The Poets

July 12, 2009

An Easy Goin' Feller: Poem In Dialect (Dunbar)

Paul Laurence Dunbar is one of the most widely known- and probably one of the best- poets to write in dialect. My favorite poem of his is without qualification The Poet and His Song (a poem written in Standard English), yet every time I read one of his dialect poems (or any such poem for that matter) I’m always moved in a way that doesn’t happen with Standard English reads.

Both have their beauty, but poems in dialect seem to me to impart an apperception of culture that poems in grammatically correct English cannot. It is in this sense that I feel poems in dialect are prettier and more interesting. (Don't get me wrong, almost all of my favorite poems are in 'correct' syntax.)

I don’t know quite yet if I have a favorite dialect poem done by Dunbar, but I find this one below delightful (not to mention its message is good).

An Easy Goin' Feller

Ther' ain't no use in all this strife,
An' hurryin', pell-mell, right thro' life.
I don't believe in goin' too fast
To see what kind o' road you've passed.
It ain't no mortal kind o' good,
'N' I would n't hurry ef I could.
I like to jest go joggin' 'long,
To limber up my soul with song;
To stop awhile 'n' chat the men,
'N' drink some cider now an' then.
Do' want no boss a-standin' by
To see me work; I allus try
To do my dooty right straight up,
An' earn what fills my plate an' cup.
An' ez fur boss, I'll be my own,
I like to jest be let alone,
To plough my strip an' tend my bees,
An' do jest like I doggoned please.
My head's all right, an' my heart's meller,
But I'm a easy-goin' feller.


John W. May said...

I began to do a line by line transliteration of this poem so its standard syntax could be seen. As soon as I began to do this I felt as if I were doing something wrong. Two lines later I couldn’t continue- I remembered the quote: “In poetry, paraphrase is blasphemy” (I don’t remember who said this, but it sure was loud in my ear this morning).

Anyhow, I think there’s truth to that feeling: the whole point of the poem is that it’s NOT standard syntax- Dunbar was well educated and could have easily written that way if he wished. Furthermore, to try to understand it ‘through’ Standard English is to completely negate the whole purpose of reading it in the first place.

So I felt I should let the poem speak for itself. Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

I love this poem. We are reviewing it in our english class. Thank you!

As of April 9th, 2010