Animals In Appalachia Appalachia

The Mountain Whippoorwill – Stephen Vincent Benet


The Mountain Whippoorwill written by Stephen Vincent Benet 1925

The Mountain Whippoorwill written by Stephen Vincent Benet 1925

Up in the mountains, it’s lonesome all the time,
(Sof’ win’ slewin’ thu’ the sweet-potato vine.)

Up in the mountains, it’s lonesome for a child,
(Whippoorwills a-callin’ when the sap runs wild.)

Up in the mountains, mountains in the fog,
Everythin’s as lazy as an old houn’ dog.

Born in the mountains, never raised a pet,
Don’t want nuthin’ an’ never got it yet.

Born in the mountains, lonesome-born,
Raised runnin’ ragged thu’ the cockleburrs and corn.

Never knew my pappy, mebbe never should.
Think he was a fiddle made of mountain laurel-wood.

Never had a mammy to teach me pretty-please.
Think she was a whippoorwill, a-skittin’ thu’ the trees.

Never had a brother ner a whole pair of pants,
But when I start to fiddle, why, yuh got to start to dance!

Listen to my fiddle — Kingdom Come — Kingdom Come!
Hear the frogs a-chunkin’ “Jug o’ rum, Jug o’ rum!”
Hear that mountain whippoorwill be lonesome in the air,
An’ I’ll tell yuh how I travelled to the Essex County Fair.

Essex County has a mighty pretty fair,
All the smarty fiddlers from the South come there.

Elbows flyin’ as they rosin up the bow
For the First Prize Contest in the Georgia Fiddlers’ Show.

Old Dan Wheeling, with his whiskers in his ears,
King-pin fiddler for nearly twenty years.

Big Tom Sargent, with his blue wall-eye,
An’ Little Jimmy Weezer that can make a fiddle cry.

All sittin’ roun’, spittin’ high an’ struttin’ proud,
(Listen, little whippoorwill, yuh better bug yore eyes!)
Tun-a-tun-a-tunin’ while the jedges told the crowd
Them that got the mostest claps’d win the bestest prize.

Everybody waitin’ for the first tweedle-dee,
When in comes a-stumblin’ — hill-billy me!

Bowed right pretty to the jedges an’ the rest,
Took a silver dollar from a hole inside my vest,

Plunked it on the table an’ said, “There’s my callin’ card!
An’ anyone that licks me — well, he’s got to fiddle hard!”

Old Dan Wheeling, he was laughin’ fit to holler,
Little Jimmy Weezer said, “There’s one dead dollar!”

Big Tom Sargent had a yaller-toothy grin,
But I tucked my little whippoorwill spang underneath my chin,
An’ petted it an’ tuned it till the jedges said, “Begin!”

Big Tom Sargent was the first in line;
He could fiddle all the bugs off a sweet-potato vine.

He could fiddle down a possum from a mile-high tree,
He could fiddle up a whale from the bottom of the sea.

Yuh could hear hands spankin’ till they spanked each other raw,
When he finished variations on “Turkey in the Straw.”

Little Jimmy Weezer was the next to play;
He could fiddle all night, he could fiddle all day.

He could fiddle chills, he could fiddle fever,
He could make a fiddle rustle like a lowland river.

He could make a fiddle croon like a lovin’ woman.
An’ they clapped like thunder when he’d finished strummin’.

Then came the ruck of the bob-tailed fiddlers,
The let’s-go-easies, the fair-to-middlers.

They got their claps an’ they lost their bicker,
An’ they all settled back for some more corn-licker.

An’ the crowd was tired of their no-count squealing,
When out in the center steps Old Dan Wheeling.

He fiddled high and he fiddled low,
(Listen, little whippoorwill, yuh got to spread yore wings!)
He fiddled and fiddled with a cherrrywood bow,
(Old Dan Wheeling’s got bee-honey in his strings).

He fiddled a wind by the lonesome moon,
He fiddled a most almighty tune.

He started fiddling like a ghost.
He ended fiddling like a host.

He fiddled north an’ he fiddled south,
He fiddled the heart right out of yore mouth.

He fiddled here an’ he fiddled there.
He fiddled salvation everywhere.

