Claude McKay's Early Poetry (1911-1922): A Digital Collection

Bennie's Departure

ALL dat week was cold an' dreary,
   An' I worked wid heavy heart;
All my limbs were weak an' weary,
   When I knew that we would part;
An' I thought of our first meeting
   On dat pleasant day o' June,
Of his kind an' modest greeting
   When we met dat afternoon;
Of de cáprice o' de weader,
   How de harsh rain fell dat day,
How we kissed de book togeder,
   An' our hearts were light an' gay;
How we started homewards drivin',
   Last civilian drive in train;
How we half-feared de arrivin',
   Knowin' we were not free again;
How we feared do'n to de layin'
   By of our loved old-time dress,
An' to each udder kept sayin'
   All might be unhappiness;
How our lives be'n full o' gladness,
   Drillin' wid hearts light an' free;
How for days all would be sadness
   When we quarrelled foolishly.
An' de sad, glad recollection
   Brought a strange thrill to my soul,
'Memberin' how his affection
   Gave joy in a barren wul':
As I thought then, my mind goin'
   Back to mem'ries, oh! so dear,
As I felt de burden growin',
   Jes' so shall I write it here.
We were once more on de drill-ground,
   Me so happy by his side,
One in passion, one in will, bound
   By a boundless love an' wide:
Daily you would see us drinkin'
   Our tea by de mess-room door,
Every passin' moment linkin'
   Us togeder more an' more.  
After little lazy leanin',
   Sittin' on de window-sill,
Me would start our carbine-cleanin'
   For de eight o'clock big drill :
To' me he be'n always ready,
   An' as smart as smart could be;
He was always quick, yet steady,
   Not of wav'rin' min' like me.
When de time was awful dull in
   De ole borin' Depot-school,
An' me face was changed an' sullen,
   An' I kicked against de rule,
He would speak to me so sweetly,
   Tellin' me to bear my fate,
An' his lovin' words completely
   Helped me to forget de hate.
An' my heart would start a-pinin'
   Ef, when one o'clock came roun',
He was not beside me dinin',
   But be'n at some duty boun':
Not a t'ing could sweet me eatin',
   Wid my Bennie 'way from me;
Strangely would my heart be beatin'
   Tell I knew dat he was free.
When at last he came to table,
   Neider one could ever bate
Tell in some way we were able
   To eke out each udder plate:
All me t'oughts were of my frennie
   Then an' in de after days;
Ne'er can I forget my Bennie
   Wid him nice an' pleasant ways.
In de evenin' we went walkin',
   An' de sweet sound of his voice,
As we laughed or kept a-talkin',
   Made my lovin' heart rejoice:
Full of happiness we strolled on,
   In de closin' evenin' light,
Where de stately Cobre  rolled on 
   Gurglin', murm'rin' in de night;
Where de rushin' canal waters
   Splashed t'rough fields of manchinic,
Wid deir younger tender daughters
   Grow'n' togeder, lush an' t'ick,
Bound' de mudder tall an' slimber
   Wid her scalloped leaves o' blue,
In de evenin' light a-limber,
   Or a-tossin' to an' fro.
Back to barracks slowly strollin',  
   Leavin' de enticin' soun'
O' de Cobre proudly rollin'
   T'rough de old deserted town ;
Pas' de level well-kept meadows
   O' de spacious prison-land,
Where de twilight's fallin' shadows
   Scattered at de moon's command.
So we passed 'long, half unwillin',
   T'rough de yawnin' barrack-gate,
Our poo' hearts wid disdain fillin'
   O' de life we'd larnt to hate;
Visions of a turgid ocean
   Of our comrades' noise an' woes,
An' a ne’er-ceasin' commotion
   Sorrowfully 'fo' us rose.
We mixed in de tumult, waitin'
   Fe de moment o' release,
De disorder never 'batin',
   Never 'batin' in de leas';
Wid de anger in us growin',
   We grew vexed from black to blue,
All de hot blood t'rough us flowin',
   As we hungered for tattoo. 

While some o' de men were strong in
   Rum o' Wray an' Nephew fame,
We sat do'n wid ceaseless longin'
   Till at last de tattoo came:
Jes' then we were no more snappy,
   But be'n even in fe fun ;
Once again we felt quite happy
   After de roll-call was done.
Claspin' of our hands togeder,
   Each to each we told good-night,
Dreamed soon o' life's broken ledder
   An' de wul's perplexin' fight,
Of de many souls a-weepin'
   Burdened do'n wid care an' strife,
While we sweetly lay a-sleepin',
   Yet would grumble 'bout our life.
Once his cot was next beside me,
   But dere came misfortune's day
When de pleasure was denied me,
   For de sergeant moved him 'way:
I played not fe mind de movin'
   Though me heart wid grief be'n full;
'Twas but one kin' o' de provin'
   O' de ways o' dis ya wul'. 
To' we tu'n good, came de warnin'
   O' de rousin' bugle-soun',
An' you'd see us soon a marnin'
   To de bat'-house hurryin' down,
Leavin' udders yawnin', fumblin',
   Wid deir limbs all stiff an' ole,
Or 'pon stretchin' out an' grumblin',
   Say'n' de water be'n too col'.
In a jiffy we were washin',
   Jeerin' dem, de lazy type,
All about us water dashin'
   Out o' de ole-fashion' pipe:
In a lee while we were endin',
   Dere was not much time to kill,
Arms an' bay'nets wanted tendin'
   To' de soon-a-marnin' drill.
So we spent five months togeder,
   He was ever staunch an' true
In sunshine or rainy weader,
   No mind what wrong I would do:
But dere came de sad heart-rendin'
   News dat he must part from me,
An' I nursed my sorrow, bendin'
   To de grim necessity.
All dat week was cold an' dreary,
   An' I worked wid heavy heart;
All my limbs were weak an' weary
   When I knew dat we would part;
All de fond hopes, all de gladness
   Drooped an' faded from our sight,
An' an overwhelmin' sadness
   Came do'n on de partin' night.
In de dim light I lay thinkin'
   How dat sad night was our last,
My lone spirit weakly sinkin'
   'Neat' de mem'ries o' de past:
As I thought in deepest sorrow,
   He came, sat do'n by my side,
Speakin' o' de dreaded morrow
   An' de flow o' life's dark tide.
Gently fell the moonbeams, kissin'
   'Way de hot tears streamin' free,
While de wind outside went hissin'
   An' a-moanin' for poor me:
Then he rose, but after bended,
   Biddin' me a last good-bye;
To his cot his steps he wended,
   An' I heard a deep-drawn sigh.
'Twas de same decisive warnin'
   Wakin' us as in de past,
An' we both washed soon a marnin'
   'Neat' de ole pipe fe de last;
We be'n filled wid hollow laughter,
   Rather tryin' to take heart,
But de grief returned when after
   Came de moment fe depart.
Hands gripped tight, but not a tear fell
   As I looked into his face,
Said de final word o' farewell,
   An' returned back to my place :
At my desk I sat me dry-eyed,
   Sometimes gave a low-do'n moan,
An' at moments came a sigh sighed
   For my Bennie dat was gone.
Gone he, de little sunshine o' my life,
Leavin' me 'lone to de Depót's black strife,
Dear little comrade o' lecture an' drill,
Loved comrade, like me of true stubborn will:
Oft, in de light o' de fast sinkin' sun,
We'd frolic togeder aroun' de big gun;
Oft would he laughingly run after me,
Chasin' me over de wide Depot lea;
Oft would he teach me de folly o' pride
When, me half-vexed, he would sit by my side;
Now all is blackness t'rough night an' t'rough day,
For my heart's weary now Bennie's away. 

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