Peter the Piccaninny

A poem by Henry Kendall

He has a name which can’t be brought
Within the sphere of metre;
But, as he’s Peter by report,
I’ll trot him out as Peter.

I call him mine; but don’t suppose
That I’m his dad, O reader!
My wife has got a Norman nose
She reads the tales of Ouida.

I never loved a nigger belle
My tastes are too aesthetic!
The perfume from a gin is well,
A rather strong emetic.

But, seeing that my theme is Pete,
This verse will be the neater
If I keep on the proper beat,
And stick throughout to Peter.

We picked him up the Lord knows where!
At noon we came across him
Asleep beside a hunk of bear
His paunch was bulged with ’possum.

(Last stanza will not bear, I own,
A pressure analytic;
But bard whose weight is fourteen stone,
Is apt to thump the critic.)

We asked the kid to give his name:
He didn’t seem too willing
The darkey played the darkey’s game
We tipped him with a shilling!

We tipped him with a shining bob
No Tommy Dodd, believe us.
We didn’t “tumble” to his job
Ah, why did Pete deceive us!

I, being, as I’ve said, a bard,
Resolved at once to foster
This mite whose length was just a yard
This portable impostor!

“This babe” I spoke in Wordsworth’s tone
(See Wordsworth’s “Lucy”, neighbour)
“I’ll make a darling of my own;
And he’ll repay my labour.

“He’ll grow as gentle as a fawn
As quiet as the blossoms
That beautify a land of lawn
He’ll eat no more opossums.

“The child I to myself will take
In a paternal manner;
And ah! he will not swallow snake
In future, or ‘goanna’.

“Will you reside with me, my dear?”
I asked in accents mellow
The nigger grinned from ear to ear,
And said, “All right, old fellow!”

And so my Pete was taken home
My pretty piccaninny!
And, not to speak of soap or comb,
His cleansing cost a guinea.

“But hang expenses!” I exclaimed,
“I’ll give him education:
A ‘nig’ is better when he’s tamed,
Perhaps, than a Caucasian.

“Ethnologists are in the wrong
About our sable brothers;
And I intend to stop the song
Of Pickering and others.”

Alas, I didn’t do it though!
Old Pickering’s conclusions
Were to the point, as issues show,
And mine were mere delusions.

My inky pet was clothed and fed
For months exceeding forty;
But to the end, it must be said,
His ways were very naughty.

When told about the Land of Morn
Above this world of Mammon,
He’d shout, with an emphatic scorn,
“Ah, gammon, gammon, gammon!”

He never lingered, like the bard,
To sniff at rose expanding.
“Me like,” he said, “em cattle-yard
Fine smell de smell of branding!”

The soul of man, I tried to show,
Went up beyond our vision.
“You ebber see dat fellow go?”
He asked in sheer derision.

In short, it soon occurred to me
This kid of six or seven,
Who wouldn’t learn his A B C,
Was hardly ripe for heaven.

He never lost his appetite
He bigger grew, and bigger;
And proved, with every inch of height,
A nigger is a nigger.

And, looking from this moment back,
I have a strong persuasion
That, after all, a finished black
Is not the “clean” Caucasian.

Dear Peter from my threshold went,
One morning in the body:
He “dropped” me, to oblige a gent
A gent with spear and waddy!

He shelved me for a boomerang
We never had a quarrel;
And, if a moral here doth hang,
Why let it hang the moral!

My mournful tale its course has run
My Pete, when last I spied him,
Was eating ’possum underdone:
He had his gin beside him.

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