H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Appendix > 1. Specimens of the American Vulgate > 4. Vers Américain
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.
 
4. Vers Américain
 
[The following “Élégie Américaine,” by John V. A. Weaver, of Chicago, 4 marks the first appearance of the American vulgate, I believe, in serious verse. It has been attempted often enough by comic poets, though seldom with the accuracy shown by Mr. Lardner’s prose. But it was Mr. Weaver who first directed attention to the obvious fact that the American proletarian is not comic to himself but quite serious, and that he carries on his most lofty and sentimental thoughts in the same tongue he uses in discussing baseball.]
 
I wished I’d took the ring, not the Victrola.
You get so tired of records, hearin’ an’ hearin’ ’em,
And when a person don’t have much to spend
They feel they shouldn’t ought to be so wasteful.
And then these warm nights makes it slow inside,
And sittin’s lovely down there by the lake
Where him and me would always use ta go.
He thought the Vic’d make it easier
Without him; and it did at first. I’d play
Some jazz-band music and I’d almost feel
His arms around me, dancin’; after that
I’d turn out all the lights, and set there quiet
Whiles Alma Gluck was singin’ “Home, Sweet Home”,
And almost know his hand was strokin’ my hand.
“If I was you, I’d take the Vic,” he says,
“It’s somethin’ you can use; you can’t a ring.
Wisht I had ways ta make a record for you,
So’s I could be right with you, even though
Uncle Sam had me”… Now I’m glad he didn’t;
It would be lots too much like seein’ ghosts
Now that I’m sure he never won’t come back….
Oh, God! I don’t see how I ever stand it!
He was so big and strong! He was a darb!
The swellest dresser, with them nifty shirts
That fold down, and them lovely nobby shoes,
And always all his clothes would be one color,
Like green socks with green ties, and a green hat,
And everything…. We never had no words
Or hardly none….
And now to think that mouth
I useta kiss is bitin’ into dirt,
And through them curls I useta smooth a bullet
Has went….
I wisht it would of killed me, too….
Oh, well… about the Vic…. I guess I’ll sell it
And get a small ring anyways. (I won’t
Get but half as good a one as if
He spent it all on that when he first ast me.)
It don’t seem right to play jazz tunes no more
With him gone. And it ain’t a likely chanst
I’d find nobody ever else again
Would suit me, or I’d suit. And so a little
Quarter of a carat, maybe, but a real one
That could sparkle, sometimes, and remember
The home I should of had.…
And still, you know,
The Vic was his idear, and so…
I wonder….
 
   1
Note 4.  From In American; New York, 1921. [back]

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