When he was finished, the crowd cut loose,
(Whippoorwill, they’s rain on yore breast.)
An’ I sat there wonderin’ “What’s the use?”
(Whippoorwill, fly home to yore nest.)

But I stood up pert an’ I took my bow,
An’ my fiddle went to my shoulder, so.

An’ — they wasn’t no crowd to get me fazed —
But I was alone where I was raised.

Up in the mountains, so still it makes yuh skeered.
Where God lies sleepin’ in his big white beard.

An’ I heard the sound of the squirrel in the pine,
An’ I heard the earth a-breathin’ thu’ the long night-time.

They’ve fiddled the rose, and they’ve fiddled the thorn,
But they haven’t fiddled the mountain-corn.

They’ve fiddled sinful an’ fiddled moral,
But they haven’t fiddled the breshwood-laurel.

They’ve fiddled loud, and they’ve fiddled still,
But they haven’t fiddled the whippoorwill.

I started off with a dump-diddle-dump,
(Oh, hell’s broke loose in Georgia!)

Skunk-cabbage growin’ by the bee-gum stump.
(Whippoorwill, yo’re singin’ now!)

My mother was a whippoorwill pert,
My father, he was lazy,
But I’m hell broke loose in a new store shirt
To fiddle all Georgia crazy.

Swing yore partners — up an’ down the middle!
Sashay now — oh, listen to that fiddle!
Flapjacks flippin’ on a red-hot griddle,
An’ hell’s broke loose,
Hell’s broke loose,
Fire on the mountains — snakes in the grass.
Satan’s here a-bilin’ — oh, Lordy, let him pass!
Go down Moses, set my people free;
Pop goes the weasel thu’ the old Red Sea!
Jonah sittin’ on a hickory-bough,
Up jumps a whale — an’ where’s yore prophet now?
Rabbit in the pea-patch, possum in the pot,
Try an’ stop my fiddle, now my fiddle’s gettin’ hot!
Whippoorwill, singin’ thu’ the mountain hush,
Whippoorwill, shoutin’ from the burnin’ bush,
Whippoorwill, cryin’ in the stable-door,
Sing tonight as yuh never sang before!
Hell’s broke loose like a stompin’ mountain-shoat,
Sing till yuh bust the gold in yore throat!
Hell’s broke loose for forty miles aroun’
Bound to stop yore music if yuh don’t sing it down.
Sing on the mountains, little whippoorwill,
Sing to the valleys, an’ slap ’em with a hill,
For I’m struttin’ high as an eagle’s quill,
An’ hell’s broke loose,
Hell’s broke loose,
Hell’s broke loose in Georgia!

They wasn’t a sound when I stopped bowin’,
(Whippoorwill, yuh can sing no more.)
But, somewhere or other, the dawn was growin’,
(Oh, mountain whippoorwill!)

An’ I thought, “I’ve fiddled all night an’ lost,
Yo’re a good hill-billy, but yuh’ve been bossed.”

So I went to congratulate old man Dan,
— But he put his fiddle into my han’ —
An’ then the noise of the crowd began!


Whippoorwills and fiddles – wow what a great story!



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  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    January 26, 2022 at 6:56 am

    I can never remember a time when I see or hear the word Whippoorwill, that Hank William’s sad song, “I’m so Lonesome I could Die”, hasn’t flooded my mind.
    Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
    He sounds too blue to fly
    The midnight train is whining low
    I’m so lonesome I could cry

  • Reply
    June 9, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Ron-yes sometimes I get lost in the music and that is when it sounds the best : ) But its hard to lose all the distractions that around you and forget about them in order to lose yourself. 

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 7, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    If it’s best to say nothing at all, “NOTHING AT ALL!”

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney
      January 26, 2022 at 6:47 am

      A wise man once said nothing. Not my quote and I do not know who deserves the credit for the original quote.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    June 7, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    My first time to read or hear this but it put me there. One of my old hunting buddies would exclaim WoW. Larry Proffitt.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Getting lost in the music; getting lost in the lyric word; it’s so easy to do.
    Do you see the images? image the music? or maybe you sense the clapping and the bowing, the stomping and laughing. . . or maybe you see colors or feel yourself wrapped in the emotion of each player, the crowd, or the mountain’s creatures. . . or maybe you simple get lost away from or recalling familiar experiences . . . .

