by John Crowe Ransom
WHO is it beams the merriest
At killing a man, the laughing one?
You are the one I nominate,
God of the rivers of Babylon.
A hundred times I've taken the mules
And started early through the lane,
And come to the broken gate and looked,
And there my partner was again,
Sitting on top of a sorrel horse
And picking the burrs from its matted mane,
Saying he thought he'd help me work
That field of corn before the rain;
And I never spoke of the dollar a day,
It's no use causing hired men pain,
But slipped it into his hand at dark
While he undid the coupling chain;
And whistled a gospel tune, and knew
He'd join in strong on the refrain.
For I would pitch the treble high,
'Down at the cross where my Savior died,'
And then he rolled along the bass,
'There did I bury my sin and pride.'
Sinful pride of a hired man!
Out of a hired woman born!
I'm thinking now how he was saved
One day while plowing in the corn.
We plowed that steamy morning through,
I with the mule whose side was torn,
And keeping an eye on the mule I saw
That the sun looked high and the man looked worn;
I would take him home to dinner with me,
And there! my father's dinner horn.
The sun blazed after dinner so
We sat a while by the maple trees,
Thinking of mother's pickles and pies
And smoking a friendly pipe at ease.
I broached a point of piety,
For pious men are quick to tease:
Was it really true John dipped his crowd
Down in the muddy Jordan's lees?
And couldn't the Baptists backslide too
If only they went on Methodist sprees?
And finally back to the field we went,
The corn was well above my knees,
The weeds were more than ankle high,
And dangerous customers were these.
We went to work in the heat again,
I hoped we'd get a bit of breeze
And thought the hired man was used
To God's most blazing cruelties.
Sundays, the hired man would pray
To live in the sunshine of his face;
Now here was answer come complete,
Rather an overdose of grace!
He fell in the furrow, an honest place
And an easy place for a man to fall.
His horse went marching blindly on
In a beautiful dream of a great fat stall.
And God shone on in merry mood,
For it was a foolish kind of sprawl,
And I found a hulk of heaving meat
That wouldn't answer me at all
And a fresh breeze made the young corn dance
To a bright green, glorious carnival.
And really, is it not a gift
To smile and be divinely gay,
To rise above a circumstance
And smile distressing scenes away?
But this was a thing that I had said,
I was so forward and untamed:
'I will not worship wickedness
Though it be God's--I am ashamed!
For all his mercies God be thanked
But for his tyrannies be blamed!
He shall not have my love alone,
With loathing too his name is named.'
I caught him up with all my strength
And with a silly stumbling tread
I dragged him over the soft brown dirt
And dumped him down beside the shed.
I thought of the prayers the fool had prayed
To his God, and I was seeing red,
When all of a sudden he gave a heave
And then with shuddering--vomited!
And God, who had just received full thanks
For all his kindly daily bread,
Now called it back again--perhaps
To see that his birds of the air were fed.
Not mother's dainty dinner now,
A rather horrible mess instead,
Yet all of it God required of him
Before the fool was duly dead.
Even of deaths there is a choice,
I've seen you give a good one, God,
But he in his vomit laid him down,
Denied the decency of blood.
If silence from the dead, I swore,
There shall be cursing from the quick!
But I began to vomit too,
Cursing and vomit ever so thick;
The dead lay down, and I did too,
Two ashy idiots: take your pick!
A little lower than angels he made us,
(Hear his excellent rhetoric),
A credit we were to him, half of us dead,
The other half of us lying sick.
The little clouds came Sunday-dressed
To do a holy reverence,
The young corn smelled its sweetest too,
And made him goodly frankincense,
The thrushes offered music up,
Choired in the wood beyond the fence.
And while his praises filled the earth
A solitary crow sailed by,
And while the whole creation sang
He cawed--not knowing how to sigh.
Last updated October 11, 2022