Ground Control Parenting – Carol Sutton Lewis

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Ages 13-15

Thoughtful Thursday: Thanksgiving

Hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Today’s Thoughtful Thursday (yes, it’s the Friday edition) celebrates Thanksgiving in all of its family and food-filled glory, with poems from two of our most celebrated African-American poets: Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) and Langston Hughes (1901-1967).

We begin with Hughes’ classic “Thanksgiving Time”, a wonderfully vivid celebration of the day. We then turn to two poems by Dunbar, who was one of the first African-American poets to gain national recognition. Dunbar had two distinct styles of writing poetry. He wrote many in standard English, which he called the “majors”, and wrote others in a Southern dialect, which he called the “minors”. The two poems featured here, “A Thanksgiving Poem” and “Sign of the Times” demonstrate these two styles.

Share these poems with your children this holiday weekend. Have them read the Dunbar poems aloud, and talk with the older ones about why he might have written in both styles. Interestingly (and not surprisingly) although his standard English poems outnumber those written in dialect, it was the dialect poems that brought Dunbar the most attention. Enjoy.

Thanksgiving Time

When the night winds whistle through the trees and blow the crisp brown leaves a-crackling down,
When the autumn moon is big and yellow-orange and round,
When old Jack Frost is sparkling on the ground,
It’s Thanksgiving Time!

When the pantry jars are full of mince-meat and the shelves are laden with sweet spices for a cake,
When the butcher man sends up a turkey nice and fat to bake,
When the stores are crammed with everything ingenious cooks can make,
It’s Thanksgiving Time!

When the gales of coming winter outside your window howl,
When the air is sharp and cheery so it drives away your scowl,
When one’s appetite craves turkey and will have no other fowl,
It’s Thanksgiving Time!

Langston Hughes

A Thanksgiving Poem

The sun hath shed its kindly light,
Our harvesting is gladly o’er
Our fields have felt no killing blight,
Our bins are filled with goodly store.

From pestilence, fire, flood, and sword
We have been spared by thy decree,
And now with humble hearts, O Lord,
We come to pay our thanks to thee.

We feel that had our merits been
The measure of thy gifts to us,
We erring children, born of sin,
Might not now be rejoicing thus.

No deed of our hath brought us grace;
When thou were nigh our sight was dull,
We hid in trembling from thy face,
But thou, O God, wert merciful.

Thy mighty hand o’er all the land
Hath still been open to bestow
Those blessings which our wants demand
From heaven, whence all blessings flow.

Thou hast, with ever watchful eye,
Looked down on us with holy care,
And from thy storehouse in the sky
Hast scattered plenty everywhere.

Then lift we up our songs of praise
To thee, O Father, good and kind;
To thee we consecrate our days;
Be thine the temple of each mind.

With incense sweet our thanks ascend;
Before thy works our powers pall;
Though we should strive years without end,
We could not thank thee for them all.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Signs of the Times

Air a-gittin’ cool an’ coolah,
Frost a-comin’ in de night,
Hicka’ nuts an’ wa’nuts fallin’,
Possum keepin’ out o’ sight.
Tu’key struttin’ in de ba’nya’d,
Nary a step so proud ez his;
Keep on struttin’, Mistah Tu’key,
Yo’ do’ know whut time it is.

Cidah press commence a-squeakin’
Eatin’ apples sto’ed away,
Chillun swa’min’ ‘roun’ lak ho’nets,
Huntin’ aigs ermung de hay.
Mistah Tu’key keep on gobblin’
At de geese a-flyin’ souf,
Oomph! dat bird do’ know whut’s comin’;
Ef he did he’d shet his mouf.

Pumpkin gittin’ good an’ yallah
Mek me open up my eyes;
Seems lak it’s a-lookin’ at me
Jes’ a-la’in’ dah sayin’ “Pies.”
Tu’key gobbler gwine ‘roun’ blowin’,
Gwine ‘roun’ gibbin’ sass an’ slack;
Keep on talkin’, Mistah Tu’key,
You ain’t seed no almanac.

Fa’mer walkin’ th’oo de ba’nya’d
Seein’ how things is comin’ on,
Sees ef all de fowls is fatt’nin’ —
Good times comin’ sho’s you bo’n.
Hyeahs dat tu’key gobbler braggin’,
Den his face break in a smile —
Nebbah min’, you sassy rascal,
He’s gwine nab you atter while.

Choppin’ suet in de kitchen,
Stonin’ raisins in de hall,
Beef a-cookin’ fu’ de mince meat,
Spices groun’ — I smell ‘em all.
Look hyeah, Tu’key, stop dat gobblin’,
You ain’ luned de sense ob feah,
You ol’ fool, yo’ naik’s in dangah,
Do’ you know Thanksgibbin’s hyeah?

Paul Laurence Dunbar

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