The Corn-Stalk Fiddle

By Paul Laurence Dunbar 1872–1906 Paul Laurence Dunbar
When the corn’s all cut and the bright stalks shine
   Like the burnished spears of a field of gold;
When the field-mice rich on the nubbins dine,
   And the frost comes white and the wind blows cold;
Then its heigho fellows and hi-diddle-diddle,
For the time is ripe for the corn-stalk fiddle.

And you take a stalk that is straight and long,
   With an expert eye to its worthy points,
And you think of the bubbling strains of song
   That are bound between its pithy joints—
Then you cut out strings, with a bridge in the middle,
With a corn-stalk bow for a corn-stalk fiddle.

Then the strains that grow as you draw the bow
   O’er the yielding strings with a practiced hand!
And the music’s flow never loud but low
   Is the concert note of a fairy band.
Oh, your dainty songs are a misty riddle
To the simple sweets of the corn-stalk fiddle.

When the eve comes on and our work is done
   And the sun drops down with a tender glance,
With their hearts all prime for the harmless fun,
   Come the neighbor girls for the evening’s dance,
And they wait for the well-known twist and twiddle,
More time than tune—from the corn-stalk fiddle.

Then brother Jabez takes the bow,
   While Ned stands off with Susan Bland,
Then Henry stops by Milly Snow
   And John takes Nellie Jones’s hand,
While I pair off with Mandy Biddle,
And scrape, scrape, scrape goes the corn-stalk fiddle.

“Salute your partners,” comes the call,
   “All join hands and circle round,”
“Grand train back,” and “Balance all,”
   Footsteps lightly spurn the ground,
“Take your lady and balance down the middle”
To the merry strains of the corn-stalk fiddle.

So the night goes on and the dance is o’er,
   And the merry girls are homeward gone,   
But I see it all in my sleep once more,
   And I dream till the very break of dawn
Of an impish dance on a red-hot griddle
To the screech and scrape of a corn-stalk fiddle.


Source: African-American Poetry of the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology (University of Illinois Press, 1992)

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Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar 1872–1906

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Music

 Paul  Laurence Dunbar

Biography

Paul Laurence Dunbar was one the first influential black poets in American literature. He enjoyed his greatest popularity in the early twentieth century following the publication of dialectic verse in collections such as Majors and Minors and Lyrics of Lowly Life. But the dialectic poems constitute only a small portion of Dunbar's canon, which is replete with novels, short stories, essays, and many poems in standard English. In . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Music

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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