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Best Famous James Whitcomb Riley Poems

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by James Whitcomb Riley | |

The Willow

 On sweet young earth where the myrtle presses,
Long we lay, when the May was new;
The willow was winding the moon in her tresses,
The bud of the rose was told with dew.
And now on the brittle ground I'm lying, Screaming to die with the dead year's dead; The stem of the rose is black and drying, The willow is tossing the wind from her head.


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

The Rival

 If the moon smiled, she would resemble you.
You leave the same impression Of something beautiful, but annihilating.
Both of you are great light borrowers.
Her O-mouth grieves at the world; yours is unaffected, And your first gift is making stone out of everything.
I wake to a mausoleum; you are here, Ticking your fingers on the marble table, looking for cigarettes, Spiteful as a woman, but not so nervous, And dying to say something unanswerable.
The moon, too, abuses her subjects, But in the daytime she is ridiculous.
Your dissatisfactions, on the other hand, Arrive through the mailslot with loving regularity, White and blank, expansive as carbon monoxide.
No day is safe from news of you, Walking about in Africa maybe, but thinking of me.


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

The Bumblebee

 You better not fool with a Bumblebee! --
Ef you don't think they can sting -- you'll see!
They're lazy to look at, an' kind o' go
Buzzin' an' bummin' aroun' so slow,
An' ac' so slouchy an' all fagged out,
Danglin' their legs as they drone about
The hollyhawks 'at they can't climb in
'Ithout ist a-tumble-un out ag'in!
Wunst I watched one climb clean 'way
In a jimson-blossom, I did, one day, --
An' I ist grabbed it -- an' nen let go --
An' "Ooh-ooh! Honey! I told ye so!"
Says The Raggedy Man; an' he ist run
An' pullt out the stinger, an' don't laugh none,
An' says: "They has be'n folks, I guess,
'At thought I wuz predjudust, more er less, --
Yit I still muntain 'at a Bumblebee
Wears out his welcome too quick fer me!"


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

A Barefoot Boy

 A barefoot boy! I mark him at his play --
 For May is here once more, and so is he, --
 His dusty trousers, rolled half to the knee,
And his bare ankles grimy, too, as they:
Cross-hatchings of the nettle, in array
 Of feverish stripes, hint vividly to me
 Of woody pathways winding endlessly
Along the creek, where even yesterday
He plunged his shrinking body -- gasped and shook --
 Yet called the water "warm," with never lack
Of joy.
And so, half enviously I look Upon this graceless barefoot and his track, -- His toe stubbed -- ay, his big toe-nail knocked back Like unto the clasp of an old pocketbook.


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

A Life-Lesson

 There! little girl; don't cry! 
They have broken your doll, I know; 
And your tea-set blue, 
And your play-house, too, 
Are things of the long ago; 
But childish troubles will soon pass by.
-- There! little girl; don't cry! There! little girl; don't cry! They have broken your slate, I know; And the glad, wild ways Of your schoolgirl days Are things of the long ago; But life and love will soon come by.
-- There! little girl; don't cry! There! little girl; don't cry! They have broken your heart I know; And the rainbow gleams Of your youthful dreams Are things of the long ago; But Heaven holds all for which you sigh.
-- There! little girl; don't cry!


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

The Ripest Peach

 The ripest peach is highest on the tree -- 
And so her love, beyond the reach of me, 
Is dearest in my sight.
Sweet breezes, bow Her heart down to me where I worship now! She looms aloft where every eye may see The ripest peach is highest on the tree.
Such fruitage as her love I know, alas! I may not reach here from the orchard grass.
I drink the sunshine showered past her lips As roses drain the dewdrop as it drips.
The ripest peach is highest on the tree, And so mine eyes gaze upward eagerly.
Why -- why do I not turn away in wrath And pluck some heart here hanging in my path? -- Love's lower boughs bend with them -- but, ah me! The ripest peach is highest on the tree!


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

Ylladmar

 Her hair was, oh, so dense a blur
Of darkness, midnight envied her;
And stars grew dimmer in the skies
To see the glory of her eyes;
And all the summer rain of light
That showered from the moon at night
Fell o'er her features as the gloom
Of twilight o'er a lily-bloom.
The crimson fruitage of her lips Was ripe and lush with sweeter wine Than burgundy or muscadine Or vintage that the burgher sips In some old garden on the Rhine: And I to taste of it could well Believe my heart a crucible Of molten love--and I could feel The drunken soul within me reel And rock and stagger till it fell.
And do you wonder that I bowed Before her splendor as a cloud Of storm the golden-sandaled sun Had set his conquering foot upon? And did she will it, I could lie In writhing rapture down and die A death so full of precious pain I'd waken up to die again.


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

A Parting Guest

 What delightful hosts are they -- 
 Life and Love! 
Lingeringly I turn away, 
 This late hour, yet glad enough 
They have not withheld from me 
 Their high hospitality.
So, with face lit with delight And all gratitude, I stay Yet to press their hands and say, "Thanks.
-- So fine a time! Good night.
"


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

There Was a Cherry-Tree

 There was a cherry-tree.
Its bloomy snows Cool even now the fevered sight that knows No more its airy visions of pure joy -- As when you were a boy.
There was a cherry-tree.
The Bluejay sat His blue against its white -- O blue as jet He seemed there then!-- But now -- Whoever knew He was so pale a blue! There was a cherry-tree -- our child-eyes saw The miracle:-- Its pure white snows did thaw Into a crimson fruitage, far too sweet But for a boy to eat.
There was a cherry-tree, give thanks and joy!-- There was a bloom of snow -- There was a boy -- There was a bluejay of the realest blue -- And fruit for both of you.


