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A Collection of Poems from "Rhymes of Childhood"

Below you'll find a selection of poems and prose from The Works of James Whitcomb Riley: Vol. V -- Rhymes of Childhood (1899). Shorter poems from this volume may be found in our collection of short poems by James Whitcomb Riley. The various books, short stories and poems we offer are presented free of charge with absolutely no advertising as a public service from Internet Accuracy Project.

Visit these other works by James Whitcomb Riley
"The Bear Story"
"Chairley Burke's in Town"
The Champion Checker-Player of Ameriky
"A Child's Home Long Ago"
"Christine Braibry"
A Large Collection of his Short Poems
"Das Krist Kindel"
"Dead Selves"
"Doc Sifers"
"Dot Leedle Boy"
"Down to the Capital"
"Erasmus Wilson"
"Ezra House"
"Farmer Whipple--Bachelor"
"Grandfather Squeers"
"He Called Her In"
"The Hoosier Folk-Child"
"How John Quit the Farm"
"Jack the Giant-Killer"
"Kingry's Mill"
"Last Christmas Was a Year Ago"

"Little Johnts's Chris'mus"
"Little Mandy's Christmas Tree"
"Maymie's Story of Red Riding-Hood"
"Mr. What's-His-Name"
"My Philosofy"
"Mylo Jones's Wife"
"A Nest-Egg"
"A New Year's Time at Willards's"
"Old John Clevenger on Buckeyes"
"An Old Sweetheart"
"The Old Swimmin'-Hole"
"On the Banks o' Deer Crick"
"The Pathos of Applause"
"Regardin' Terry Hut"
"The Rossville Lecture Course"
"The Runaway Boy"
"That-Air Young-Un"
"This Man Jones"
"Thoughts fer the Discuraged Farmer"
"To My Old Friend, William Leachman"
"Tradin' Joe"
"What Chris'mas Fetched the Wigginses"

To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

Potential uses for the free books, stories and prose we offer
* Rediscovering an old favorite book, short story or poem.
* Bibliophiles expanding their collection of public domain ebooks at no cost.
* Teachers trying to locate a free online copy of a short story or poem for use in the classroom.

NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

"Billy Could Ride" by James Whitcomb Riley




Billy was born for a horse's back!--
That's what Grandfather used to say:--
He'd seen him in dresses, a-many a day,
On a two-year-old, in the old barn-lot,
Prancing around, with the bridle slack,
And his two little sunburnt legs outshot
So straight from the saddle-seat you'd swear
A spirit-level had plumbed him there!
And all the neighbors that passed the place
Would just haul up in the road and stare
To see the little chap's father boost
The boy up there on his favorite roost,
To canter off, with a laughing face.--
Put him up there, he was satisfied--
And O the way that Billy could ride!


At celebration or barbecue--
And Billy, a boy of fifteen years--
Couldn't he cut his didoes there?--
What else would you expect him to,
On his little mettlesome chestnut mare,
With her slender neck, and her pointed ears,
And the four little devilish hooves of hers?
The "delegation" moved too slow
For the time that Billy wanted to go!
And to see him dashing out of the line
At the edge of the road and down the side
Of the long procession, all laws defied,
And the fife and drums, was a sight divine
To the girls, in their white-and-spangled pride,
Wearily waving their scarfs about
In the great "Big Wagon," all gilt without
And jolt within, as they lumbered on
Into the town where Billy had gone
An hour ahead, like a knightly guide--
O but the way that Billy could ride!


"Billy can ride! Oh, Billy can ride!
But what on earth can he do beside?"
That's what the farmers used to say,
As time went by a year at a stride,
And Billy was twenty if he was a day!
And many a wise old father's foot
Was put right down where it should be put,
While many a dutiful daughter sighed
In vain for one more glorious ride
With the gallant Billy, who none the less
Smiled at the old man's selfishness
And kissed his daughter, and rode away,--
Touched his horse in the flank--and zipp!--
Talk about horses and horsemanship!--
Folks stared after him just wild-eyed. . . .
Oomh! the way that Billy could ride!

"Billy Goodin'" by James Whitcomb Riley



"A big piece o' pie, and a big piece o' puddin'--
I laid it all by fer little Billy Goodin'!"


Look so neat an' sweet in all yer frills an' fancy pleatin'!
Better shet yer kitchen, though, afore you go to Meetin'!--
Better hide yer mince-meat an' stewed fruit an' plums!
Better hide yer pound-cake an' bresh away the crumbs!
Better hide yer cubbord-key when Billy Goodin' comes,
A-eatin'! an' a-eatin'! an' a-eatin'!

Sight o' Sund'y-doin's done 'at ain't done in Meetin'!
Sun acrost yer garden-patch a-pourin' an' a-beatin';
Meller apples drappin' in the weeds an' roun' the groun'--
Clingstones an' sugar-pears a-ist a-plunkin' down!--
Better kindo' comb the grass 'fore Billy comes aroun',
A-eatin'! an' a-eatin'! an' a-eatin'!

