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

Paul Laurence Dunbar, "W'en Dey 'Listed Colored Soldiers" (1901)

WHEN DEY 'LISTED COLORED SOLDIERS

DEY was talkin' in de cabin, dey was talkin' in de hall,
But I listened kind o' keerless, not a-t'inkin' 'bout it all,
An' on Sunday, too, I noticed, dey was whisperin' mighty much,
Stan'in' all erroun' de roadside, w'en dey let us out o' chu'ch.
But I didn't t'ink erbout it, 'twell de middle of de week,
An' my 'Lias come to see me, an' somehow he couldn' speak,
Den I seed all in a minute whut he'd come to see me fu',
Dey had 'listed colored soldiers, an' my 'Lias gwine to wah.
Oh, I hugged him an' I kissed him, an' I baiged him not to go,
But he tol' me dat his conscience it was callin' to him so,
An' he couldn't baih to lingah w'en he had a chanst to fight,
Fu' de freedom dey had gin him, an' de glory of de right.
So he kissed me, an' he lef' me, w'en I'd p'omised to be true,
An' dey put a knapsack on him, an' a coat all colo'ed blue,
So I gin him Pap's ol' Bible f'om de bottom of de draw—
W'en dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.
But I t'ought of all de weary miles dat he would have to tramp,
An' I couldn' be contented w'en dey tuk him to de camp.
W'y my hea't nigh broke wid grievin' 'twell I seed him on de street,
Den I felt lak I could go an' th'ow my body at his feet.
Fu' his buttons was a shinin' an' his face was shinin' too,
An' he looked so strong an' mighty in his coat of sojer blue,
Dat I hollahed, "Step up, manny!" do' my tho'at was so' an' raw,
W'en dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.
Ol' mis' cried w'en Mastah lef' heh, young Miss mou'ned her brothah Ned,
An' I didn't know dey feelin's is de ve'y wo'ds dey said
W'en I tol' 'em I was so'y. Dey had done gin up dey all;
But dey only seemed mo' proudah dat dey men had hyeahed de call.
Bofe my mastahs went in gray suits, but I loved de Yankee blue,
But I t'ought dat I could sorrer fu' de losin' of 'em too;
But I couldn' fu' I didn' know de half of whut I saw,
Twell dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.
Mastah Jack come home all sickly; he was broke fu' life, dey said,
An' dey lef' my po' young mastah some'r's on de road- side-dead.
W'en de women cried an' mou'ned 'em, I could feel it thoo an' thoo,
Fu' I had a loved one fightin' in de way o' dangah, too.
Den dey tol' me dey had laid him some'r's way down souf to res',
Wid de flag dat he had fit fu' shinin' daih acrost his breast.
Well, I cried, but den, I reckon, dat's whut God had called him fu',
W'en dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.

Published in "Candle-Lightin' Time" (1901)
Also published in "The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer" (1920)

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