Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, UNCLE JO, by ALICE CARY

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UNCLE JO, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I have in memory a little story
Last Line: Above his dust,—poor jo, he had no friends!
Subject(s): Death; Mourning; Dead, The; Bereavement

I HAVE in memory a little story,
That few indeed would rhyme about but me;
'T is not of love, nor fame, nor yet of glory,
Although a little colored with the three,—
In very truth, I think, as much, perchance,
As most tales disembodied from romance.

Jo lived about the village, and was neighbor
To every one who had hard work to do;
If he possessed a genius, 't was for labor
Most people thought, but there were one or two
Who sometimes said, when he arose to go,
"Come in again and see us, Uncle Jo!"

The "Uncle" was a courtesy they gave,—
And felt they could afford to give to him,—
Just as the master makes of some good slave
An Aunt Jemima, or an Uncle Jim;
And of this dubious kindness Jo was glad,—
Poor fellow, it was all he ever had!

A mile or so away, he had a brother,—
A rich, proud man that people did n't hire;
But Jo had neither sister, wife, nor mother,
And baked his corncake at his cabin fire
After the day's work, hard for you or me,
But he was never tired,—how could he be?

They called him dull, but he had eyes of quickness
For everybody that he could befriend;
Said one and all, "How kind he is in sickness,"
But there, of course, his goodness had an end.
Another praise there was might have been given,
For one or more days out of every seven—

With his old pickax swung across his shoulder,
And downcast eyes, and slow and sober tread—
He sought the place of graves, and each beholder
Wondered and asked some other who was dead;
But when he digged all day, nobody thought
That he had done a whit more than he ought.

At length, one winter when the sunbeams slanted
Faintly and cold across the churchyard snow,
The bell tolled out,—alas! a grave was wanted,
And all looked anxiously for Uncle Jo;
His spade stood there against his own roof-tree,
There was his pickax too, but where was he?

They called and called again, but no replying;
Smooth at the window, and about the door,
The snow in cold and heavy drifts was lying,—
He did not need the daylight any more.
One shook him roughly, and another said,
"As true as preaching, Uncle Jo is dead!"

And when they wrapped him in the linen, fairer
And finer, too, than he had worn till then,
They found a picture,—haply of the sharer
Of sunny hope some time, or where or when,
They did not care to know, but closed his eyes
And placed it in the coffin where he lies!

None wrote his epitaph, nor saw the beauty
Of the pure love that reached into the grave,
Nor how in unobtrusive ways of duty
He kept, despite the dark; but men less brave
Have left great names, while not a willow bends
Above his dust,—poor Jo, he had no friends!

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