Billy Goodin' ain't a-go' to go to any Meetin'!
We 'ull watch an' ketch an' give the little sneak a beatin'!--
Better hint we want'o stay 'n' snoop yer grapes an' plums!
Better eat 'em all yerse'f an' suck yer stingy thumbs!--
Won't be nothin' anyhow when Billy Goodin' comes!--
A-eatin'! an' a-eatin'! an' a-eatin'!

"The Boys" by James Whitcomb Riley



Where are they?--the friends of my childhood enchanted--
The clear, laughing eyes looking back in my own,
And the warm, chubby fingers my palms have so wanted,
As when we raced over
Pink pastures of clover,
And mocked the quail's whir and the bumblebee's drone?

Have the breezes of time blown their blossomy faces
Forever adrift down the years that are flown?
Am I never to see them romp back to their places,
Where over the meadow,
In sunshine and shadow,
The meadow-larks trill, and the bumblebees drone?

Where are they? Ah! dim in the dust lies the clover;
The whippoorwill's call has a sorrowful tone,
And the dove's--I have wept at it over and over;--
I want the glad luster
Of youth, and the cluster
Of faces asleep where the bumblebees drone!

"Busch and Tommy" by James Whitcomb Riley



Little Busch and Tommy Hays--
Small the theme, but large the praise,--
For two braver brothers,
Of such toddling years and size,
Bloom of face, and blue of eyes,
Never trampled soldier-wise
On the rights of mothers!

Even boldly facing their
Therapeutic father's air
Of complex abstraction,
But to kindle--kindlier gaze,
Wake more smiles and gracious ways--
Ay, nor find in all their days
Ampler satisfaction!

Hail ye, then, with chirp and cheer,
All wan patients, waiting here
Bitterer medications!--
Busch and Tommy, tone us, too.--
How our life-blood leaps anew,
Under loving touch of you
And your ministrations!

"The Days Gone By"



O the days gone by! O the days gone by!
The apples in the orchard, and the pathway through the rye;
The chirrup of the robin, and the whistle of the quail
As he piped across the meadows sweet as any nightingale;
When the bloom was on the clover, and the blue was in the sky,
And my happy heart brimmed over, in the days gone by.

In the days gone by, when my naked feet were tripped
By the honeysuckle tangles where the water-lilies dipped,
And the ripples of the river lipped the moss along the brink,
Where the placid-eyed and lazy-footed cattle came to drink,
And the tilting snipe stood fearless of the truant's wayward cry
And the splashing of the swimmer, in the days gone by.

O the days gone by! O the days gone by!
The music of the laughing lip, the lustre of the eye;
The childish faith in fairies, and Aladdin's magic ring--
The simple, soul-reposing, glad belief in everything,--
When life was like a story, holding neither sob nor sigh,
In the golden olden glory of the days gone by.

"The Dream of the Little Princess"



'TWAS a curious dream, good sooth!--
The dream of The Little Princess;
It seemed a dream, yet a truth,
Long years ago in her youth.--
It came as a dream--no less
It was not a dream, she says.

(She is singing and saying things
Musical as the wile
Of the eerie quaverings
That drip from the grieved strings
Of her lute.--We weep or smile
Even as she, meanwhile.)

In a day, long dead and gone,
When her castle-turrets threw
Their long, sharp shadows on
The sward like lances,--wan
And lone, she strayed into
Strange grounds where lilies grew.

There, late in the afternoon,
As she sate in the terrace shade,
Rav'ling a half-spun tune
From a lute like a wee new-moon,--
High off was a bugle played,
And a sound as of steeds that neighed.

And the lute fell from her hands,
As her eyes raised, half in doubt,
To the arch of the azure lands
Where lo! with the fluttering strands
Of a rainbow reined about
His wrist, rode a horseman out.

And The Little Princess was stirred
No less at his steeds than him;--
A jet-black span of them gird
In advance, he bestrode the third;
And the troop of them seemed to swim
The skies as the Seraphim.

Wingless they were, yet so
Upborne in their wondrous flight--
As their master bade them go,
They dwindled on high; or lo!
They curved from their heavenmost height
And swooped to her level sight.

And the eyes of The Little Princess
Grow O so bright as the chants
Of the horseman's courtliness,--
Saluting her low--Ah, yes!
And lifting a voice that haunts
Her own song's weird romance.

For (she sings) at last he swept
As near to her as the tips
Of the lilies, that whitely slept,
As he leaned o'er one and wept
And touched it with his lips--
Sweeter than honey-drips!

And she keeps the lily yet--
As the horseman bade (she says)
As he launched, with a wild curvet,
His steeds toward the far sunset,
Till gulfed in its gorgeousness
And lost to The Little Princess:

But O, my master sweet!
He is coming again! {she sings)
My Prince of the Coursers fleet,
With his bugle's echoings,
And the breath of his voice for the wings
Of the sandals of his feet!

"Dusk-Song--The Beetle"



The shrilling locust slowly sheathes
His dagger-voice, and creeps away
Beneath the brooding leaves where breathes
The zephyr of the dying day:
One naked star has waded through
The purple shallows of the night,
And faltering as falls the dew
It drips its misty light.

O'er garden blooms,
On tides of musk,
The beetle booms adown the glooms
And bumps along the dusk.

