Midnight Special

Original Text: 
Carl Sandburg, The American Songbag (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1927): 217. M 162 A657 1927 Music Library
2You better walk right;
3You better not gamble
4And you better not fight.
5T. Bentley will arrest you,
6He'll surely take you down;
7Judge Nelson'll sentence you,
8Then you're jailhouse bound.
9    O let the Midnight Special
10    Shine a light on me,
11    Let the Midnight Special
12    Shine a evah lovin' light on me!
13Every Monday mawnin',
14When the ding-dong rings,
15You go to the table,
16See the same damn things;
17And on the table,
18There's a knife an' pan,
19Say anything about it,
20Have trouble with a man.
    O let the Midnight Special
    Shine a light on me,
    Let the Midnight Special
    Shine a evah lovin' light on me!
22Oh, how do you know?
23By th' umbrella on her shoulder
24An' the dress that she woah!
25Straw hat on her head,
26Piece of paper in her hand,
27Says, "Look here, Mr. Jailer,
28I want's my life-time man."
    O let the Midnight Special
    Shine a light on me,
    Let the Midnight Special
    Shine a evah lovin' light on me!

Notes

1] Midnight Special: a fast train, that is, a sure way of getting out of jail quickly. Miss Rosy comes to "Mr. Jailer" with such a "Piece of paper in her hand" (30).
New versions of this song are always appearing, such as those with words and music by Huddie Ledbetter (1936) or, most recently, that by John Cameron Fogerty as performed by Credence Clearwater Revival (CCR) -- a version related to different traditional lyrics (see below, note to line 25):
Well, you wake up in the mornin'
you hear the work bell ring
and they march you to the table
you see the same old thing
ain't no food upon the table
ain't no fork up in the pan
but you better not complain, boy
you get in trouble with the man.

Let the midnight special
shine a light on me
let the midnight special
shine a light on me
let the midnight special
shine a light on me
let the midnight special
shine a everlovin' light on me.

Yonder come miss Rosy, how in the world did you know?
by the way she wears her apron
and the clothes she wore
umbrella on her shoulder
piece of paper in her hand
she come to see the gov'nor
she wants to free her man.

Let the midnight special
shine a light on me
let the midnight special
shine a light on me
let the midnight special
shine a light on me
let the midnight special
shine a everlovin' light on me.

If you're ever in Houston
well, you better do right
you'd better not gamble
and you'd better not fight
or the sheriff will grab you
and the boys'll bring you down
the next thing you know, boy
oh you're prison bound

Oh let the midnight special
shine a light on me
let the midnight special
shine a light on me
let the midnight special
shine a light on me
let the midnight special
shine a everlovin' light on me.

Back to Line
21] Sandburg gives another version of this stanza earlier (26-27):
Yonder come Roberta! Tell me how do you know?
By de color ob her apron and de dress she wo'.
Umberella on her shoulder, piece o' paper in her han',
She says to de cap'n: "I want my man!"
Let de Midnight Special shine a light on me,
Oh twenty long years in de pen-i-ten-tiar-y!
Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2001.