The whole world on a raft! A King is here, The record of his grandeur but a smear. Is it his deacon-beard, or old bald pate That makes the band upon his whims to wait? Loot and mud-honey have his soul defiled. Quack, pig, and priest, he drives camp-meetings wild Until they shower their pennies like spring rain That he may preach upon the Spanish main. What landlord, lawyer, voodoo-man has yet A better native right to make men sweat?
The whole world on a raft! A Duke is here At sight of whose lank jaw the muses leer. Journeyman-printer, lamb with ferret eyes, In life's skullduggery he takes the prize — Yet stands at twilight wrapped in Hamlet dreams. Into his eyes the Mississippi gleams. The sandbar sings in moonlit veils of foam. A candle shines from one lone cabin home. The waves reflect it like a drunken star.
A banjo and a hymn are heard afar. No solace on the lazy shore excels The Duke's blue castle with its steamer-bells. The floor is running water, and the roof The stars' brocade with cloudy warp and woof.
And on past sorghum fields the current swings. To Christian Jim the Mississippi sings. This prankish wave-swept barque has won its place, A ship of jesting for the human race. But do you laugh when Jim bows down forlorn His babe, his deaf Elizabeth to mourn? And do you laugh, when Jim, from Huck apart Gropes through the rain and night with breaking heart?
But now that imp is here and we can smile, Jim's child and guardian this long-drawn while. With knife and heavy gun, a hunter keen, He stops for squirrel-meat in islands green. The eternal gamin, sleeping half the day, Then stripped and sleek, a river-fish at play. And then well-dressed, ashore, he sees life spilt. The river-bank is one bright crazy-quilt Of patch-work dream, of wrath more red than lust, Where long-haired feudist Hotspurs bite the dust...
This Huckleberry Finn is but the race, America, still lovely in disgrace, New childhood of the world, that blunders on And wonders at the darkness and the dawn, The poor damned human race, still unimpressed With its damnation, all its gamin breast Chorteling at dukes and kings with nigger Jim, Then plotting for their fall, with jestings grim.
Behold a Republic Where a river speaks to men And cries to those that love its ways, Answering again When in the heart's extravagance The rascals bend to say "O singing Mississippi Shine, sing for us today."
But who is this in sweeping Oxford gown Who steers the raft, or ambles up and down, Or throws his gown aside, and there in white Stands gleaming like a pillar of the night? The lion of high courts, with hoary mane, Fierce jester that this boyish court will gain — Mark Twain! The bad world's idol: Old Mark Twain!
He takes his turn as watchman with the rest, With secret transports to the stars addressed, With nightlong broodings upon cosmic law, With daylong laughter at this world so raw.
All praise to Emerson and Whitman, yet The best they have to say, their sons forget. But who can dodge this genius of the stream, The Mississippi Valley's laughing dream? He is the artery that finds the sea In this the land of slaves, and boys still free. He is the river, and they one and all Sail on his breast, and to each other call.
Come let us disgrace ourselves, Knock the stuffed gods from their shelves, And cinders at the schoolhouse fling. Come let us disgrace ourselves, And live on a raft with gray Mark Twain And Huck and Jim And the Duke and the King.