Eugene Field: Jest ‘Fore Christmas

“Jest ‘Fore Christmas” appeared in an anthology of Christmas stories and poems given to me by my Aunt Betty Barrow on my seventh Christmas. I memorized the poem and recited it at my fourth-grade music appreciation class party. The anthology is long gone, but the memory remains.

Father calls me William, sister calls me Will,
Mother calls me Willie, but the fellers call me Bill!
Mighty glad I ain’t a girl—ruther be a boy,
Without them sashes, curls, an’ things that’s worn by Fauntleroy!
Love to chawnk green apples an’ go swimmin’ in the lake—
Hate to take the castor-ile they give for belly-ache!
‘Most all the time the whole year round, there ain’t no flies on me,
But jest ‘fore Christmas, I’m as good as I kin be!

Got yeller dog named Sport, sick him on the cat;
First thing she knows she doesn’t know where she is at!
Got a clipper sled, an’ when us kids goes out to slide,
‘Long comes the grocery cart, an’ we all hook a ride!
But sometimes when the grocery man is worrited an’ cross,
He reaches at us with his whip, an’ larrups up his hoss,
An’ then I laff an’ holler, “Oh, ye never teched ME!”
But jest ‘fore Christmas, I’m as good as I kin be!

Gran’ma says she hopes that when I git to be a man,
I’ll be a missionarer like her oldest brother, Dan,
As was et up by the cannibuls that lives in Ceylon’s Isle,
Where every prospeck pleases, an’ only man is vile!
But gran’ma she has never been to see a Wild West show,
Nor read the Life of Daniel Boone, or else I guess she’d know
That Buff’lo Bill and cowboys is good enough for me!
EXCEP’ jest ‘fore Christmas, when I’m as good as I kin be!

And then old Sport he hangs around, so solemn-like an’ still,
His eyes they keep a-sayin’: “What’s the matter, little Bill?”
The old cat sneaks down off her perch an’ wonders what’s become
Of them two enemies of hern that used to make things hum!
But I am perlite an’ ‘tend so earnestly to biz,
That mother says to father: “How improved our Willie is!”
But father, havin’ been a boy hisself, suspicions me
When, jest ‘fore Christmas, I’m as good as I kin be!

For Christmas, with its lots an’ lots of candies, cakes, an’ toys,
Was made, they say, for proper kids an’ not for naughty boys;
So wash yer face an’ brush yer hair, an’ mind yer p’s an’ q’s,
An’ don’t bust out yer pantaloons, an’ don’t wear out yer shoes;
Say “Yessum” to the ladies, an’ “Yessur” to the men,
An’ when they’s company, don’t pass yer plate for pie again;
But, thinkin’ of the things yer’d like to see upon that tree,
Jest ‘fore Christmas be as good as yer kin be!

***

Eugene Field’s “Jest ‘Fore Christmas” appears on Project Gutenberg, “a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.” (Wikipedia) 

 

Nets of Silver and Gold

Fern Bisel Peat illustration for Wynken, Blynk...
Fern Bisel Peat illustration for Wynken, Blynken, and Nod (Photo credit: Crossett Library Bennington College)

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe —
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!”
Said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew.
The little stars were the herring fish
That lived in that beautiful sea —
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish —
Never afeard are we”;
So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam —
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home;
‘Twas all so pretty a sail it seemed
As if it could not be,
And some folks thought ’twas a dream they’d dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea —
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one’s trundle-bed.
So shut your eyes while mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea,
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

~ Eugene Field

“Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” is one of the poems my mother read to me from the Bumper Book every night at bedtime when I was very young. I didn’t want to sleep then any more than I do now, so she read a lot of poems. I heard this one so many times that I was reciting it from memory when I was two years old. I’ve always had a tape recorder in my head.

Since the first of the year, I’ve written for an hour a day, one of the suggestions I made for myself for the first week of ROW80. But I continue a slave to my habit of night-owling.

I’m not the only one.
“I write this from a swivel chair at 4.17 a.m.,” says Matt Shoard. “Twitter has gone quiet. There is darkness for miles. I can hear a watch tick. It’s the longest night of the year, and if I time things carefully, I could avoid daylight for 48 hours. What’s more, research suggests it won’t just be me. There’s a mislaid family of readers and writers at night, and at this hour there’s nothing else to do but search for them.” He goes on to  list writers who worked at night: Robert Frost, Charles Dickens, JD Salinger, Stephanie Meyer, Danielle Steel, Barak Obama, Kafka, Proust.
But there our similarities end. The people Shoard names are personages. They’ve demonstrated their ability to lose sleep and yet do fine work. I’ve demonstrated my ability to go lose sleep and then run aground. I’m not a personage. I’m still the ornery child whose mother made me take naps and go to bed early at night because she said without enough sleep, I was grouchy.
I’m way past grouchy now. Restraining myself, but teetering on the verge of crotchety, cross, and choleric.
Furthermore, the flu has hit town with a vengeance. One more late night and my ravelled sleave of care won’t be worth knitting up. Neither will my flu shot.
So good night.  I’m off to sail on that river of crystal light and rock in the misty sea.
*****
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