Songs of Jamaica (1912)


MERRY voices chatterin’,
Nimble feet dem patterin’,
Big an’ little, faces gay,
Happy day dis market day.

Sateday![1] de marnin’ break,
Soon, soon market-people wake;
An’ de light shine from de moon
While dem boy, wid pantaloon
Roll up ober dem knee-pan,
‘Tep[2] across de buccra lan’
To de pastur whe’ de harse[3]
Feed along wid de jackass,
An’ de mule cant’ in de track’[4]
Wid him tail up in him back,
All de ketchin’ to defy,
No ca’ how[5] dem boy might try.

In de early marnin’ -tide,
When de cocks crow on de hill
An’ de stars are shinin’ still,
Mirrie by de fireside
Hots[6] de coffee for de lads
Comin’ ridin’ on de pads
T’rown across dem animul
Donkey, harse too, an’ de mule,
Which at last had come do’n cool.[7]
On de bit dem hoI’ dem full :
Racin’ ober pastur’ lan’,
See dem comin’ ebery man,
Comin’ fe de steamin’ tea[8]
Ober hilly track an’ lea.

Hard-wuk’d donkey on de road
Trottin’ wid him ushal[9] load, —
Hamper[10] pack’ wi’ yarn an’ grain,
Sour-sop,[11] an’ Gub’nor cane.[12]

Cous’ Sun[13] sits in hired dray,
Drivin’ ‘long de market way
Whole week grindin’ sugar-cane
T’rough de boilin’ sun an’ rain,
Now, a’ter[14] de toilin’ hard,
He goes seekin’ his reward,
While he’s thinkin’ in him min’
Of de dear ones Ief’ behin’,
Of de loved though ailin’ wife,
Darlin’ treasure of his life,
An’ de picknies, six in all,
Whose ’nuff[15] burdens ‘pon him fall:

Seben[16] lovin’ ones in need,
Seben hungry mouths fe feed;
On deir wants he thinks alone,
Neber dreamin’ of his own,
But gwin’ on wid joyful face
Till him re’ch[17] de market-place.

Sugar bears no price te-day,
Though it is de mont’ o’ May,
When de time is hellish hot,
An’ de water-cocoanut[18]
An’ de cane bebridge[19] is nice,
Mix’ up wid a lilly ice.[20]
Big an’ little, great an’ small,
Afou yam is all de call;[21]
Sugar tup an’ gill[22] a quart,
Yet de people hab de heart
Wantin’ brater[23] top o’ i’,
Want de sweatin’ higgler fe
Ram de pan an’ pile i’ up,
Yet sell i’ fe so-so tup.[24]

Cousin Sun is lookin’ sad,
As de market is so bad;
‘Pon him han’ him res’ him chin,
Quietly sit do’o thinkin’
Of de loved wife sick in bed,
An’ de children to be fed–
What de labourers would say
When dem know him couldn’ pay;
Also what about de mill
Whe’ him hire[25] from ole Bill;
So him think, an’ think on so,
Till him t’oughts no more could go.

Then he got up an’ began
Pickin’ up him sugar-pan:[26]
In his ears rang t’rough de din
“Only two-an’-six a tin!”
What a tale he’d got to tell,
How bad, bad de sugar sell!

Tekin’ out de lee amount,
Him set do’n an’ begin count;
All de time him min’ deh doubt[27]
How expenses would pay out;
Ah, it gnawed him like de ticks,
Sugar sell fe two-an’-six!

So he journeys on de way,
Feelin’ sad dis market day;
No e’en buy[28] a little cake
To gi’e baby when she wake, —
Passin’ ‘long de candy-shop
‘Douten eben mek a stop
To buy drops fe las’y[29] son,
For de lilly cash nea’ done.
So him re’ch him own a groun’,
An’ de children scamper roun’,
Each one stretchin’ out him han’,
Lookin’ to de poor sad man.

Oh, how much he felt de blow,
As he watched dem face fall low,
When dem wait an’ nuttin’ came
An’ drew back deir han’s wid shame!
But de sick wife kissed his brow:
“Sun, don’t get down-hearted now;
Ef we only pay expense
We mus’ wuk we common-sense,
Cut an’ carve, an’ carve an’ cut,
Mek gill sarbe fe quattiewut’;[30]
We mus’ try mek two ends meet
Neber mind how hard be it.
We won’t mind de haul an’ pull,
While dem pickny belly full.”[31]

An’ de shadow lef’ him face,
An’ him felt an inward peace,
As he blessed his better part
For her sweet an’ gentle heart :
“Dear one 0′ my heart, my breat’,
Won’t I lub you to de deat’?
When my heart is weak an’ sad,
Who but you can mek it glad?”

So dey kissed an’ kissed again,
An’ deir t’oughts were not on pain,
But was ‘way down in de sout’
Where dey’d wedded in deir yout’,
In de marnin’ of deir life
Free from all de grief an’ strife,
Happy in de marnin’ light,
Never thinkin’ of de night.

So dey k’lated[32] eberyt’ing;
An’ de profit it could bring,
A’ter all de business fix’,
Was a princely two-an’-six.

  1. Saturday
  2. Step
  3. Where the horse
  4. Canters in the track. A Jamaican pasture is seamed with tracks made by the animals in walking
  5. I don't care how; no matter how
  6. Warms
  7. Given up his skittishness
  8. Generic name for any non-alcoholic hot drink
  9. Usual, pronounced without the second 'u'
  10. Panniers
  11. Anona muricate— a fruit
  12. Governor cane; a yellow-striped sugar-cane
  13. Cousin James. Sun is the regular nickname for James
  14. After
  15. Enough = many
  16. Seven
  17. Till he reaches
  18. Immature cocoanut, the milk of which is a delicious drink
  19. Beverage
  20. Mixed lip with a little ice
  21. The variety of yam called "ahfoo" is the thing principally asked for by young and old
  22. Tup (twopence of the old Jamaica coinage) is 1 1/2d : gill, 3/4d. So "tup and gill" is 2 1/4d
  23. Insist on having 'brahter,' a little extra on top of (over) the quart
  24. Sell it for a bare tup
  25. Which he hires, or hired
  26. His sugar pans (tins)
  27. His mind is doubting
  28. Doesn't even buy
  29. Lasty (Iahsty), pet name for the Benjamin of a family
  30. Make 3/4d. serve for quattieworth, 1 1/2d
  31. If only the children have enough to eat
  32. After all the business was fixed, i.e., when the accounts were made up


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This work (Poems by Claude McKay by Claude McKay) is free of known copyright restrictions.