The katydid is rasping at
The silence from the tangled broom:
On drunken wings the flitting bat
Goes staggering athwart the gloom;
The toadstool bulges through the weeds,
And lavishly to left and right
The fireflies, like golden seeds,
Are sown about the night.

O'er slumbrous blooms,
On floods of musk,
The beetle booms adown the glooms
And bumps along the dusk.

The primrose flares its baby-hands
Wide open, as the empty moon,
Slow lifted from the underlands,
Drifts up the azure-arched lagoon;
The shadows on the garden walk
Are frayed with rifts of silver light;
And, trickling down the poppy-stalk,
The dewdrop streaks the night.

O'er folded blooms,
On swirls of musk,
The beetle booms adown the glooms
And bumps along the dusk.

"The Funniest Thing in the World"



The funniest thing in the world, I know,
Is watchin' the monkeys 'at's in the show!--
Jumpin' an' runnin' an' racin' roun',
'Way up the top o' the pole; nen down!
First they're here, an' nen they're there,
An' ist a'most any an' ever'where!--
Screechin' an' scratchin' wherever they go,
They're the funniest thing in the world, I know!

They're the funniest thing in the world, I think:--
Funny to watch 'em eat an' drink;
Funny to watch 'em a-watchin' us,
An' actin' 'most like grown folks does!--
Funny to watch 'em p'tend to be
Skeerd at their tail 'at they happen to see;--
But the funniest thing in the world they do
Is never to laugh, like me an' you!

"Guiney-Pigs" by James Whitcomb Riley


Guiney-pigs is awful cute,
With their little trimbly snoot
Sniffin' at the pussly that
We bring 'em to nibble at.
Looks like they're so clean an' white,
An' so dainty an' polite,
They could eat like you an' me
When they's company!

Tiltin' down the clover-tops
Till they spill, an' over drops
The sweet morning dew--Don't you
Think they might have napkins, too?
Ef a guiney-pig was big
As a shore-an'-certain pig,
Nen he wouldn't ac' so fine
When he come to dine.

Nen he'd chomp his jaws an' eat
Things out in the dirty street,
Dirt an' all! An' nen lay down
In mud-holes an' waller roun'!
So the guiney-pigs is best,
'Cause they're nice an' tidiest;
They eat 'most like you an' me
When they's company!

"His Christmas Sled" by James Whitcomb Riley



I watch him, with his Christmas sled;
He hitches on behind
A passing sleigh, with glad hooray,
And whistles down the wind;
He hears the horses champ their bits,
And bells that jingle-jingle--
You Woolly Cap! you Scarlet Mitts!
You miniature "Kriss Kringle!"

I almost catch your secret joy--
Your chucklings of delight,
The while you whiz where glory is
Eternally in sight!
With you I catch my breath, as swift
Your jaunty sled goes gliding
O'er glassy track and shallow drift,
As I behind were riding!


He winks at twinklings of the frost,
And on his airy race,
Its tingles beat to redder heat
The rapture of his face:--
The colder, keener is the air,
The less he cares a feather.
But, there! he's gone! and I gaze on
The wintriest of weather!

Ah, boy! still speeding o'er the track
Where none returns again,
To sigh for you, or cry for you,
Or die for you were vain.--
And so, speed on! the while I pray
All nipping frosts forsake you--
Ride still ahead of grief, but may
All glad things overtake you!

"The Hunter Boy" by James Whitcomb Riley


Hunter Boy of Hazelwood--
Happier than Robin Hood!
Dance across the green, and stand
Suddenly, with lifted hand
Shading eager eyes, and be
Thus content to capture me!--
Cease thy quest for wilder prey
Than my willing heart to-day!

Hunter Boy! with belt and bow,
Bide with me, or let me go,
An thou wilt, in wake of thee,
Questing for mine infancy!
With thy glad face in the sun,
Let thy laughter overrun
Thy ripe lips, until mine own
Answer, ringing, tone for tone!

O my Hunter! tilt the cup
Of thy silver bugle up,
And like wine pour out for me
All its limpid melody!
Pout thy happy lips and blare
Music's kisses everywhere--
Whiff o'er forest, field and town,
Tufts of tune like thistle-down!
O to go, as once I could,
Hunter Boy of Hazelwood!

"Jack-in-the-box" by James Whitcomb Riley


[Grandfather, musing]

In childish days! O memory,
You bring such curious things to me!--
Laughs to the lip--tears to the eye,
In looking on the gifts that lie
Like broken playthings scattered o'er
Imagination's nursery floor!
Did these old hands once click the key
That let "Jack's" box-lid upward fly,
And that blear-eyed, fur-whiskered elf
Leap, as though frightened at himself,
And quiveringly lean and stare
At me, his jailer, laughing there?

A child then! Now--I only know
They call me very old; and so
They will not let me have my way,--
But uselessly I sit all day
Here by the chimney-jamb, and poke
The lazy fire, and smoke and smoke,
And watch the wreaths swoop up the flue,
And chuckle--ay, I often do--
Seeing again, all vividly,
Jack-in-the-box leap, as in glee
To see how much he looks like me!

. . . They talk. I can't hear what they say--
But I am glad, clean through and through
Sometimes, in fancying that they
Are saying, "Sweet, that fancy strays
In age back to our childish days!"

