The Mountain Whippoorwill

The Mountain Whippoorwill written by Stephen Vincent Benet 1925
I enjoyed all the comments left on yesterday’s The Call Of The Whippoorwills post so much that I decided to continue the subject today. After Jim’s mention-and tease-about the poem The Mountain Whippoorwill written by Stephen Vincent Benet I had to find it and read it for myself-now I want to share it with you:

The Mountain Whippoorwill written by Stephen Vincent Benet

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!


Now that’s a whippoorwill story! Jim-thanks for telling us about it!

After reading the poem, I was reminded of 2 songs the Blind Pig Gang does that mention whipporwills. The first is an old Delmore Brother’s song- When Its Time For The Whippoorwills To Sing you can go here to hear it.

The other song is one of my all time favorite songs that Paul sings-Fergus County Jail which was written by John Lowell. If you just want to see the lyrics to the song-go here.

Hope you enjoyed the poem-and the song. Be sure to drop back by tomorrow Chatter’s going to bake a cake!



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  • Reply
    July 1, 2012 at 6:51 am

    What a story!
    To stop the player there is a bar across the top of your site. It has rewind, play/pause, FF buttons you can click.

  • Reply
    June 8, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Completely enjoyed that! Both the poem and the playing! Parts of the poem are very familiar to me and I think maybe my Granddad used to recite parts of it. Sure makes him come to mind anyway.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    When we were boys we would try to make the sound of Whippoorwills. That bird always had a certain magnatism for us. Maybe it was because it sounded so unique. When reading the Benet poem that Whippoorwill could be heard through out the poem (at least it did for me.) I guess that’s what poetry is supposed to do. Thanks Jim and Tipper.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    lonesome whipperwill makes me think of hank williams sr. and his song about being so “lonesome i could cry..

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    I so enjoy these stories. Brings back memories.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Our friend Jim Casada had the song
    of the Whipoorwill about right.
    I had never seen the words and
    didn’t dream it was that long, but
    it was good. And Paul and Pap,
    along with Mandolin Man done a great job on Fergus County Jail.
    I’m excited about tomorrow even
    more now that Chatter’s fixin’ a
    Cake. I saw the movie back in
    October and I know Asheville will
    give it an Excellent Rating…Ken

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Great shares everyone and I loved the poem Jim & Tipper! :-)It’s a keeper!

  • Reply
    Mrs. K
    June 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks Tipper! On my to-do list was finding that poem, now I don’t have to. Thanks too to Laurie for the whippoorwill trivia – pretty interesting!

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing this luscious poem and the whippoorwill stories.We used to live in a more remote area,where the call was loud and close; and my son, when he was little, was afraid of them, thinking they must be large and monstrous.Actually, in Florida, we do have a larger variety called ‘chuck-wills-widow’.Wish I could be in Asheville tonight, I’m sure it will be a great time for all of you!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    June 7, 2012 at 11:37 am

    I enjoyed the pickin and singing as usual. I reading the poem I kept seeing Charlie Daniels and hearing “The Devil went down to Georgia”. Stephen Vincent Benet shows his genius in that he came from a talented Military family, attended Yale and could still write in the Applachain Vernacular so well we can all identify with the gifted Mountain Musicans we have all had the pleasure of knowing. In fact Benet plays a verbal fiddle and if you will listen as you read you can hear the bow on the strings. Great Post

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo
    June 7, 2012 at 11:01 am

