African American Poetry (1870-1927): A Digital Anthology

James Weldon Johnson, "Tunk" (1917)

TUNK

A LECTURE ON MODERN EDUCATION

LOOK heah, Tunk!—now ain't it awful! T'ought I sont you off to school.
Don't you know dat you is growin' up to be a reglah fool?
Whah's dem books dat I's done bought you? Look heah, boy, you tell me quick,
Whah's dat Webster blue-back spellah an' dat bran' new 'rifmatic?
W'ile I'm t'inkin' you is lahnin' in de school, why bless ma soul!
You off in de woods a-playin'. Can't you do like you is tole?
Boy, I tell you, it's jes' scan'lous d'way dat you is goin' on;
An' you sholy go'n be sorry, jes' as true as you is bo'n.
Heah I'm tryin' hard to raise you as a credit to dis race,
An' you tryin' heap much harder fu' to come up in disgrace.
Dese de days w'en men don't git up to de top by hooks an' crooks,
Tell you now, dey's got to git der standin' on a pile o' books.
W'en you sees a dahky goin' to de fiel as soon as light,
Followin' a mule across it f'om de mawnin' tel de night, rows,
W'en he knocks off ole an' tiah'd, ownin' nut'n but his clo'es,
You kin put it down to ignunce, aftah all what's done an' said,
You kin bet dat dat same dahky ain't got mien' in his head.
Ain't you seed dem w'ite men set'n' in der awfice? Don't you know
Dey goes dere 'bout nine each mawnin'? Bless yo' soul, dey's out by fo'.
Dey jes' does a little writin'; does dat by some easy means;
Gals jes' set an' play pianah on dem printin'-press muchines.
Chile, dem men knows how to figgah, how to use dat little pen,
An' dey knows dat blue-back spellah f'om beginnin' to de en'
Dat's de 'feet of education; dat's de t'ing what's gwine to rule;
Git dem books, you lazy rascal! Git back to yo' place in school.

—JAMES WELDON JOHNSON.

Published in "Fifty Years and Other Poems" (1917)
Also published in "The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer" (1920)

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