"John Tarkington Jameson" by James Whitcomb Riley


John Jameson, my jo John!
Ye're bonnie wee an' sma';
Your ee's the morning violet,
Wi' tremblin' dew an' a';
Your smile's the gowden simmer-sheen,
Wi' glintin' pearls aglow
Atween the posies o' your lips,
John Jameson, my jo!

Ye hae the faither's braidth o' brow,
An' synes his look benign
Whiles he hings musin' ower the burn,
Wi' leestless hook an' line;
Ye hae the mither's mou' an' cheek
An' denty chin--but O!
It's maist ye're like your ain braw sel',
John Jameson, my jo!

John Jameson, my jo John,
Though, wi' sic luvers twain,
Ye dance far yont your whustlin' frien'
Wha laggart walks his lane,--
Be mindet, though he naps his last
Whaur kirkyird thistles grow,
His ghaist shall caper on wi' you,
John Jameson, my jo!

"The Land of Thus-and-So"


"How would Willie like to go
To the Land of Thus-and-So?
Everything is proper there--
All the children comb their hair
Smoother than the fur of cats,
Or the nap of high silk hats;
Every face is clean and white
As a lily washed in light;
Never vaguest soil or speck
Found on forehead, throat or neck;
Every little crimpled ear,
In and out, as pure and clear
As the cherry-blossom's blow
In the Land of Thus-and-So.

"Little boys that never fall
Down the stairs, or cry at all--
Doing nothing to repent,
Watchful and obedient;
Never hungry, nor in haste--
Tidy shoe-strings always laced;
Never button rudely torn
From its fellows all unworn;
Knickerbockers always new--
Ribbon, tie, and collar, too;
Little watches, worn like men,
Always promptly half-past ten--
Just precisely right, you know,
For the Land of Thus-and-So!

"And the little babies there
Give no one the slightest care--
Nurse has not a thing to do
But be happy and sigh 'Boo!'
While Mamma just nods, and knows
Nothing but to doze and doze:
Never litter round the grate;
Never lunch or dinner late;
Never any household din
Peals without or rings within--
Baby coos nor laughing calls
On the stairs or through the halls--
Just Great Hushes to and fro
Pace the Land of Thus-and-So!

"Oh! the Land of Thus-and-So!--
Isn't it delightful, though?"
"Yes," lisped Willie, answering me
Somewhat slow and doubtfully--
"Must be awful nice, but I
Ruther wait till by-and-by
'Fore I go there--maybe when
I be dead I'll go there then.--
But"--the troubled little face
Closer pressed in my embrace--
"Le's don't never ever go
To the Land of Thus-and-So!"

"The Land of Used-to-Be"


And where's the Land of Used-to-be, does little baby wonder?
Oh, we will clap a magic saddle over "Poppie's" knee
And ride away around the world, and in and out and under
The whole of all the golden sunny Summer-time and see.

Leisurely and lazy-like we'll jostle on our journey,
And let the pony bathe his hooves and cool them in the dew,
As he sidles down the shady way, and lags along the ferny
And green, grassy edges of the lane we travel through.

And then we'll canter on to catch the bubble of the thistle
As it bumps among the butterflies and glimmers down the sun,
To leave us laughing, all content to hear the robin whistle
Or guess what Katydid is saying little Katy's done.

And pausing here a minute, where we hear the squirrel chuckle
As he darts from out the underbrush and scampers up the tree,
We will gather buds and locust-blossoms, leaves and honeysuckle,
To wreathe around our foreheads, riding into Used-to-be;--

For here's the very rim of it that we go swinging over--
Don't you hear the Fairy bugles, and the tinkle of the bells,
And see the baby-bumblebees that tumble in the clover
And dangle from the tilted pinks and tipsy pimpernels?

And don't you see the merry faces of the daffodillies,
And the jolly Johnny-jump-ups, and the buttercups a-glee,
And the low, lolling ripples ring around the waterlilies?--
All greeting us with laughter, to the Land of Used-to-be!

And here among the blossoms of the blooming vines and grasses,
With a haze forever hanging in the sky forever blue,
And with a breeze from over-seas to kiss us as it passes,
We will romp around forever as the airy Elfins do!

For all the elves of earth and air are swarming here together--
The prankish Puck, King Oberon, and Queen Titania too;
And dear old Mother Goose herself, as sunny as the weather,
Comes dancing down the dewy walks to welcome me and you!

"Little Girly-Girl" by James Whitcomb Riley


Little Girly-Girl, of you
Still forever I am dreaming.--
Laughing eyes of limpid blue--
Tresses glimmering and gleaming
Like glad waters running over
Shelving shallows, rimmed with clover,
Trembling where the eddies whirl,
Gurgling, "Little Girly-Girl!"

For your name it came to me
Down the brink of brooks that brought it
Out of Paradise--and we--
Love and I--we, leaning, caught it
From the ripples romping nigh us,
And the bubbles bumping by us
Over shoals of pebbled pearl,
Lilting, "Little Girly-Girl!"

That was long and long ago,
But in memory the tender
Winds of summer weather blow,
And the roses burst in splendor;
And the meadow's grassy billows
Break in blossoms round the willows
Where the currents curve and curl,
Calling, "Little Girly-Girl!"

