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Vachel Lindsay - The Booker Washington Trilogy

I. A NEGRO SERMON:—SIMON LEGREE

(To be read in your own variety of negro dialect.)


Legree's big house was white and green.
His cotton-fields were the best to be seen.
He had strong horses and opulent cattle,
And bloodhounds bold, with chains that would rattle.
His garret was full of curious things:
Books of magic, bags of gold,
And rabbits' feet on long twine strings.
But he went down to the Devil.

Legree he sported a brass-buttoned coat,
A snake-skin necktie, a blood-red shirt.
Legree he had a beard like a goat,
And a thick hairy neck, and eyes like dirt.
His puffed-out cheeks were fish-belly white,
He had great long teeth, and an appetite.
He ate raw meat, 'most every meal,
And rolled his eyes till the cat would squeal.

His fist was an enormous size
To mash poor niggers that told him lies:
He was surely a witch-man in disguise.
But he went down to the Devil.

He wore hip-boots, and would wade all day
To capture his slaves that had fled away.
But he went down to the Devil.

He beat poor Uncle Tom to death
Who prayed for Legree with his last breath.
Then Uncle Tom to Eva flew,
To the high sanctoriums bright and new;
And Simon Legree stared up beneath,
And cracked his heels, and ground his teeth:
And went down to the Devil.

He crossed the yard in the storm and gloom;
He went into his grand front room.
He said, "I killed him, and I don't care."
He kicked a hound, he gave a swear;
He tightened his belt, he took a lamp,
Went down cellar to the webs and damp.
There in the middle of the mouldy floor
He heaved up a slab, he found a door —
And went down to the Devil.

His lamp blew out, but his eyes burned bright.
Simon Legree stepped down all night —
Down, down to the Devil.
Simon Legree he reached the place,
He saw one half of the human race,
He saw the Devil on a wide green throne,
Gnawing the meat from a big ham-bone,
And he said to Mister Devil:

"I see that you have much to eat —
A red ham-bone is surely sweet.
I see that you have lion's feet;
I see your frame is fat and fine,
I see you drink your poison wine —
Blood and burning turpentine."


And the Devil said to Simon Legree:
"I like your style, so wicked and free.
Come sit and share my throne with me,
And let us bark and revel."
And there they sit and gnash their teeth,
And each one wears a hop-vine wreath.
They are matching pennies and shooting craps,
They are playing poker and taking naps.
And old Legree is fat and fine:
He eats the fire, he drinks the wine —
Blood and burning turpentine —
Down, down with the Devil; 
Down, down with the Devil; 
Down, down with the Devil.


II. JOHN BROWN

(To be sung by a leader and chorus, the leader singing the body of the poem, while the chorus interrupts with the question.)


I've been to Palestine.
What did you see in Palestine?
I saw the ark of Noah —
It was made of pitch and pine.
I saw old Father Noah
Asleep beneath his vine.
I saw Shem, Ham and Japhet
Standing in a line.
I saw the tower of Babel
In the gorgeous sunrise shine —
By a weeping willow tree
Beside the Dead Sea.

I've been to Palestine.
What did you see in Palestine?
I saw abominations
And Gadarene swine.
I saw the sinful Canaanites
Upon the shewbread dine,
And spoil the temple vessels
And drink the temple wine.
I saw Lot's wife, a pillar of salt
Standing in the brine —
By a weeping willow tree
Beside the Dead Sea.

I've been to Palestine.
What did you see in Palestine?
Cedars on Mount Lebanon,
Gold in Ophir's mine,
And a wicked generation
Seeking for a sign
And Baal's howling worshippers
Their god with leaves entwine.
And...
I saw the war-horse ramping
And shake his forelock fine —
By a weeping willow tree
Beside the Dead Sea.

I've been to Palestine.
What did you see in Palestine?
Old John Brown.
Old John Brown.
I saw his gracious wife
Dressed in a homespun gown.
I saw his seven sons
Before his feet bow down.
And he marched with his seven sons,
His wagons and goods and guns,
To his campfire by the sea,
By the waves of Galilee.

I've been to Palestine.
What did you see in Palestine?
I saw the harp and psalt'ry
Played for Old John Brown.
I heard the ram's horn blow,
Blow for Old John Brown.
I saw the Bulls of Bashan —
They cheered for Old John Brown.
I saw the big Behemoth —
He cheered for Old John Brown.
I saw the big Leviathan —
He cheered for Old John Brown.
I saw the Angel Gabriel
Great power to him assign.

