Afro-American Folksongs - online book

A Study In Racial And National Music, With Sample Sheet Music & Lyrics.

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STRUCTURE OF THE POEMS; FUNERAL MUSIC
The youngest child was then taken and passed first over, then under the coffin, whereupon two men took it on their shoulders and carried it to the grave "on the run"'
Among the songs which Colonel Higginson imprisoned in his notebook—writing it down, perhaps, in the darkness, with his hand, as he says, in the covert of his pocket, as he overheard it from dusky figures moving in "the rhyth­mical barbaric chant called a 'shout' " beside the campfire, then carrying it to his tent "like a captured bird or insect" —was a nocturnal funeral song which surprised him most because its images were furnished directly by external nature. "With all my experience of their ideal ways of speech," he says, "I was startled when first I came on such a flower of poetry in the dark soil."
I know moonlight, I know starlight;
I lay dis body down. I walk in de moonlight, I walk in de starlight;
I lay dis body down. I know de graveyard, I know de graveyard,
When I lay dis body down. I walk in de graveyard, I walk troo de graveyard
To lay dis body down. I lay in de grave and stretch out my arms;
I lay dis body down. I go to de judgment in de evenin' of de day
When I lay dis body down. An' my soul an9 your soul will meet in de day
When we lay dis body down.
And Colonel Higginson comments: " Til lie in de grave and stretch out my arms.' Never, it seems to me, since man first lived and suffered, was his infinite longing for peace uttered more plaintively than in that line." The phrase of melody which the editors of "Slave Songs" ap­pended to Colonel Higginson's words is altogether too' banal to be accepted as the one to which a poem bearing such a burden of pathos could possibly have been sung. The music is much more likely to have been something like that of "O Graveyard" (see page no), which I have included in my list—the words a variant of "O Moon-rise," the tune quite worthy of being described as a flower of melody floating on dark waters in the shifting shadows-of the moon:
1 "Slave Songs," page 101.
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III