LINDSAY, VACHEL (1879-1931, American poet)
AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF HIS CELEBRATED POEM 'THE CONGO A STUDY OF THE NEGRO RACE', some 160 lines, plus title, three sectional titles and twenty autograph side-notes, mostly directions for spoken performance (Croft uses the word 'scored'), his name as author written by him at the head, five lines repeated at the beginning of the second page, written in pen and ink (first page and revisions) and pencil (pages 2-6), 6 pages, quarto, first page smaller than the remainder and possibly written out to replace a missing page - hence the repetition of lines on page 2 - and with filing holes in the first leaf, not dated (composed 1914)
A Study of the Negro Race
- Vachel Lindsay
1. - Their Basic savagery
Fat black bucks in a wine-barrell room,
Barrel-house kings with feet unstable,
(A deep, rolling base)
Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table,
Pounded on the table,
Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom,
Hard as they were able,
Boom, boom BOOM,
With a silk umbrella and the handle of a broom,
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.
THEN I had religion, THEN I had a vision.
I could not turn from their revel in derision.
THEN I SAW THE CONGO
(More deliberate Solemnly chanted)
CUTTING THROUGH THE JUNGLE
WITH A GOLDEN TRACK...
'THE CONGO' IS LINDSAY'S MOST FAMOUS AND MOST PERFORMED POEM (composed 1914). 'It was revolutionary in its use of sounds and rhythms -- as sounds and rhythms -- and includes elaborate annotations to guide its spoken performance. Lindsay categorized The Congo as "higher Vaudeville" and was famous for his exuberant performances of it. The poem's imagery is racist, but Lindsay was a product of his time -- born 14 years after the end of the American Civil War in Abraham Lincoln's hometown, he revered Lincoln and viewed himself as a friend and supporter of African-American culture' (Kathy Thile). He himself expressed surprise that the poem was 'denounced by the Coloured people...The third section of the Congo is certainly as hopeful as any human being dare to be in regard to any race.' His exuberant recitations led some to describe his work as jazz poetry. His readings of it all through America made him a public figure in the tradition of Whitman. "The Congo" expressed 'a revolutionary aesthetic of sound for sound's sake. It imitates the pounding of drums in the rhythms and the exemplification of drumming onomatopoeia.' Lindsay thought of it as an ode; he much appreciated Yeats's praise for his part in restoring the 'primitive singing of poetry'. Part of the poem was recited in the film Dead Poets Society (1989).
NO POETICAL MANUSCRIPTS BY LINDSAY HAVE BEEN SOLD AT AUCTION IN THE LAST FORTY YEARS AT LEAST.
For Lindsay's handwriting see Croft.
REFERENCES: P.J. Croft, Autograph Poetry in the English Language, 2 volumes, 1973; Letters of Vachel Lindsay, edited by Marc Chenetier, 1979; Wikipedia; introduction by Harriet Munroe to Congo and Other Poems, 1914; Harriet Munroe, 'Poetry's Banquet', Poetry, vol. 4, no. 1. 1914; Kathy Thile (on-line resource); review of 'The Congo and Other Poems', The North American Review, vol. 201, no. 712, 1915.