I saw him fight the Canaanites
And set God's Israel free.
I saw him when the war was done
In his rustic chair recline —
By his campfire by the sea,
By the waves of Galilee.

I've been to Palestine.
What did you see in Palestine?
Old John Brown.
Old John Brown.
And there he sits
To judge the world.
His hunting-dogs
At his feet are curled.
His eyes half-closed,
But John Brown sees
The ends of the earth,
The Day of Doom.
And his shot-gun lies
Across his knees —
Old John Brown,
Old John Brown.


III. KING SOLOMON AND THE QUEEN OF SHEBA

(A Poem Game.) 

"And when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon,... she came to prove him with hard questions." 

[The men's leader rises as he sees the Queen unveiling and approaching a position that gives her half of the stage.]


MEN'S LEADER: :

The Queen of Sheba came to see King Solomon.
I was King Solomon,

[He bows three times.]

I was King Solomon,
I was King Solomon.


WOMEN'S LEADER::

I was the Queen,

[She bows three times.]

I was the Queen,
I was the Queen.


BOTH LEADERS::

We will be king and queen,
Reigning on mountains green,

[They stand together stretching their hands over the land.]

Happy and free
For ten thousand years.


BOTH LEADERS:

King Solomon he had four hundred oxen.

[They stagger forward as through carrying a yoke together.]


CONGREGATION:

We were the oxen.


BOTH LEADERS:

You shall feel goads no more.

[Here King and Queen pause at the footlights.]

Walk dreadful roads no more,

[They walk backward, throwing off the yoke and rejoicing.]

Free from your loads
For ten thousand years.


BOTH LEADERS:

King Solomon he had four hundred sweethearts.

[The men's leader goes forward, the women's leader dances round him.]


CONGREGATION:

We were the sweethearts.

[Here he pauses at the footlights.]


BOTH LEADERS:

You shall dance round again,

[He walks backward. Both clap their hands to the measure.]

You shall dance round again,
Cymbals shall sound again,
Cymbals shall sound again,
Wildflowers be found

[The Queen appears to gather wildflowers.]

For ten thousand years,
Wildflowers be found
For ten thousand years.


BOTH LEADERS:

And every sweetheart had four hundred swans.

[He continues to command the congregation, the woman to dance. He goes forward to the footlights.]


CONGREGATION:

We were the swans.


BOTH LEADERS:

You shall spread wings again,

[The King walks backward.]

You shall spread wings again,
Fly in soft rings again, 

[Here a special dance, by the Queen: swans flying in circles.]

Fly in soft rings again,
Swim by cool springs
For ten thousand years,
Swim by cool springs,
For ten thousand years.


MEN'S LEADER:

King Solomon, 

[The refrain "King Solomon" may be intoned by the men's leader whenever it is needed to enable the women's leader to get to
her starting point. All the refrains may be likewise used.]

King Solomon.


WOMEN'S LEADER:

The Queen of Sheba asked him like a lady,
Bowing most politely:
"What makes the roses bloom
Over the mossy tomb, 

[They bow to each other — then give a pantomime indicating a great rose garden.]

Driving away the gloom
Ten thousand years?"


MEN'S LEADER:

King Solomon made answer to the lady,
Bowing most politely: 

[They bow and confer. The Queen reserved, but taking cognizance. The King wooing with ornate gestures of respect, and courtly
animation.]

"They bloom forever thinking of your beauty,
Your step so queenly and your eyes so lovely.
These keep the roses fair,
Young and without a care,
Making so sweet the air,
Ten thousand years."


BOTH LEADERS:

King Solomon he had four hundred sons. 

[The two, with a manner almost a cake walk, go forward.]


CONGREGATION:

We were the sons. 

[On this line, King and Queen pause before the footlights.]


BOTH LEADERS:

Crowned by the throngs again, 

[Pantomime of crowning the audience.]

You shall make songs again, 

[On this line they walk backward, playing great imaginary harps.]

Singing along
For ten thousand years.


BOTH LEADERS:

He gave each son four hundred prancing ponies. 

[They go forward in a pony gallop, then stand pawing.]