"The Little-Red-Apple Tree"

by James Whitcomb Riley

The Little-red-apple Tree!--
O the Little-red-apple Tree!
When I was the little-est bit of a boy
And you were a boy with me!
The bluebird's flight from the topmost boughs,
And the boys up there--so high
That we rocked over the roof of the house
And whooped as the winds went by!

Hey! The Little-red-apple Tree!
With the garden-beds below,
And the old grape-arbor so welcomely
Hiding the rake and hoe!
Hiding, too, as the sun dripped through
In spatters of wasted gold,
Frank and Amy away from you
And me in the days of old!

The Little-red-apple Tree!--
In the edge of the garden-spot,
Where the apples fell so lavishly
Into the neighbor's lot;--
So do I think of you alway,
Brother of mine, as the tree,--
Giving the ripest wealth of your love
To the world as well as me.

Ho! The Little-red-apple Tree!
Sweet as its juiciest fruit
Spanged on the palate spicily,
And rolled o'er the tongue to boot,
Is the memory still and the joy
Of the Little-red-apple Tree,
When I was the little-est bit of a boy
And you were a boy with me!

"Mabel" by James Whitcomb Riley


Sweet little face, so full of slumber now--
Sweet lips unlifted now with any kiss--
Sweet dimpled cheek and chin, and snowy brow,--
What quietude is this?

O speak! Have you forgotten, yesterday,
How gladly you came running to the gate
To meet us in the old familiar way,
So joyous--so elate--

So filled with wildest glee, yet so serene
With innocence of song and childish chat,
With all the dear caresses in between--
Have you forgotten that?

Have you forgotten, knowing gentler charms,
The boisterous love of one you ran to greet
When you last met, who caught you in his arms
And kissed you, in the street?

Not very many days have passed since then,
And yet between that kiss and him there lies
No pathway of return--unless again,
In streets of Paradise,

Your eager feet come twinkling down the gold
Of some bright thoroughfare ethereal,
To meet and greet him there just as of old.--
Till then, farewell--farewell.

"The Man in the Moon"


Said The Raggedy Man, on a hot afternoon:
What a lot o' mistakes
Some little folks makes on The Man in the Moon!
But people that's be'n up to see him, like me,
And calls on him frequent and intimuttly,
Might drop a few facts that would interest you
If you wanted 'em to--
Some actual facts that might interest you!

O The Man in the Moon has a crick in his back; Whee!
Ain't you sorry for him?
And a mole on his nose that is purple and black;
And his eyes are so weak that they water and run
If he dares to dream even he looks at the sun,--
So he jes dreams of stars, as the doctors advise--
But isn't he wise--
To jes dream of stars, as the doctors advise?

And The Man in the Moon has a boil on his ear--
What a singular thing!
I know! but these facts are authentic, my dear,--
There's a boil on his ear; and a corn on his chin--
He calls it a dimple--but dimples stick in--
Yet it might be a dimple turned over, you know!
Why, certainly so!--
It might be a dimple turned over, you know!

And The Man in the Moon has a rheumatic knee--
What a pity that is!
And his toes have worked round where his heels ought to be.--
So whenever he wants to go North he goes South,
And comes back with porridge-crumbs all round his mouth,
And he brushes them off with a Japanese fan,
What a marvellous man!
What a very remarkably marvellous man!

And The Man in the Moon, sighed The Raggedy
Sullonesome, you know,--
Up there by hisse'f sence creation began!--
That when I call on him and then come away,
He grabs me and holds me and begs me to stay,--
Till--Well! if it wasn't fer Jimmy-cum-jim,
I'd go pardners with him--
Jes jump my job here and be pardners with him!

"Max and Jim" by James Whitcomb Riley


Max an' Jim,
They're each other's
Fat an' slim
Little brothers.

Max is thin,
An' Jim, the fac's is,
Fat ag'in
As little Max is!

Their Pa 'lowed
He don't know whuther
He's most proud
Of one er th'other!

Their Ma says
They're both so sweet--'m!--
That she guess
She'll haf to eat 'em!

"A Nonsense Rhyme" by James Whitcomb Riley


And what will we sing?
Some little crinkety-crankety thing
That rhymes and chimes,
And skips, sometimes,
As though wound up with a kink in the spring.

And chunkety-plung!
Sing the song that the bullfrog sung,--
A song of the soul
Of a mad tadpole
That met his fate in a leaky bowl:
And it's O for the first false wiggle he made
In a sea of pale pink lemonade!
And it's O for the thirst
Within him pent,
And the hopes that burst
As his reason went--
When his strong arm failed and his strength was spent!

Sing, O sing
Of the things that cling,
And the claws that clutch and the fangs that sting--
Till the tadpole's tongue
And his tail upflung
Quavered and failed with a song unsung!
O the dank despair in the rank morass,
Where the crawfish crouch in the cringing grass,
And the long limp rune of the loon wails on
For the mad, sad soul
Of a bad tadpole
Forever lost and gone!

