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

Rosalie Jonas, "The Octoroon Ball" (1911)

[Note: These celebrated 'Octoroon Balls 'took place in a handsome building in the Creole quarter of New Orleans. In later days this same building has been turned into a Catholic convent. 'Milatraisses' was the gneric term for all that class-the octoroon, or quadroon woman. 'Cocodrie' (meaning in Spanish Cocodrilla, the crocodile) was the nickname for the unmixed black man, who lighted 'les belles milatraisses' through the dark Spanish streets by the ray of his hand lantern, but could go no further than the door of the hall, on pain of death. 'Trouloulou' (the Turtle) was the nickname applied to the male octoroon, the one man of 'color' admitted, who could find admittance to these orgies only in the capacity (in those days distinctly menial) of musician 'fiddler.']

'Tis the Octoroon ball! And the halls are alight!
The music is playing an old-time 'Galop'
the women are 'fair,' and the cavaliers white,
(Play on! fillder-man, keep your eyes on your bow!)
Cocodrie! Cocodrie! what strange shadows you throw
Along the dark streets, by your hand-lantern's ray!
Light 'les belles milatraisses' to the portal, that they
May pass; but is doubly barred, black slave! to you:
And the lilt of the old Creole song goes this way:
'Trouloulou! Trouloulou! c'est pas zaffair a tou!"

The music grows madder! the ball's at its height!
For beauty and kisses it's Hey! and it's Ho!
These women are fair--for an hour a night--
(Play on! fiddler-man, keep your eyes on your bow!)
And for all dull to-morrows, to-night who'd forego!
The music grows madder! 'Play! Trouloulou! play!"
Your women are frail, your masters are gay!
Cocodrie in the dark marks them flee and pursue!
And the lilt of the old Creole song goes this way:
'Trouloulou! Trouloulou! c'est pas zaffair a tou!"

They are ready and willing to love or to fight!
Hot blood is aflame! and the red wine aflow!
These women are theirs! who dare question their right!
(Play on! fiddler-man, keep your eyes on your bow!)
Who is it that prowls in the dark to and fro,
To and fro-there! outside!--The door bursts! and at bay!
Cocodrie! in the entrance! not easy to slay!
(Hands off! you mad fiddler! or die with him, too!)
And the lilt of the old Creole song goes this way:
'Trouloulou! Trouloulou! c'est pas zaffair a tou!"

Envoy--The convent.
New Orleans 1840-1850.

They are gone, those light gallants of times long ago!
(Fiddler-man of the past! is this dirge from your bow?)
Are these black-hooded ghosts of the dancers were knew 
On their knees at the last? "C'est pas zaffair a tou!" 


First published in The Crisis in March 1911. 

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