their grandad's in the way.
I'd know's you 're very much to blame
For wantin' to have me go,
But, Steve, I'm glad y'r mother's dead—
'Twould break her heart to know.
She'd say I orter live here,
What time I've got to stay,
For, Stephen, I've travelled for fifty years
An' I've always paid my way.

I ain't a-goin' to bother y' long,
I'll be a pioneerin' further West
Where mother is, and God 'll say
Take it easy, Amos, y've earned a rest—
So, Stevie, I want to stay with you—
I want 'o work while I stay,
Jes' give me a little sumpin' to do,
I reckon I'll pay my way.

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