|Share page||Visit Us On FB|
American Ballads and Folk Songs____________
' T'ink of ol John Henry,' said his wife. 'If he could die wid dat hammer in his hand, you ought not to fuss about rowin' two mile to git us somethin' to eat-'
" 'Dat's all right,' replied George, 'but I ain't a-gwine a-die wid no oar in my hand if I can help it!'
"At the mention of John Henry my spirits went up considerably. 1 had only been waiting for an auspicious moment to bring him in myself. When the laughter over George's drollery had subsided, I professed an interested ignorance about John Henry. Getting up from his box-seat he began to tell how he had heard about John Henry. ... As his story progressed, George grew more and more eloquent. He stood behind the dining table, wet slouch hat hanging down over one eye, acting out the story as he went. . . .
" 'It was de flesh ag'in de steam,' he concluded. 'De flesh ag'in de steam.'
"Manny seemed thrilled but saddened by the tale. It was his introduction to John Henry, and White's telling made a deep impression on him. He encouraged the narrator with frequent interjections such as 'Dat's right' and 'Lawd-Jeesus!' At the climax he had stared wide-eyed for several seconds.
"John Henry was a magic wand. George White was more than pleased with himself. He consented to 'talk oP storee/ and later I saw him in his boat pulling for Bennett's Point.
"Crossing back to Edisto Island was not exactly a pleasure. Wind and tide were against us, and the cold rain soaked us. . . . Manny cast apprehensive glances over his shoulder. • . .
" 'Going to make it?' I asked.
" 'Yas-suh! I jus' been study about dat John Henry. If dat man could beat de steam, I t'ink I bring dis oP boat back to dat landin' all right. If I don't, I'll die wid dese oar in my hanV
"Thus does the story of John Henry, half a century after its origin, continue to capture the imagination of those who hear it for the first time." *
♦From John Henry> by Guy B. Johnson (Chapel Hill, N.C.: XJniveriity of North Carolina Prcti, 1929).