AfroPoets Famous Writers

Big John Henry

This here's a tale of a sho-nuff man
Whut lived one time in the delta lan'
His hand was big as a hog's fat ham
And he useta work for Uncle Sam.
His gums was blue, his voice was mellow
And he talked to mules, fellow to fellow.
The day he was born in the Mississippi


He made a meal on buttermilk and sorghum
A mess o' peas and a bait o' tunnips
And when he finished he smacked his lips
And went outside to help pick cotton.
And he growed up taller than a six-foot


Skinnin' mules and catchin' barracuda
And stronger than a team of oxen
And he even could beat the champion


An' ain't nary man in Dixie's forgotten
How he could raise two bales of cotton
While one hand anchored down the


Oh, they ain't no tale was ever wrote
'Bout Big John Henry that could start to tell
All the things that Big Boy knowed so well:
How he learned to whistle from the


And turned the wheels whut ran the mills;
How the witches taught him how to cunjer,
And cyo the colic and ride the thunder;
And how he made friends with a long lean


Sayin', "It's jes' John Henry a-giftin' roun'."
But a ten-poun' hammer done ki-ilt John Henry,
Yeah, a ten-poun' hammer ki-ilt John Henry,
Bust him open, wide Lawd!
Drapped him ovah, wide Lawd!
Po' John Henry, he cold and dead.

Written by Margaret Walker (1915-1998)


Margaret Walker Poets Page