And now we'll see
What the last of the lay shall be,
As the dismal tip of the tune, O friends,
Swoons away and the long tale ends.
And it's O and alack!
For the tangled legs
And the spangled back
Of the green grig's eggs,
And the unstrung strain
Of the strange refrain
That the winds wind up like a strand of rain!

And it's O,
For the ears wreathed low,
Like a laurel-wreath on the lifted brow
Of the frog that chants of the why and how,
And the wherefore too, and the thus and so
Of the wail he weaves in a woof of woe!
Twangle, then, with your wrangling strings,
The tinkling links of a thousand things!
And clang the pang of a maddening moan
Till the Echo, hid in a land unknown,
Shall leap as he hears, and hoot and hoo
Like the wretched wraith of a Whoopty-Doo!

"The Old, Old Wish"


Last night, in some lost mood of meditation,
The while my dreamy vision ranged the far
Unfathomable arches of creation,
I saw a falling star:

And as my eyes swept round the path it embered
With the swift-dying glory of its glow,
With sudden intuition I remembered
A wish of long ago--

A wish that, were it made--so ran the fancy
Of credulous young lover and of lass--
As fell a star, by some strange necromancy,
Would surely come to pass.

And, of itself, the wish, reiterated
A thousand times in youth, flashed o'er my brain,
And, like the star, as soon obliterated,
Dropped into night again.

For my old heart had wished for the unending
Devotion of a little maid of nine--
And that the girl-heart, with the woman's blending,
Might be forever mine.

And so it was, with eyelids raised, and weighty
With ripest clusterings of sorrow's dew,
I cried aloud through heaven: "O little Katie!
When will my wish come true?"

"A Passing Hail" by James Whitcomb Riley


Let us rest ourselves a bit!
Worry?--wave your hand to it--
Kiss your finger-tips, and smile
It farewell a little while.

Weary of the weary way
We have come from Yesterday,
Let us fret us not, instead,
Of the weary way ahead.

Let us pause and catch our breath
On the hither side of death,
While we see the tender shoots
Of the grasses--not the roots,--

While we yet look down--not up--
To seek out the buttercup
And the daisy where they wave
O'er the green home of the grave.

Let us launch us smoothly on
The soft billows of the lawn,
And drift out across the main
Of our childish dreams again:

Voyage off, beneath the trees,
O'er the field's enchanted seas,
Where the lilies are our sails,
And our sea-gulls, nightingales:

Where no wilder storm shall beat
Than the wind that waves the wheat,
And no tempest-burst above
The old laughs we used to love:

Lose all troubles--gain release,
Languor, and exceeding peace,
Cruising idly o'er the vast,
Calm mid-ocean of the Past.

Let us rest ourselves a bit!
Worry?--wave your hand to it--
Kiss your finger-tips, and smile
It farewell a little while.

"The Prayer Perfect" by James Whitcomb Riley

by James Whitcomb Riley

Dear Lord! kind Lord!
Gracious Lord! I pray
Thou wilt look on all I love
Tenderly to-day!
Weed their hearts of weariness;
Scatter every care
Down a wake of angel-wings
Winnowing the air.

Bring unto the sorrowing
All release from pain;
Let the lips of laughter
Overflow again;
And with all the needy
O divide, I pray,
This vast treasure of content
That is mine to-day!

"A Prospective Glimpse"


Janey Pettibone's the best
Little girl an' purtiest
In this town! an' lives next door,
Up-stairs over their old store.

Little Janey Pettibone
An' her Ma lives all alone,--
'Cause her Pa broke up, an' nen
Died 'cause they ain't rich again.

Little Janey's Ma she sews
Fer my Ma sometimes, an' goes
An' gives music-lessuns--where
People's got pianers there.

But when Janey Pettibone
Grows an' grows, like I'm a-growin',
Nen I'm go' to keep a store,
An' sell things--an' sell some more--

Till I'm ist as rich!--An' nen
Her Ma can be rich again,--
Ef I'm rich enough to own
Little Janey Pettibone!

"The Rider of the Knee"


Knightly Rider of the Knee
Of Proud-prancing Unclery!
Gayly mount, and wave the sign
Of that mastery of thine.

Pat thy steed and turn him free,
Knightly Rider of the Knee!
Sit thy charger as a throne--
Lash him with thy laugh alone:

Sting him only with the spur
Of such wit as may occur,
Knightly Rider of the Knee,
In thy shriek of ecstasy.

Would, as now, we might endure,
Twain as one--thou miniature
Ruler, at the rein of me--
Knightly Rider of the Knee!

"The Robins' Other Name"


In the Orchard-Days, when you
Children look like blossoms, too;
Bessie, with her jaunty ways
And trim poise of head and face,
Must have looked superior
Even to the blossoms,--for
Little Winnie once averred
Bessie looked just like the bird
Tilted on the topmost spray
Of the apple-boughs in May,
With the red breast, and the strong,
Clear, sweet warble of his song.--
"I don't know their name," Win said--
"I ist maked a name instead."--
So forever afterwards
We called robins "Bessie-birds."

"She 'Displains' It" by James Whitcomb Riley


"Had, too!"
"Hadn't, neither!"
So contended Bess and May--
Neighbor children, who were boasting
Of their grandmammas, one day.

