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Vachel Lindsay - 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,
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.
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 FOREST WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
Then along that riverbank
A thousand miles
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 & racket.
And "BLOOD" screamed the whistles and the fifes of the warriors,
"BLOOD" screamed the skull-faced, lean witch-doctors,
"Whirl ye the deadly voo-doo rattle,
Harry the uplands,
Steal all the cattle,
Rattle-rattle, rattle-rattle,
Bing.
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,
Torch-eyed and horrible,
Shrilly and with a heavily accented metre.
Foam-flanked and terrible.
BOOM, steal the pygmies,
BOOM, kill the Arabs, 
BOOM, kill the white men,
HOO, HOO, HOO.
Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost
Like the wind in the chimney.
Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.
Hear how the demons chuckle and yell
Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.
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,
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,
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
With a boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.
THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK,
Read exactly as in first section.
CUTTING THROUGH THE FOREST 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
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.
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
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.
But the witch-men suddenly stilled the throng
With a great deliberation & 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,
Canes with a brilliant lacquer 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 jassamine sweet,
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.)

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: --
"Walk with care, walk with care,
Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo,
And all the other 
Gods of the Congo,
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you.
Beware, beware, walk with care,
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom. 
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom. 
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom. 
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, 
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.
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,
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 with their hymn books till they shook the room
With "glory, glory, glory,"
And "Boom, boom, BOOM."
THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK,
Exactly as in the first section. Begin with terror and power, end with joy.
CUTTING THROUGH THE FOREST WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
And the gray sky opened like a new-rent veil
And showed the Apostles with their coats of mail.
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;
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
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
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: --
"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
By the far, lone mountains of the moon
To cry, in the silence, the Congo tune: --
"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
Dying down into a penetrating, terrified whisper.
"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you.
Mumbo ... Jumbo ... will ... hoo-doo ... you." 

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Added: Jun 15 2005 | Viewed: 742 times | Comments and analysis of The Congo: A Study of the Negro Race by Vachel Lindsay Comments (213)

The Congo: A Study of the Negro Race - Comments and Information

Poet: Vachel Lindsay
Poem: The Congo: A Study of the Negro Race

Comment 213 of 213, added on August 7th, 2014 at 4:44 PM.
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Comment 212 of 213, added on August 7th, 2014 at 3:02 PM.
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Comment 211 of 213, added on August 7th, 2014 at 1:40 PM.
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Thanks again for the post.Really thank you! Much obliged.

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