The Biglow Papers "You've A Darned Long Row To Hoe"

James Russell Lowell

"You've A Darned Long Row To Hoe"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The Biglow Papers is a series of poems in the New England rural dialect, supposedly written by a young, untutored genius, a farm lad named Hosea Biglow, son of Ezekiel Biglow, a farmer at Jaalam. This poem, the first, is the result of Hosea Biglow's meeting with an Army recruiting team in Boston and Hosea's subsequent thoughts about enlisting for service in the Mexican War. That war was an unpopular one, particularly in New England; as Hosea notes, many New Englanders believed the South had pressed for the war in order to bring new slaveholding territory into the United States. Hosea takes a hard look at soldiering and the cost of war. Noting the fancy uniforms and feathers, he reminds the reader that farmers pay the bills for the nation. As for war, any war, he says it is murder and calls upon the Bible to back him up, warning soldiers that God will place the guilt on the murderer, not on the government which hired him. He also notes that the newspaper editors who call for enlistments and bloodshed are not the men who go out to fight. As far as his enlistment is concerned, Hosea Biglow, the farm boy who loves Nancy, says:

Jest go home an' ask our Nancy
Wether I'd be sech a goose
Ez to jine ye,–guess you'd fancy
The etarnal bung wuz loose!
She wants me fer home consumption,
Let alone the hay's to mow,–
Ef you're arter folks o' gumption,
You've a darned long row to hoe.