Lullabye by Eileen Hall

Buckra pic’ney, tek’ yo’ res’,
De full moon waalkin’ to de wes’.
Dis night too quiet an’ too wile—
Wha’ mek you sech an’ own-way chile?
A’ wha’ you watch fa’? You too nyuuung.
Wait til trouble tie yo’ tongue.
Wait til you grown an’ gaan from home,
Den w’en you call, a’ who goin’ come?

Dis night air blowin’ very cowl.
Wha’ mek dat darg begin fu’ howl?

Fool neber ‘fraid w’en moon look bright,
Say, “Crab and jumbie lub dark night.”
Jumbie like moon as well as we—
Dey comin’ waalkin’ from de sea.
Deir foot tu’n backward w’en dey tread,
Dey wearin’ body ub de dead
Dat fisher-bwoy dat wu’k on sloop,
He watch dem waalkin’ from Guadeloupe.
Dey waalk de Channel, like it grass;
Den, like rain-cloud, he see dem pass.
Dey comin’ steppin out ub Hell,
Wit burnin’ yeye an’ a sweet smell.

This poem was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, in Hall’s 1938 collection. Think about that – 1938 – and then read that poem again, ahead of its time for many reasons including the use of our nation language and the common man’s perspective in so-called high art when in 2017 there are some who still think of our various creoles as nothing more than bad English. Hall is from Antigua where just a few years ago, in this time, its use on school campuses was outlawed though it, frankly, never went out of use because, come on, you might as well tell us to cut out our tongue. That the colonial attitude that devalues our natural speech was dismissed (as suggested by her embrace of it here) by a poet who would have come of age in colonial times and, her history suggests, as part of the middle to upper class is interesting to say the least and just one of the ways Hall seems to be ahead of her time. The entire collection is illuminating. I wish it were still in print but, alas, it isn’t and Hall as poet is little known in Antigua. Even Wikepedia claims her for America even while acknowledging her Antiguan birth and lineage. “Eileen Hall was an American poet. She was a friend of Ford Madox Ford’s. She married Dr Michael Lake and her first collection – The Fountain and the Bough (1938) – is dedicated to him. After the marriage she was also known as Eileen Lake and Eileen Hall Lake. Hall was born in Antigua; her father’s family was from Oxford and her mother’s family was part French and part Irish, the French side having been in the West Indies since the mid seventeenth century.” I feel like asking Wikepedia, “how, Sway?” But I’m happy for what little information they do provide as the only previous information I had on Hall was from the summer 2012 edition of The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books which does credit her as “an Antiguan-born poet” and speaks to the fine reviews her collection received. It provides some more information on her writing journey: “Her translations of works by short story writers; and her own poems from earlier issues of prominent literary journals including Harper’s, Poetry, and American Mercury, show the breadth of her literary engagements…Her short stories and translations of other women’s work are strewn in small publications on both sides of the Atlantic.” On her use of Antiguan vernacular, the Review notes, “Her Author’s Note, included in her 1938 volume is, even now, invaluable; while full of irony: ‘the poems in Part IIII, referring to Antigua, West Indies, contain words and allusions that may beunfamilar.’ A rich glossary of ‘the negro dialect of Antigua’[sic] follows, illuminating those six poems – two of which are in the reputed ‘dialect’: (Obeah Woman, and Lullaby).” Incidentally, that edition of the Review, Volume 5 Number 1, is a good introduction to the early writings of women from Antigua, invaluable because significant as the discovery of Jamaica Kincaid was for me as a teen and wanna-be writer in the late 1980s and as monumental as her contribution has been to world literature while coming from this small place, there is a literary legacy that predates her, little as it’s known.

Hall’s poem, excerpted from a larger work, is shared purely for informational and educational purposes. No profit is being made. We believe that sharing it here falls within internationally understood fair use guidelines but, if we are incorrect, in respect of the rights of the copyright holder, we will remove if instructed to do so. We just thought that it was important for Antiguans and Barbudans to become more aware of the contribution to the literary world of this born Antiguan. – JCH, Blogger

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Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, A & B WRITINGS, Caribbean Plus Lit News, Literary Gallery

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