Thursday, March 01, 2007

Caswell County Poetry

Here the CCHA will post work by Caswell County poets, which retain all rights to their poetry. Set forth below are:

1. Going Back to Caswell by A. A. Allison
2. Home at Last by Betty Myers
3. To Mary by A Subscriber to the Milton Intelligencer (1819)
4. Little Village 'Mong the Hills by Wilhelmina Lea (1843-1936)

1. Going Back to Caswell by A. A. Allison

I'm going back to Caswell
The city's not for me.
I want the red dust in my britches
Like it used to be.

Summer nights, ploughed land,
Moonlight on the scene.
No one but a Caswell man
Can know just what I mean.

The Old Oaken Bucket
Bumping in the well,
Bringing up a sparklin' drink
To cool the magic spell.

No Chlorene or chemicals.
Just plain ol Country Water
But by Golly it was good
And tasted like it aughta.

I'm going back to Caswell
Where I can sleep at nights.
I'm tired of all the noise
And all the city lights.

Trains coming, whistles blowing
Fire trucks on a round.
When I lay down in Caswell
There ain't a single sound.

Here, the got me all steamheated.
Weatherstripped my door.
It's nice but (cough) I keep a cold
I never did before.

When I lived in Caswell
The snow blowed through thesill
But we never got the sniffles
It was healthy in them hills.

I'm going back to Caswell,
I've been bragging--but you see,
That bunch O'Plain Old Hills
Is Home Sweet Home to me.

A. A. Allison was a pseudonym. The actual author of the poem was Hugh Jack Johnson (1924-1993). Here is how he explained the origins of his poem:
Miss Bessie [his mother] now teaching in Rockingham County left many memories in Caswell, both happy and sad. She cherished them all. Years later she would tell her two sons over and over about her life in Caswell. Her stories inspired her son Hugh Jack Johnson to write a poem titled "Going Back to Caswell." This poem was later published under a pen name A. A. Allison in When the Past Refused to Die, A History of Caswell County N.C. – 1777-1977. Her son chose the pen name "Allison" because "Mama was forever going to Allisons.”
Source: The Heritage of Caswell County North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 310-311 (Article #381 "Bessie Rice Johnson" by Hugh Jack Johnson). This article includes a wonderful photograph of “Hugh and Bessie Rice Johnson with twin sons, left – Hugh Joe, right – Hugh Jack at Pennington Plantation in Rockingham County N.C. 1928.

The mother of Hugh Jack Johnson (and his twin brother Hugh Joe Johnson was Bessie Virginia Rice Johnson (1887-1977). On June 8, 1922, Bessie Virginia Rice married Hugh Johnson. He died in 1956. To see more on the family of Hugh Jack Johnson go to the Caswell County Family Tree.

2. Home at Last by Betty Myers

Caswell County held me close, I could not get away.
She wrapped her arms around me, and bade me not to stray.
I pined for deeper rivers, and yearned for higher hills.
I dreamed of meadows lush and green, thick with daffodils.

A pleasant mountain valley had sweetly beckoned me.
On each side the Smokies rose, what a sight to see!
But Caswell drew me tighter, and would not let me go.
And though I promised I'd return, her answer still was "no!

The ocean sang her siren song and I was tempted sore
To sail to sandy beaches, and stay were "her" no more.
But then she drew my bonds so tight that I could hardly breathe.
"You are my child," she whispered, "I will not let you leave.

Long and sweet she wooed me till I could not resist,
And I surrendered to her plea to dwell here in her midst.
'Twas then my eyes were opened, I saw her sharp and clear.
And everything I needed was waiting for me here.

Fertile fields and golden leaf and cattle fat with grain,
Rustic barns and piney woods and neighbors, true and plain.
A doe's soft lair, a fishing hole, might lie around the bend.
And strolling down a country lane, I'm sure to meet a friend.

Friends and land, hearth and home, these things make me glad.
I'd cast my eyes afar so long, I knew not what I had.
A friendly shore, a harbor safe, to rest at close of day.
I'm coming home to Caswell, though I never went away.

3. To Mary by A Subscriber to the Milton Intelligencer (1819)

I beheld and was doom'd to admire,
I knew, and was destined to love --
'T was a psssion too pure to expire,
'T was chaste as an angel's above.

But since hope will no longer deceive,
Why should I forever repine?
Why eternally thus should I grieve,
For that I'm obliged to resign?

Fare thee well then, dear cold-hearted maid,
May happiness ever be thine --
True affection time never will fade,
But silence henceforth shall be mine.

May thy home be Contentment's abode,
Thy husband the best upon earth --
And may life's unavoidable load;
Be eased by his kindness and worth.

And whenever you think of that friend,
Who loved you so long and true;
From your heart animosity send,
Unworthy of him and you.

Here is a description of the foregoing poem, To Mary, from When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977, William S. Powell (1977) at 410:

An anonymous poet, a rejected suitor who bore only kindly feelings toward the object of his affection and her new husband, submitted a poem to Editor John H. Perkins of the Milton Intelligencer. Over the pseudonym "A Subscriber" it was printed in the issue of April 2, 1819:


4. Little Village 'Mong the Hills by Wilhelmina Lea (1843-1936) (fifth and final verse only)

I love this village 'mong the hills-
My good fore fathers' home-
And oh, I'm never satisfied,
When far from it I roam.
I yearn so for familiar sights,
I can't contented be,
Until I get back home again,
These hills once more to see.

Here are comments on the foregoing poem, Little Village 'Mong the Hills, from When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977, William S. Powell (1977) at 413:
. . . . Miss Wilhelminia [sic] Lea, daughter of the Rev. Solomon Lea and a teacher herself in Leasburg, turned her talent to composing "Little Village 'Mong the Hills," a poem widely circulated at the time and reprinted frequently since. Her poem laments the deserted little village of Leasburg, but in the fifth and final verse she concludes [with the excerpt shown above].


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