    I love your posts Tipper! I surely wish we could see the movie! Good luck to all tonight!BTW Did anyone mention The Whipporwill Song Keely Smith sang in the 1958 movie “Thunder Road”? I miss your popout player. Have a great day in Asheville!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 7, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I loved this poem and remember something about it from years past…I love how you feel the speed of the fiddler pick up in the words of the poem…and slow back down toward the end…You know how a whip-poor-will gets to going with it’s call and actually sounds like it speeds up somewhat…LOL rarely skips a beat!
    I am sorry we can’t come to see you tonight in Asheville…Better half has his Chemo pump off today and he is always pretty tired by evening…Want to see the DVD when it comes out…
    Always love the music..there are so many songs I would love to hear Paul, Pap and gang sing and play…
    Thanks Tipper,
    and Jim for the Benet poem….By the way Jim..A Whip-poor-will and a Chuck-wills-widow are two different birds and calls, as is the Western Poor-Will and some others of the Nightjar family..however if you are at a distance from the Chuck-wills-widow…the Chuck is hard to hear as it is softer in tone…but the poor-will and wills-widow sound in the phrase is different as well. I have to listen close when first hearing them ’cause I get darned excited when I first hear one of them….always wanting and hoping to hear my long lost Whip-poor-will. Finally, this year they are back..but both species are native to our area. Thanks

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    June 7, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I’ve heard that Mountain Whippoorwill was inspired by a real contest in the 1930’s won by Georgia fiddler Lowe Stokes who was also a member of the Skillet Lickers, an Atlanta based band led by Gid Tanner of Dacula, GA. The band still exists – Gid Tanners’ grandson and great grandson are both members. John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band does a great recitation of MW while playing the banjo.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Enjoyed the poem and video. Would love to see the movie. Looks like it’d be great fun.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    June 7, 2012 at 8:48 am

    If whippoorwills call in Indiana I have never heard them, not one. My birdwatching book says they should be all around. Last one I heard was in Tennessee. I heard them every warm evening then. Still, unseen.
    I could never tire of those times; dusk, a warm evening, nighttime falling, darkness beginning, a long battle with the day’s hardness nearly over, a neighbor sitting with us on the porch and Mom and Dad and him talking and telling stories and recollecting how it was back then.
    A whippoorwill calling, somewhere there off on the hillside. A soft, melancholy refrain.
    But I don’t hear them here. Never have.
    I think the coming dark would be softer if I could.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 7, 2012 at 8:38 am

    I would love to hear Pap and Paul sing Vince Gill’s “When I call your name.” Seem it would be perfectly suited to Paps voice.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    June 7, 2012 at 8:26 am

    I really enjoyed the poem. I have heard of Benet, but I don’t remember reading his work except for probably one sample in high school.
    For fiddling, find a YouTube of Steep Canyon Rangers doing “Orange Blossom Special”. Their fiddler is Nicky Sanders and he does about an 8-minute version that is amazing fiddling!

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Thanks for this post…but more importantly I want to say all the best to you and the girls for your premier tonight! I can’t wait to see the movie:)

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    June 7, 2012 at 7:45 am

    It has been many years since I read one of the works of S V Benet. Thanks for the refreshing memory of my college years and the poem.

  • Reply
    Laurie Stone
    June 7, 2012 at 7:39 am

    I have a little whippoorwhill trivia. Along the N.C. and Virginia Frontier between 1770-1800, the settling families who lived along the new river – and other river’s with Indian trails, devised a way of communicating with each other, using bird sounds. It let the neighboring families know if everything was ok – or not. Many families chose the whippoorwhill as the sound for peace. They would stand outside, just before dark and whippoorwhill – then wait for an answer from their neighbors on all sides. If the neighbor family answered back – all was good. If not, then someone would go investigate.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    June 7, 2012 at 7:35 am

    thanks so much for sharing this.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 7:33 am

    my favorite lines are
    Hear the frogs a-chunkin’ “Jug o’ rum, Jug o’ rum!”

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    June 7, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Thanks, Tipper. Hadn’t thought about that poem in years. Love the guys music.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 7, 2012 at 6:10 am

    As I read through the poem the words that came to me were idiot savant. Certainly not the author but the character he portrays. I had to scroll to the top again to see who wrote it.
    Then I scrolled back down to the bottom and put the cursor on the red box with the white arrow and left clicked. Now that’s where the genius resides, in agile fingers and golden throats.

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