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from toil and hunger (1940) Editors’ Note: Published in 1940 by the Hagglund Press of San Benito, Texas, this is an undersized ninety-nine-page paperback. The book includes reproductions of woodcuts by Stanley deGraff, linoleum cuts by John C. Rogers and Howard Swenson, as well as an illustration by Frank Zartman. The collection is divided in two parts: “Toil and Hunger” and “Dialect Poems.” It features a prologue by West, dealing with his family background and view of Mountain South history, and an updated introduction by Jesse Stuart. The book is dedicated to West’s daughters, Ann and Hedie Grace, and also acknowledges the editors of eight periodicals for prior publications. Funeral Notes We’re burying part of him today In Hickory Grove Church Yard. We can’t put him all here, For his grave Spreads over a few rocky acres That he loved— Where peach blossoms bloom, and Cotton stalks speckle the ground On a Georgia hill. Forty years he’s been digging And plowing himself under Along these cotton rows. Most of my Dad is there Where the grass grows And cockle-burrs bristle Now that he’s gone . . . 02.Poems.97-194/West 12/2/03, 11:49 AM 118 selected poems 119 We’re covering him in March days When seeds sprout. And I think next Autumn At picking time The white-speckled stalks Will be my old Dad Bursting out . . . Anger Words of the toiling south— “It came unbeknowence to us. Don’t know when May have been when death Gnawed through to the heart Of our least one With hunger’s keen teeth. Or maybe when six mouths Asked for food And six stomachs stayed empty. Must have been slow, And we don’t know when— But it stays, and we like it?” The slow, groaning anger Of the south— Born of toil and hunger, Tearing at a million hearts, Taken in with bulldog gravy10 Or pinto beans, Sucked up with coal dust or lint Into the belly of the south, The great, gaunt belly Of a smoldering south! No anger’s in a dead man— But it’s in the south, Slow, groaning anger In the toiling south! 02.Poems.97-194/West 12/2/03, 11:49 AM 119 no lonesome road 120 What Shall a Poet Sing What is a poet saying Down by a Georgia pine Where a broken body’s swaying Hung to a cotton line . . . ? With his folk all burdened down, Pinched by hunger’s pang, Whether he’s white or brown, What shall a poet sing . . . ? Symbols They were symbols, The preacher said— The bread and wine In memory of him, Of Jesus the Toiler . . . I see other symbols. Hungry and cold They tramp America Like ghosts passing by— In the coal camps, Dirty with dust, Begging a crust, A nickel, a dime, Or an old coat For winter time. Toilers’ children, Gaunt and tired, With rickets and flux—11 These are the symbols I see . . . 02.Poems.97-194/West 12/2/03, 11:49 AM 120 selected poems 121 Visit We didn’t say much. Jim’s table had a few scraps And an old bone On it. The landlord came A-cussing for rent . . . We didn’t say much. Jim was all down in the mouth, And I was down, too. Jim had a nickel. I had eight cents. We didn’t say much, There wasn’t much to say. Toil and Hunger Toil and hunger Took him away— My old Dad. While he ripped up The sad red earth His life dripped down In the furrow, And Georgia’s clay hills Sucked it up. Plum trees blossom From sweat-salted earth And sorrow climbs up Through the leaves To scent the flowers On the blooming trees. Toil and hunger Attended his birth, And bury him now In the sad red earth! 02.Poems.97-194/West 12/2/03, 11:49 AM 121 no lonesome road 122 Southern Nights Southern nights in Georgia— You know them, comrade— Cling like down Under the eagle’s wing. Moon rides low over ridge tops Flicking pine needles At the sky rim . . . Rivers, old and brown, Slither and slide Down the valleys of Dixie— Till corn blades and cotton blossoms Shiver in the wind And night-time kisses The earth with dewy lips. Beauty is southern nights, Beauty is a tall sycamore On the bank of the Chattahoochee. Beauty is the somber face Of a southern...


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