"Had, too!"
"Hadn't, neither!"
All the difference begun
By May's saying she'd two grandmas--
While poor Bess had only one.

"Had, too!"
"Hadn't, neither!"
Tossing curls, and kinks of friz!--
"How could you have two gran'muvvers
When ist one is all they is?"

"Had, too!"
"Hadn't, neither!--
'Cause ef you had two," said Bess,
"You'd displain it!" Then May answered,
"My gran'mas wuz twins, I guess!"

"A Sleeping Beauty" by James Whitcomb Riley



An alien wind that blew and blew
Over the fields where the ripe grain grew,

Sending ripples of shine and shade
That crept and crouched at her feet and played.

The sea-like summer washed the moss
Till the sun-drenched lilies hung like floss,

Draping the throne of green and gold
That lulled her there like a queen of old.


Was it the hum of a bumblebee,
Or the long-hushed bugle eerily

Winding a call to the daring Prince
Lost in the wood long ages since?--

A dim old wood, with a palace rare
Hidden away in its depths somewhere!

Was it the Princess, tranced in sleep,
Awaiting her lover's touch to leap

Into the arms that bent above?--
To thaw his heart with the breath of love--

And cloy his lips, through her waking tears,
With the dead-ripe kiss of a hundred years!


An alien wind that blew and blew.--
I had blurred my eyes as the artists do,

Coaxing life to a half-sketched face,
Or dreaming bloom for a grassy place.

The bee droned on in an undertone;
And a shadow-bird trailed all alone

Across the wheat, while a liquid cry
Dripped from above, as it went by.

What to her was the far-off whir
Of the quail's quick wing or the chipmunk's chirr?--

What to her was the shade that slid
Over the hill where the reapers hid?--

Or what the hunter, with one foot raised,
As he turned to go--yet, pausing, gazed?

"Song -- For November"


While skies glint bright with bluest light
Through clouds that race o'er field and town,
And leaves go dancing left and right,
And orchard apples tumble down;
While school-girls sweet, in lane or street,
Lean 'gainst the wind and feel and hear
Its glad heart like a lover's beat,--
So reigns the rapture of the year.

Then ho! and hey! and whoop-hooray!
Though winter clouds be looming,
Remember a November day
Is merrier than mildest May
With all her blossoms blooming.

While birds in scattered flight are blown
Aloft and lost in bosky mist,
And truant boys scud home alone
'Neath skies of gold and amethyst;
While twilight falls, and echo calls
Across the haunted atmosphere,
With low, sweet laughs at intervals,--
So reigns the rapture of the year.

Then ho! and hey! and whoop-hooray!
Though winter clouds be looming,
Remember a November day
Is merrier than mildest May
With all her blossoms blooming.

"The Squirt-Gun Uncle Maked Me"


Uncle Sidney, when he was here,
Maked me a squirt-gun out o' some
Elder-bushes 'at growed out near
Where wuz the brick-yard--'way out clear
To where the Toll Gate come!

So when we walked back home again,
He maked it, out in our woodhouse where
Wuz the old work-bench, an' the old jack-plane,
An' the old 'poke-shave, an' the tools all lay'n'
Ist like he wants 'em there.

He sawed it first with the old hand-saw;
An' nen he peeled off the bark, an' got
Some glass an' scraped it; an' told 'bout Pa,
When he wuz a boy an' fooled his Ma,
An' the whippin' 'at he caught.

Nen Uncle Sidney, he took an' filed
A' old arn ramrod; an' one o' the ends
He screwed fast into the vise; an' smiled,
Thinkin', he said, o' when he wuz a child,
'Fore him an' Pa wuz mens.

He punched out the peth, an' nen he putt
A plug in the end with a hole notched through;
Nen took the old drawey-knife an' cut
An' maked a handle 'at shoved clean shut
But ist where yer hand held to.

An' he wropt th'uther end with some string an' white
Piece o' the sleeve of a' old tored shirt;
An' nen he showed me to hold it tight,
An' suck in the water an' work it right.--
An' it 'ud ist squirt an' squirt!

"Uncle Sidney's Views" by James Whitcomb Riley


I hold that the true age of wisdom is when
We are boys and girls, and not women and men,--
When as credulous children we know things because
We believe them--however averse to the laws.
It is faith, then, not science and reason, I say,
That is genuine wisdom.--And would that to-day
We, as then, were as wise and ineffably blest
As to live, love and die, and trust God for the rest!

So I simply deny the old notion, you know,
That the wiser we get as the older we grow!--
For in youth all we know we are certain of.--Now
The greater our knowledge, the more we allow
For sceptical margin.--And hence I regret
That the world isn't flat, and the sun doesn't set,
And we may not go creeping up home, when we die,
Through the moon, like a round yellow hole in the sky.

"Uninterpreted" by James Whitcomb Riley


Supinely we lie in the grove's shady greenery,
Gazing, all dreamy-eyed, up through the trees,--
And as to the sight is the heavenly scenery,
So to the hearing the sigh of the breeze.

We catch but vague rifts of the blue through the wavering
Boughs of the maples; and, like undefined,
The whispers and lisps of the leaves, faint and quavering,
Meaningless falter and fall on the mind.

