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52 STEPHEN COLLINS FOSTER
"Nelly Bly" is so typically a folk-song that it seems difficult to believe that it was ever "written" by anybody. It is one of those simple little tunes that seem to go on their care-free way as inevitably as sunlight or the laughter of little children. It is one of the few happy songs ever written by Stephen Foster. Aside from the jingling nonsense of the minstrel songs, he turned instinctively to sentimental melancholy, the yearnings of homesickness and sad memories of the past. "Nelly Bly" is a song of contentment and plenty, more truly characteristic of the negro than "Brudder Gum" or "O Susanna."
Nelly Bly! Nelly Bly!
Bring de broom along, We'll sweep de kitchen clean, my dear,
And hab a little song;
Poke de wood, my lady lub,
And make de fire burn, And while I take de banjo down,
Just gib de mush a turn!
Truly it is a "dulcem melody."
"Nelly Was a Lady" is one of Foster's best melodies; of the utmost simplicity, it speaks with the authentic accents of true and sincere emotion. No amount of elaboration or sophistication could add to the elegiac tenderness of this plaintive little tune, which evokes a mood of gentle sorrow as unerringly to-day as it did in 1849.
Down on de Mississippi floating,
Long time I trabble on de way, All night de cotton-wood a-toting,
Sing for my true-lub all de day.
Nelly was a lady,
Last night she died, Toll de bell for lubly Nell,
My dark Virginny bride.
Now, I'm unhappy and I'm weeping, Can't tote de cotton-wood no more;
Last night, while Nelly was a-sleeping, Death came a-knocking at de door.