The Signifying Monkey*
The Monkey and the Lion
Got to talking one day.
Monkey looked down and said, Lion,
“I hear you’s king in every way.
But you know somebody
Who do not think that is true –
He told me he could whip
The living daylights out of you.”
Lion said, “Who?”
Monkey said, “Lion,
He talked about your mama
And talked about your grandma, too,
And I’m too polite to tell you
What he said about you.”
Lion said, “Who said what? Who?”
Monkey in the tree,
Lion on the ground.
Monkey kept on signifying
But he didn’t come down.
Monkey said, “His name is Elephant –
He stone sure is not your friend.”
Lion said, “He don’t need to be
Because today will be his end.”
Lion took off through the jungle
Meaning to grab Elephant
And tear him bit to bit.
He come across Elephant copping a righteous nod
Under a cool shady tree.
Lion said, “You big old no-good so-and-so,
It’s either you or me.”
Lion let out a solid roar
And bopped Elephant with his paw.
Elephant just took his trunk
And busted Lion’s jaw.
Lion let another roar,
Reared up six feet tall.
Elephant just kicked him in the belly
And laughed to see him drop and fall.
Lion rolled over,
Copped Elephant by the throat.
Elephant just shook him loose
And butted him like a goat.
Then he tromped him and he stomped him
Till the Lion yelled, “Oh, no!”
And it was near-nigh sunset
When Elephant let Lion go.
The signifying Monkey
Was still setting in his tree
When he looked down and saw the Lion.
Said, “Why, Lion, who can that there be?”
Lion said, “It’s me.”
Monkey rapped, “Why, Lion,
You look more dead than alive!”
Lion said, “Monkey, I don’t want
To hear your jive-end jive.”
Monkey just kept signifying,
“Lion, you for sure caught hell –
Mister Elephant’s done whipped you
To a fare-thee-well!
Why, Lion, you look like to me
You been in the precinct station
And had the third-degree,
Else you look like
You been high on gage
And done got caught
In a monkey cage!
You ain’t no king to me.
Facts, I don’t think that you
Can even as much as roar –
And if you try I’m liable
To come down out of this tree and
Whip your tail some more.”
The Monkey started laughing
And jumping up and down.
But he jumped so hard the limb broke
And he landed – bam! – on the ground.
When he went to run, his foot slipped
And he fell flat down.
Grr-rrr-rr-r! Lion was on him
With his front feet and his hind.
Monkey hollered, “Ow!”
Lion said, “You little flea-bag you!
Why, I’ll eat you up alive.
I wouldn’t a-been in this fix a-tall
Wasn’t for your signifying jive.”
“Please,” said Monkey, “Mister Lion,
If you’ll just let me go,
I got something to tell you, please,
I think you ought to know.”
Lion let the Monkey loose
To see what his tale could be –
And Monkey jumped right back on up
Into his tree.
“What I was gonna tell you,” said Monkey,
“Is you square old so-and-so,
If you fool with me I’ll get
Elephant to whip your head some more.”
“Monkey,” said the Lion,
Beat to his unbooted knees,
“You and all your signifying children
Better stay up in them trees.”
Which is why today
Monkey does his signifying
A-way-up out of the way.
*Source: “The Signifying Monkey.” Crossing the Danger Water: 300 Years of African Writing. Ed. Deidre Mullane. New York: Anchor Books, 1993. 261-263.
Also recorded as:
“The Signifying Monkey.” The Book of Negro Folklore. Eds. Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1983. 363-366.
Unexpurgated versions can be found in:
Abrahams, Roger D. Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia. Hatboro, Pennsylvania.: Folklore Associates, 1964. 147-157.
© 1994 NSU Press © 1994-1999 Rodney Lain.
Keywords: #signifying #rodneyolain #rodneylain