Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > The New Poetry: An Anthology
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  The New Poetry: An Anthology.  1917.
 
193. The Congo
 
By Vachel Lindsay
 
 
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,        5
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.        10
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 JUNGLE WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
Then along that riverbank
A thousand miles        15
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.
 
And “BLOOD!” screamed the whistles and the fifes of the warriors,A rapidly piling climax of speed and racket
“BLOOD!” screamed the skull-faced, lean witch-doctors;        20
“Whirl ye the deadly voo-doo rattle,
Harry the uplands,
Steal all the cattle,
Rattle-rattle, rattle-rattle,
Bing!        25
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM!”
A roaring, epic, rag-time tuneWith a philosophic pause
From the mouth of the Congo
To the Mountains of the Moon.
Death is an Elephant,        30
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,        35
HOO, HOO, HOO.
Listen to the yell of Leopold’s ghostLike 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.        40
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,All the O sounds very golden. Heavy accents very heavy. Light accents very light. Last line whispered        45
Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo,
And all of the other
Gods of the Congo,
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,        50
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        55
With a boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.
THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK,Read exactly as in first section. Lay emphasis on the delicate ideas. Keep as light-footed as possible
CUTTING THROUGH THE JUNGLE WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
A negro fairyland swung into view,
A minstrel river        60
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.        65
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 cameWith pomposity        70
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.        75
But the witch-men suddenly stilled the throngWith a great deliberation and 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 shotesWith overwhelming assurance, good cheer, and pomp
Came the cake-walk princes in their long red coats,        80
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,        85
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.
(Oh, rare was the revel, and well worth while
That made those glowering witch-men smile.)        90
 
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:        95
“Walk with care, walk with care,
Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo,
And all of the other
Gods of the Congo,
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you.        100
Beware, beware, walk with care,
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom.
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom,
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom,
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay,        105
BOOM.”
Oh, rare was the revel, and well worth whileSlow 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.        110
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,        115
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,”        120
And “Boom, boom, BOOM.”
THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK,
CUTTING THROUGH THE JUNGLE WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
And the gray sky opened like a new-rent veilExactly as in the first section. Begin with terror and power, end with joy
And showed the apostles with their coats of mail.        125
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:Sung to the tune of “Hark, ten thousand harps and voices”
“Mumbo-Jumbo will die in the jungle;        130
Never again will he hoo-doo you,
Never again will he hoo-doo you.”
 
Then along that river, a thousand milesWith growing deliberation and joy
The vine-snared trees fell down in files.
Pioneer angels cleared the way        135
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        140
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:—To the tune of “Hark, ten thousand harps and voices”        145
“Mumbo-Jumbo is dead in the jungle.
Never again will he hoo-doo you.
Never again will he hoo-doo you.”
 
Redeemed were the forests, the beasts and the
And only the vulture dared again        150
By the far, lone mountains of the moon
To cry, in the silence, the Congo tune:Dying down into a penetrating, terrified whisper
“Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you.
Mumbo … Jumbo … will … hoo-doo … you.”        155
 

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