"Cotch Donkey"

From Constab Ballads

A "Cotch Donkey"

Ko how de jackass
Lay do’n in de road;
An’ him ondly car’
Little bit o’ load.

Kue, jackass, git up!
‘Tan’ up ‘pon you’ foot!
Dis ya load no load,
You’s a lazy brut’.

Me no know wha’ mek
Pa won’ swop you too;
For dere’s not a t’ing
Wut while you can do.

Ef you car’ no load,
It is all de same;
Hamper on or no,
‘Tis de ushal game.

Policeman a come
Fe go mek a row,
All because o’ you
Wid you’ wutless now.

“See ya, Sah, no min’,
Dis a fe me luck;
De jackass is bad,
Him no wan’ fe wuk.

“ ‘Tek de hamper off?’
Him no hab no cut:
Me de tell you say
De jackass no wut.

“Lard! me Gahd o’ me!
Him got one lee ‘cratch:
Dat is not’in’, Sah,
For him always cotch.

Do, Sah, let me off,
Ef fe te-day one ;
For a no de ‘cratch
Cause him fe lay do’n.”

Now because o’ you
Dem gone bring me up;
An’ wha’ hu’t me mos’,
You caan’ wuk a tup .

Ef dem summons me,
Mek me pay few mac,
Dat caan’ mek me ‘top
Wuk you wid sore back.

“Cotch Donkey” is the first piece of dialect poetry that Claude McKay showed to his mentor, Walter Jekyll. It was the only dialect piece he included with a portfolio of standard English poetry, and it was the only one that Jekyll felt was authentic. Although McKay was apprehensive about showing Jekyll the piece, Jekyll responded, ““this is the real thing. The Jamaican dialect has never been put into literary form except in my Annancy stories. Now is your chance as a native boy to put the Jamaica dialect into literary language” (Jenkins, 15). A simple poem about an obstinate donkey, “Cotch Donkey,” and Jekyll’s response to it, gave McKay the encouragement to write poetry in a language considered inferior or base. McKay himself thought his native language to be unworthy of a poetic form until his mentor encouraged him to explore an untested form of expression. Yet his pioneering poems like “Cotch Donkey” opened up paths for subsequent West Indian poets to follow and to further explore; for the first time, Jamaican dialect was used as a legitimate poetic form. Winston James writes, “[Premier Jamaican poet Louise] Bennett said it was “thrilling” to see the language in print…McKay’s early writing “reinforced Bennett’s love of her primary language”” (James, 140). McKay made writing in Jamaican dialect acceptable; “Cotch Donkey” was the first of eighty-eight dialect poems that opened the barred gates for other Jamaican poets. James comments that, “it is because of McKay that Bennett and others have been able to supersede him—in form, if not in thought” (James, 151).