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Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle -- John Hay

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian

Keeping in step with the recent "narrative poems" theme, here's one
more, an old favorite.
(Poem #1286) Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle
 Wall, no! I can't tell whar he lives,
 Becase he don't live, you see;
 Leastways, he's got out of the habit
 Of livin' like you and me.
 Whar have you been for the last three year
 That you haven't heard folks tell
 How Jimmy Bludso passed in his cheeks
 The night of the Prairie Belle?

 He were n't no saint, them engineers
 Is all pretty much alike,
 One wife in Natchez-under-the-Hill
 And another one here, in Pike;
 A keerless man in his talk was Jim,
 And an awkward hand in a row,
 But he never flunked, and he never lied,
 I reckon he never knowed how.

 And this was all the religion he had,
 To treat his engine well;
 Never be passed on the river;
 To mind the pilot's bell;
 And if ever the Prairie Belle took fire,
 A thousand times he swore,
 He'd hold her nozzle agin the bank
 Till the last soul got ashore.

 All boats has their day on the Mississip,
 And her day come at last,
 The Movastar was a better boat,
 But the Belle she wouldn't be passed.
 And so she come tearin' along that night
 The oldest craft on the line-
 With a nigger squat on her safety-valve,
 And her furnace crammed, rosin and pine.

 The fire bust out as she clared the bar,
 And burnt a hole in the night,
 And quick as a flash she turned, and made
 For that willer-bank on the right.
 There was runnin' and cursin', but Jim yelled out,
 Over all the infernal roar,
 "I'll hold her nozzle agin the bank
 Till the last galoot's ashore."

 Through the hot, black breath of the burnin' boat
 Jim Bludso's voice was heard,
 And they all had trust in his cussedness,
 And knowed he would keep his word.
 And, sure's you're born, they all got off
 Afore the smokestacks fell,-
 And Bludso's ghost went up alone
 In the smoke of the Prairie Belle.

 He were n't no saint, but at jedgment
 I'd run my chance with Jim,
 'Longside of some pious gentlemen
 That would n't shook hands with him.
 He seen his duty, a dead-sure thing,
 And went for it thar and then;
 And Christ ain't a-going to be too hard
 On a man that died for men.
-- John Hay
This poem was written in 1871 by John Hay, formerly one of Lincoln's private
secretaries and later secretary of State under William McKinley and Teddy
Roosevelt.  Hay's poem, based on the true story of a Missisippi riverboat
engineer who died saving his passengers, became instantly popular, making him,
at that time, as famous as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain.

This was a fairly staple poem in American textbooks, but might not be too
popular now, given that political correctness requires that poems with the "N"
word (or even books like Huck Finn) get bowdlerized or even outright banned
from school textbooks.

This is a poem that is quite easy on the ears, and it has been set to ballad /
country and western music by several people.  A touch melodramatic, but then...

For more on the "dramatic poem" genre, try this rather well written article -


31 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anonymous said...

I was so pleased to find the words to this poem. I remember my grandfather quoting the line that said. "and Bludso's ghost went up alone..." I was only about 8 then and now at 70, I finally tracked it down. God bless Google and this post.

Anonymous said...

In early 60's this was a poem in my Junior High School English Lit Book, and I would read it over and over again. I haven't seen it since. Thanx so much for keeping it alive.

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