African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

James Weldon Johnson, "Noah Built the Ark" (1927)

Noah Built the Ark

                         In the cool of the day --
                         God was walking --
                         Around in the Garden of Eden.
                         And except for the beasts, eating in the fields,
                         And except for the birds, flying through the trees,
                         The garden looked like it was deserted.
                         And God called out and said: Adam,
                         Adam, where art thou?
                         And Adam, with Eve behind his back,
                         Came out from where he was hiding.

                         And God said: Adam,
                         What hast thou done?
                         Thou hast eaten of the tree!
                         And Adam,
                         With his head hung down,
                         Blamed it on the woman.

                         For after God made the first man Adam,
                         He breathed a sleep upon him;
                         Then he took out of Adam one of his ribs,
                         And out of that rib made woman.
                         And God put the man and woman together
                         In the beautiful Garden of Eden,
                         With nothing to do the whole day long
                         But play all around in the garden.
                         And God called Adam before him,
                         And he said to him:
                         Listen now, Adam,
                         Of all the fruit in the garden you can eat,
                         Except of the tree of knowledge;
                         For the day thou eatest of that tree,
                         Thou shalt surely die.

                         Then pretty soon along came Satan.
                         Old Satan came like a snake in the grass
                         To try out his tricks on the woman.
                         I imagine I can see Old Satan now
                         A-sidling up to the woman.
                         I imagine the first word Satan said was:
                         Eve, you're surely good looking.
                         I imagine he brought her a present, too,--
                         And, if there was such a thing in those ancient days,
                         He brought her a looking-glass.

                         And Eve and Satan got friendly --
                         Then Eve got to walking on shaky ground;
                         Don't ever get friendly with Satan.--
                         And they started to talk about the garden,

                         And Satan said: Tell me, how do you like
                         The fruit on the nice, tall, blooming tree
                         Standing in the middle of the garden?
                         And Eve said:
                         That's the forbidden fruit,
                         Which if we eat we die.

                         And Satan laughed a devilish little laugh,
                         And he said to the woman: God's fooling you, Eve;
                         That's the sweetest fruit in the garden.
                         I know you can eat that forbidden fruit,
                         And I know that you will not die.

                         And Eve looked at the forbidden fruit,
                         And it was red and ripe and juicy.
                         And Eve took a taste, and she offered it to Adam,
                         And Adam wasn't able to refuse;
                         So he took a bite, and they both sat down
                         And ate the forbidden fruit.--
                         Back there, six thousand years ago,
                         Man first fell by woman --
                         Lord, and he's doing the same today.

                         And that's how sin got into this world.
                         And man, as he multiplied on the earth,
                         Increased in wickedness and sin.
                         He went on down from sin to sin,
                         From wickedness to wickedness,
                         Murder and lust and violence,
                         All kinds of fornications,
                         Till the earth was corrupt and rotten with flesh,
                         An abomination in God's sight.

                         And God was angry at the sins of men.
                         And God got sorry that he ever made man.
                         And he said: I will destroy him.
                         I'll bring down judgment on him with a flood.
                         I'll destroy ev'rything on the face of the earth,
                         Man, beasts and birds, and creeping things.
                         And he did --
                         Ev'rything but the fishes.

                         But Noah was a just and righteous man.
                         Noah walked and talked with God.
                         And, one day, God said to Noah,
                         He said: Noah, build thee an ark.
                         Build it out of gopher wood.
                         Build it good and strong.
                         Pitch it within and pitch it without.
                         And build it according to the measurements
                         That I will give to thee.
                         Build it for you and all your house,
                         And to save the seeds of life on earth;
                         For I'm going to send down a mighty flood
                         To destroy this wicked world.

                         And Noah commenced to work on the ark.
                         And he worked for about one hundred years.
                         And ev'ry day the crowd came round
                         To make fun of Old Man Noah.
                         And they laughed and they said: Tell us, old man,
                         Where do you expect to sail that boat
                         Up here amongst the hills?

                         But Noah kept on a-working.
                         And ev'ry once in a while Old Noah would stop,
                         He'd lay down his hammer and lay down his saw,
                         And take his staff in hand;
                         And with his long, white beard a-flying in the wind,
                         And the gospel light a-gleaming from his eye,
                         Old Noah would preach God's word:

                         Sinners, oh, sinners,
                         Repent, for the judgment is at hand.
                         Sinners, oh, sinners,
                         Repent, for the time is drawing nigh.
                         God's wrath is gathering in the sky.
                         God's a-going to rain down rain on rain.
                         God's a-going to loosen up the bottom of the deep,
                         And drown this wicked world.
                         Sinners, repent while yet there's time
                         For God to change his mind.

                         Some smart young fellow said: This old man's
                         Got water on the brain.
                         And the crowd all laughed -- Lord, but didn't they laugh;
                         And they paid no mind to Noah,
                         But kept on sinning just the same.

                         One bright and sunny morning,
                         Not a cloud nowhere to be seen,
                         God said to Noah: Get in the ark!
                         And Noah and his folks all got in the ark,
                         And all the animals, two by two,

                         A he and a she marched in.
                         Then God said: Noah, Bar the door!
                         And Noah barred the door.

                         And a little black spot begun to spread,
                         Like a bottle of ink spilling over the sky;
                         And the thunder rolled like a rumbling drum;
                         And the lightning jumped from pole to pole;
                         And it rained down rain, rain, rain,
                         Great God, but didn't it rain!
                         For forty days and forty nights
                         Waters poured down and waters gushed up;
                         And the dry land turned to sea.
                         And the old ark-a she begun to ride;
                         The old ark-a she begun to rock;
                         Sinners came a-running down to the ark;
                         Sinners came a-swimming all round the ark;
                         Sinners pleaded and sinners prayed --
                         Sinners wept and sinners wailed --
                         But Noah'd done barred the door.

                         And the trees and the hills and the mountain tops
                         Slipped underneath the waters.
                         And the old ark sailed that lonely sea --
                         For twelve long months she sailed that sea,
                         A sea without a shore.

                         Then the waters begun to settle down,
                         And the ark touched bottom on the tallest peak
                         Of old Mount Ararat.
                         The dove brought Noah the olive leaf,

                         And Noah when he saw that the grass was green,
                         Opened up the ark, and they all climbed down,
                         The folks, and the animals, two by two,
                         Down from the mount to the valley.
                         And Noah wept and fell on his face
                         And hugged and kissed the dry ground.

                         And then --

                         God hung out his rainbow cross the sky,
                         And he said to Noah: That's my sign!
                         No more will I judge the world by flood --
                         Next time I'll rain down fire.

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