River Bank Blues
A man git his feet set in a sticky mudbank,
A man git dis yellow water in his blood,
No need for hopin', no need for doin',
Muddy streams keep him fixed for good.
Little Muddy, Big Muddy, Moreau and Osage,
Little Mary's, Big Mary's, Cedar Creek,
Flood deir muddy water roundabout a man's roots,
Keep him soaked and stranded and git him weak.
Lazy sun shinin' on a little cabin,
Lazy moon glistenin' over river trees;
Ole river whisperin', lappin' 'gainst de long roots:
"Plenty of rest and peace in these . . ."
Big mules, black loam, apple and peach trees,
But seems lak de river washes us down
Past de rich farms, away from de fat lands,
Dumps us in some ornery riverbank town.
Went down to the river, sot me down an' listened,
Heard de water talkin' quiet, quiet lak an' slow:
"Ain' no need fo' hurry, take yo' time, take yo'
time . . ." Heard it sayin'--"Baby, hyeahs de way life go . . ."
Dat is what it tole me as I watched it slowly rollin',
But somp'n way inside me rared up an' say,
"Better be movin' . . . better be travelin' . . . Riverbank'll
git you ef you stay . . ."
Towns are sinkin' deeper, deeper in de riverbank,
Takin' on de ways of deir sulky Ole Man--
Takin' on his creepy ways, takin' on his evil ways,
"Bes' git way, a long way . . . whiles you can."Man got his
sea too lak de Mississippi Ain't got so long for a whole lot longer way,
Man better move some, better not git rooted Muddy water fool you, ef you stay ..."
Sterling Allen Brown was born on Howard University's campus in Washington, D.C., on May 1, 1901. He was the sixth child of schoolteacher Adelaide Allen and her husband, distinguished theologian and divinity school professor Sterling Nelson Brown.
After Brown earned his masters at Harvard in 1923, He decided on a teaching career. Urged by the people who loved him most, he went to work down south at a Virginia Seminary and College in Lynchburg. Exposed to the rural population of the South, he discovered the essence of what he described as a "people's poetry."
Not Only Did Sterling learn from the fascinating people he met like the "Preacher" - a self appointed prophet of doom - or "Slim" - a Yarn spinner. But also from the students he taught and shared poetry with.
"In our in-home gatherings, some of us learned about poems of Robert Burns that don't appear in college textbooks.... And they were the sort that would have had Brown railroaded out of town if he had read them in class. In the early 1920s Brown was a rarity; professors were inclined to be stuffy rather than sparkling."
And as Brown Progressed With his understanding of literature and African American Culture, He defended those beliefs with every ounce of emotion that he poured into his poetry in books like the Southern Road That did not, as James O. Young wrote in Black Writers of the Thirties, "see the need for proving the negro's humanity, they assumed it." In his few poems that address urban life, Brown avoids the celebration of Harlem nightlife and its vogue; instead, he reveals a more ominous side of city life.