  • Reply
    June 7, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    I got an e-mail from Don and Susan the other day and they were finalizing the move from Knoxville to the old Casada Homeplace. I appreciate all my friends and look forward to seeing Don’s incite on the Blind Pig again. …Ken

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    June 7, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    In my opinion, Stephen Vincent Benet ranks with Walt Whitman among America’s great popular poets. My great-great grandfather, born in a log cabin in East Tennessee in 1812, pioneered west to frontier Texas in a covered wagon in 1859. The final verses of Benet’s “Ballad of William Sycamore” are a fitting epitaph for Indian-fighting “Old Mr. Blake”:
    And my youth returns, like the rains of spring,
    And my sons like the wild geese flying:
    And I lie and hear the meadowlark sing
    And have much content in my dying.
    Go play with the towns you have built of blocks
    The towns where you would have bound me!
    I sleep in the earth like a tired fox,
    And my buffalo have found me.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    I enjoyed Mr. Benet’s words on The Mountain Whippoorwill. Like others on here, I think this is part of where Charlie Daniels come up with “The Devil went down to Georgia.” …Ken

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    June 7, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed The Mountain Whippoorwill.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    June 7, 2017 at 11:41 am

    Oh my GOSH!
    All my life I have ‘listened’ to fiddling by the BEST (Uncle Johnny Mull) but I NEVER heard such a story! All I can say is “THAT IS REALLY SUMEN!
    NOW about that question from Ron Stephens! The answer is “YES!” depending what folks have been ‘passing around’ during the performance!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ron Perry, Sr.
    June 7, 2017 at 10:47 am

    One of my favorite books is John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benet, an epic poem (book length) about the Civil War which he wrote in 1928,

  • Reply
    June 7, 2017 at 10:32 am

    You and Stephen Vincent Benet have done something that few people have ever been able to do. Y’all have rendered me speechless….

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 7, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Now you’re in the ballpark…one of my very personal favorite poems. Stephen Vincent Benet is one of my very favorite American Poets. I have read this poem many times over thru the years.
    I love Whippoorwills as you well know and this poem brings them home to roost! Ha
    In high school we studied Benet’s Pulitzer prize winning work…John Browns Body…if you haven’t read it you should.
    Sometimes I feel like we are living part of the poem today with the divisions in our country. However, there is hope.
    Do you remember in high school singing the song… “John Browns Body” lies a’moldin’ in the grave? Of course later known as Battle Hymn of the Republic!
    Thanks for posting this poem today…I had thought of posting it before during some of our Whippoorwill discussions but it is a long one….
    Have you ever heard any of your fiddle playing friends call the fiddle “a whippoorwill”?
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    June 7, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Hell broke loose in Georgia again when Charlie Daniels had his hit song using some of the same words Benet did in 1925. Fire on the mountain and playing his fiddle hot are just a few of the lines the song writer must have taken from the story about fiddle competition.

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    June 7, 2017 at 9:44 am

    Loved it Tipper… Thank you so much for sharing… Vann

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 7, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Tipper–I’ve long loved this poem and been able to recite appreciable parts of it from memory. I suspect, although obviously do not know, that Goethe’s rendition of the Faust legend may have influenced Benet, and in turn both Goethe and Benet almost certainly influenced Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
    Whatever the literary links and influences, the poem carries the ring of reality suggesting the author knew his southern Appalachian folk, folkways, and natural history.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    June 7, 2017 at 8:59 am

    I wonder where Charlie Daniels got his song from?

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 7, 2017 at 8:21 am

    My word, that is some more story in verse. Sounds a lot like the Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”. Also reminds me of “A Girl of the Limberlost” by Gene Stratton Porter.
    Guess you all would know but do you ever just get lost in the music and forget the time, the place and the people?

  • Reply
    June 7, 2017 at 8:09 am

    Whippoorwills a-callin’ is a rare sound indeed.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 7, 2017 at 7:10 am

    Wow is right! That’s quite a story. Thanks, Tip.

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