I do not know if the following poem is directly related to Nebraska history, but is it very directly related to my family history in Nebraska. It was a favorite poem of my dad's that he would recite parts of from time to time. The pages are yellowed now, and becoming very brittle, but I still hold them dear to my heart because my dad did. He has been gone for 26 years now, but I will never forget the night he recited this poem by Will Carleton, from memory.

    After a dinner held following a Masonic installation in Lincoln, Nebraska, there was always entertainment. The dinner was held in the basement of the Lodge. My mom, her mother, and my four sisters and their families were all present. About the time everyone was done, to our amazement, the door swung open and in walked my dad dressed in old coveralls, an old shirt, dirty work shoes, and carrying a handkerchief. He began reciting the poem as he entered the room, walking back and forth stopping and turning at certain points, as if to act out the part of each person speaking. I will never forget that night, and how wonderfully Dad recited that poem from memory with such feeling. And he planned the whole thing without very many people knowing what was going on -- among those who didn't know was my family. God bless him!
--- Barb Hruza (1997)





"I've worked in the field all day, a plowin' the stony streak,
    I've scolded my team till I'm hoarse; I've tramped till my legs are weak;
I've choked a dozen swears, (so's not to tell Jane fibs),
    When the plow-point struck a stone and the handles punched my ribs.

"I've put my team in the barn, and rubbed their sweaty coats.
    I've fed 'em a heap of hay and half a bushel of oats.
And to see the way they eat makes me like eatin' feel,
    And Jane won't say tonight that I don't make out a meal!

"Well said! The door is locked! But here she's left the key
    Under the step in a place known only to her and me.
I wonder who's dyin' or dead, that she's hustled off pellmell;
    But here on the table's a note, and probably this will tell.

"Good God! My wife is gone! My wife is gone astray!
    The letter, it says, 'Goodbye, for I'm a going away.
I've lived with you six months, John, and so far I've been true;
    But I'm going away today with a handsomer man than you.'

"A handsomer man than me. Why, that ain't much to say;
    There's handsomer men than me go past here every day.
There's handsomer men than me -- I ain't of the handsome kind.
    But a lovin'er man than I was, I guess she'll never find.

"Curse her! Curse her! I say, and give my curses wings!
    May the words of love I've spoken be changed to scorpion stings!
Oh, she filled my heart with joy, she emptied my heart of doubt;
    And now, with a scratch of a pen, she lets my heart's blood out!

"Curse her! Curse her! Say I, she'll some time rue this day!
    She'll some time learn that hate is a game that two can play;
And long before she dies, she'll grieve she ever was born,
    And I'll plow her grave with hate, and seed it down to scorn.

"As sure as the world goes on, there'll come a time when she
    Will read the devilish heart of that handsomer man than me.
And there'll be a time when he will find, as others do,
    That she who is false to one, can be the same with two.

"And when her face grows pale, and when her eyes grow dim,
    And when he is tired of her and she is tired of him,
She'll do what she ought to have done and cooly count the cost;
    And then she'll see things clear and know what she has lost.

"And thoughts that are now asleep will wake up in her mind,
    And she will mourn and cry for what she has left behind;
And maybe she'll sometimes long for me -- for me -- but no!
    I've blotted her out of my heart, and I will not have it so.

"And yet in her girlish heart there was somethin' or other she had
    That fastened a man to her, and wasn't entirely bad.
And she loved me a little, I think, although it didn't last;
    But I mustn't think of these things, I've buried 'em in the past.

"I'll take my hard words back, not make a bad matter worse;
    She'll have trouble enough, she shall not have my curse.
But I'll live a life so square and I well know that I can,
    That she always will sorry be that she went with that handsomer man.

"Ah, here is her kitchen dress. It makes my poor eyes blur;
    It seems when I look at that, as if 'twas holdin' her.
And here are her week-day shoes, and there is her week-day hat,
    And yonder's her weddin' gown; I wonder she didn't take that.

"'Twas only this mornin' she came and called me her 'dearest dear,'
    And said I was makin' for her a regular paradise here.
O God! If you want a man to sense the pains of hell,
    Before you pitch him in, just keep him in heaven a spell!

"Goodbye! I wish that death had severed us two apart.
    You've lost a worshipper here, you've crushed a lovin' heart.
I'll worship no woman again, but I guess I'll learn to pray
    And kneel as you used to kneel, before you run away.

"And if I thought I could bring my words on Heaven to bear
    And if I thought I had some little influence there,
I would pray that I might be, if it only could be so,
    As happy and gay as I was a half an hour ago."


Jane (entering):
"Why, John what a litter here! You've thrown things all around.
    Come, what's the matter now? And what have you lost or found?
And here's my father here, a' waiting for supper too.
    I've been a' riding with him -- he's that 'handsomer man than you.'

"Ha! Ha! Pa, take a seat while I put the kettle on
    And get things ready for tea and kiss my dear old John.
Why John, you look so strange. Come, what has crossed your track?
    I was only joking you know, I'm willing to take it back."

John (aside):

"Well, now if this ain't a joke with rather a bitter cream!
    It seems as if I'd woke from a mighty ticklish dream.
And I think she 'smells a rat,' for she smiles at me so queer.
    I hope she don't, good gracious! I hope that they didn't hear!

"'Twas one of her practical drives, she thought I'd understand.
    But I'll never break sod again, till I get the lay of the land.
But one thing's settled with me: To appreciate Heaven well,
    'Tis good for a man to have some fifteen minutes of hell!"

--- Will Carleton




© Oldtime Nebraska -- Gone with a Handsomer Man, submitted by Barb Hruza - April 1997