The vine, with its beauty of blossom, goes rioting
Up by the casement, as sweet to the eye
As the trill of the robin is restful and quieting
Heard in a drowse with the dawn in the sky.

And yet we yearn on to learn more of the mystery--
We see and we hear, but forever remain
Mute, blind and deaf to the ultimate history
Born of a rose or a patter of rain.

"When the World Bu'sts Through"


[Casually Suggested by an Earthquake]

Where's a boy a-goin',
An' what's he goin' to do,
An' how's he goin' to do it,
When the world bu'sts through?
Ma she says "she can't tell
What we're comin' to!"
An' Pop says "he's ist skeered

S'pose we'd be a-playin'
Out in the street,
An' the ground 'ud split up
'Bout forty feet!--
Ma says "she ist knows
We 'ud tumble in";
An' Pop says "he bets you
Nen we wouldn't grin!"

S'pose we'd ist be 'tendin'
Like we had a show,
Down in the stable,
Where we mustn' go,--
Ma says, "The earthquake
Might make it fall";
An' Pop says, "More'n like
Swaller barn an' all!"

Landy! ef we both wuz
Runnin' 'way from school,
Out in the shady woods
Where it's all so cool!--
Ma says "a big tree
Might sqush our head";
An' Pop says, "Chop 'em out

But where's a boy goin',
An' what's he goin' to do,
An' how's he goin' to do it,
Ef the world bu'sts through?
Ma she says "she can't tell
What we're comin' to!"
An' Pop says "he's ist skeered

"The Whitheraways" by James Whitcomb Riley


[Set Sail, October 15, 1890]

The Whitheraways!--That's what I'll have to call
You--sailing off, with never word at all
Of parting!--sailing 'way across the sea,
With never one good-bye to me--to ME!

Sailing away from me, with no farewell!--
Ah, Parker Hitt and sister Muriel--
And Rodney, too, and little Laurance--all
Sailing away--just as the leaves, this Fall!

Well, then, I too shall sail on cheerily
As now you all go sailing o'er the sea:
I've other little friends with me on shore--
Though they but make me yearn for you the more!

And so, sometime, dear little friends afar,
When this faint voice shall reach you, and you are
All just a little homesick, you must be
As brave as I am now, and think of me!

Or, haply, if your eyes, as mine, droop low,
And would be humored with a tear or so,--
Go to your Parents, Children!--let them do
The crying--'twill be easier for them to!

"Winter Fancies" by James Whitcomb Riley



Winter without
And warmth within;
The winds may shout
And the storm begin;
The snows may pack
At the window-pane,
And the skies grow black,
And the sun remain
Hidden away
The livelong day--
But here--in here is the warmth of May!


Swoop your spitefullest
Up the flue,
Wild Winds--do!
What in the world do I care for you?
O delightfullest
Weather of all,
Howl and squall,
And shake the trees till the last leaves fall!


The joy one feels,
In an easy-chair,
Cocking his heels
In the dancing air
That wreathes the rim of a roaring stove
Whose heat loves better than hearts can love,
Will not permit
The coldest day
To drive away
The fire in his blood, and the bliss of it!


Then blow, Winds, blow!
And rave and shriek,
And snarl and snow,
Till your breath grows weak--
While here in my room
I'm as snugly shut
As a glad little worm
In the heart of a nut!

"With the Current" by James Whitcomb Riley


Rarest mood of all the year!
Aimless, idle, and content--
Sky and wave and atmosphere
Wholly indolent.

Little daughter, loose the band
From your tresses--let them pour
Shadow-like o'er arm and hand
Idling at the oar.

Low and clear, and pure and deep,
Ripples of the river sing--
Water-lilies, half asleep,
Drowsed with listening:

Tremulous reflex of skies--
Skies above and skies below,--
Paradise and Paradise
Blending even so!

Blossoms with their leaves unrolled
Laughingly, as they were lips
Cleft with ruddy beaten gold
Tongues of pollen-tips.

Rush and reed, and thorn and vine,
Clumped with grasses lithe and tall--
With a web of summer-shine
Woven round it all.

Back and forth, and to and fro--
Flashing scale and wing as one,--
Dragon-flies that come and go,
Shuttled by the sun.

Fairy lilts and lullabies.
Fine as fantasy conceives,--
Echoes wrought of cricket-cries
Sifted through the leaves.

O'er the rose, with drowsy buzz,
Hangs the bee, and stays his kiss,
Even as my fancy does,
Gypsy, over this.

Let us both be children--share
Youth's glad voyage night and day,
Drift adown it, half aware,
Anywhere we may.--

Drift and curve and deviate,
Veer and eddy, float and flow,
Waver, swerve and undulate,
As the bubbles go.

"The Youthful Press" by James Whitcomb Riley


Little Georgie Tompers, he
Printed some fine cards for me;
But his press had "J" for James--
By no means the choice of names.--

Yet it's proper, none the less,
That his little printing-press
Should be taught that James for "J"
Always is the better way.

For, if left to its own whim,
Next time it might call me "Jim,"--
Shocked at such a liberty.

Therefore, little presses all
Should be trained, while they are small,
To develop taste in these
Truths that shape our destinies.

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