CONGREGATION:

We were the ponies.


BOTH LEADERS:

You shall eat hay again, 

[They nod their heads, starting to walk backward.]

In forests play again, 

[A pony dance by both, in circles.]

Rampage and neigh
For ten thousand years.


MEN'S LEADER:

King Solomon he asked the Queen of Sheba,
Bowing most politely: 

[They bow to each other, standing so that each one commands half of the stage.]

"What makes the oaktree grow
Hardy in sun and snow,
Never by wind brought low
Ten thousand years?"


WOMEN'S LEADER:

The Queen of Sheba answered like a lady,
Bowing most politely: 

[They bow to each other, again, with pantomime indicating a forest.]

"It blooms forever thinking of your wisdom,
Your brave heart and the way you rule your kingdom.
These keep the oak secure,
Weaving its leafy lure,
Dreaming by fountains pure
Ten thousand years."


BOTH LEADERS:

The Queen of Sheba had four hundred sailors. 

[They go to the footlights with a sailor's lurch and hitch.]


CONGREGATION:

We were the sailors. 

[The King and Queen pause.]


BOTH LEADERS:

You shall bring spice and ore
Over the ocean's floor, 

[They walk backward with slow long-armed gestures indicating the entire horizon line.]

Shipmates once more,
For ten thousand years.


WOMEN'S LEADER:

The Queen of Sheba asked him like a lady,
Bowing most politely: 

[They bow to each other, the Queen indicating the depths of the sea.]

"Why is the sea so deep,
What secret does it keep
While tides a-roaring leap
Ten thousand years?"


MEN'S LEADER:

King Solomon made answer to the lady,
Bowing most politely: 

[They bow to each other, then confer; the Queen reserved, but taking cognizance, the King wooing with ornate gestures of
respect and courtly admiration.]

"My love for you is like the stormy ocean —
Too deep to understand,
Bending to your command,
Bringing your ships to land
Ten thousand years."
King Solomon,
King Solomon.


BOTH LEADERS:

King Solomon he had four hundred chieftains. 

[They go to the footlights with the greatest possible strut.]


CONGREGATION:

We were the chieftains.


BOTH LEADERS:

You shall be proud again, 

[The leaders stand with arms proudly folded.]

Dazzle the crowd again,

[They walk backward haughtily, laughing on the last lines.]

Laughing aloud
For ten thousand years.

[From here on the whole production to be much more solemn, elevated, religious.]


BOTH LEADERS:

King Solomon he had four hundred shepherds.

[The leaders go forward to the footlights carrying imaginary torches.]


CONGREGATION:

We were the shepherds. 

[The man and woman pause at the footlights.]


BOTH LEADERS:

You shall have torches bright, 

[They wander over the stage as though looking for lost lambs, with torches held high.]

Watching the folds by night,
Guarding the lambs aright,
Ten thousand years.


MEN'S LEADER:

King Solomon he asked the Queen of Sheba,
Bowing most politely: 

[The King kneels, and indicates the entire sky with one long slow gesture.]

"Why are the stars so high,
There in the velvet sky,
Rolling in rivers by,
Ten thousand years?"


WOMEN'S LEADER:

The Queen of Sheba answered like a lady,
Bowing most politely: 

[The Queen kneels opposite the King, and gives the same gesture as she answers.]

"They're singing of your kingdom to the angels,
They guide your chariot with their lamps and candles,
Therefore they burn so far—
So you can drive your car
Up where the prophets are,
Ten thousand years."


MEN'S LEADER:

King Solomon,
King Solomon.


BOTH LEADERS:

King Solomon he kept the Sabbath holy.
And spoke with tongues in prophet words so mighty 

[The two stand, commanding the audience.]

We stamped and whirled and wept and shouted: —

[The man and woman stamp and whirl with great noise and solemnity.]


CONGREGATION RISES AND JOINS THE SONG:

.... "Glory."
We were his people.


BOTH LEADERS:

You shall be wild and gay, 

[On these two lines, man and woman stamp and whirl again, gravely, magnificently.]

Green trees shall deck your way,
Sunday be every day, 

[On these two lines they kneel, commanding the audience.]

Ten thousand years.

King Solomon,

[Now they rise and bow to each other and the audience, maintaining a certain intention of benediction.]

King Solomon.  


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