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

The Old Times Were the Best

 Friends, my heart is half aweary
Of its happiness to-night:
Though your songs are gay and cheery,
And your spirits feather-light,
There's a ghostly music haunting
Still the heart of every guest
And a voiceless chorus chanting
That the Old Times were the best.
CHORUS All about is bright and pleasant With the sound of song and jest, Yet a feeling's ever present That the Old Times were the best.


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

We to Sigh Instead of Sing

 "Rain and Rain! and rain and rain!" 
Yesterday we muttered 
Grimly as the grim refrain 
That the thunders uttered: 
All the heavens under cloud -- 
All the sunshine sleeping; 
All the grasses limply bowed 
With their weight of weeping.
Sigh and sigh! and sigh and sigh! Never end of sighing; Rain and rain for our reply -- Hopes half-drowned and dying; Peering through the window-pane, Naught but endless raining -- Endless sighing, and, as vain, Endlessly conmplaining.
Shine and shine! and shine and shine! Ah! to-day the splendor!-- All this glory yours and mine -- God! but God is tender! We to sigh instead of sing, Yesterday in sorrow, While the lord was fashioning This for our To-morrow!


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

To a Boy Whistling

 The smiling face of a happy boy
With its enchanted key
Is now unlocking in memory
My store of heartiest joy.
And my lost life again to-day, In pleasant colors all aglow, From rainbow tints, to pure white snow, Is a panorama sliding away.
The whistled air of a simple tune Eddies and whirls my thoughts around, As fairy balloons of thistle-down Sail through the air of June.
O happy boy with untaught grace! What is there in the world to give That can buy one hour of the life you live Or the trivial cause of your smiling face!


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

The Willow

 Who shall sing a simple ditty about the Willow, 
Dainty-fine and delicate as any bending spray 
That dandles high the dainty bird that flutters there to trill a 
Tremulously tender song of greeting to the May.
Bravest, too, of all the trees! -- none to match your daring,-- First of greens to greet the Spring and lead in leafy sheen;-- Aye, and you're the last -- almost into winter wearing Still the leaf of loyalty -- still the badge of green.
Ah, my lovely willow! --let the waters lilt your graces,-- They alone with limped kisses lave your leaves above, Flashing back your silvan beauty, and in shady places Peering up with glimmering pebbles, like the eyes of love.


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

Unless

 Who has not wanted, does not guess 
What plenty is.
--Who has not groped In depths of doubt and hopelessness, Has never truly hoped.
-- Unless, sometimes, a shaow falls Upon his mirth, and veils his sight, And from the darkness drifts the light Of love at intervals.
And that most dear of everything, I hold, is love; and who can sit With lightest heart and laugh and sing, Knows not the worth of it.
-- Unless, in some strange throng, perchance, He feels how thrilling sweet it is, One yearning look that answers his -- The troth of glance and glance.
Who knows not pain, knows not, alas! What pleasure is.
--Who knows not of The bitter cup that will not pass, Knows not the taste of love.
O souls that thirst, and hearts that fast, And natures faint with famishing, God lift and lead and safely bring You to your own at last!


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

The Harper

 Like a drift of faded blossoms 
Caught in a slanting rain, 
His fingers glimpsed down the strings of his harp 
In a tremulous refrain:

Patter and tinkle, and drip and drip! 
Ah! but the chords were rainy sweet! 
And I closed my eyes and I bit my lip, 
As he played there in the street.
Patter, and drip, and tinkle! And there was the little bed In the corner of the garret, And the rafters overhead! And there was the little window -- Tinkle, and drip, and drip!-- The rain above, and a mother's love, And God's companionship!


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

A Noon Interval

 A deep, delicious hush in earth and sky -- 
A gracious lull--since, from its wakening, 
The morn has been a feverish, restless thing 
In which the pulse of Summer ran too high 
And riotous, as though its heart went nigh 
To bursting with delights past uttering: 
Now--as an o'erjoyed child may cease to sing 
All falteringly at play, with drowsy eye 
Draining the pictures of a fairy-tale 
To brim his dreams with--there comes o'er the day 
A loathful silence wherein all sounds fail 
Like loitering sounds of some roundelay .
.
.
No wakeful effort longer may avail -- The wand waves, and the dozer sinks away.


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

Who Bides His Time

 Who bides his time, and day by day 
Faces defeat full patiently, 
And lifts a mirthful roundelay, 
However poor his fortunes be,-- 
He will not fail in any qualm 
Of poverty -- the paltry dime 
It will grow golden in his palm, 
Who bides his time.
Who bides his time -- he tastes the sweet Of honey in the saltest tear; And though he fares with slowest feet, Joy runs to meet him, drawing near; The birds are hearalds of his cause; And, like a never-ending rhyme, The roadsides bloom in his applause, Who bides his time.
Who bides his time, and fevers not In the hot race that none achieves, Shall wear cool-wreathen laurel, wrought With crimson berries in the leaves; And he shall reign a goodly king, And sway his hand o'er every clime With peace writ on his signet-ring, Who bides his time.


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

The Rapture of the Year

 While skies glint bright with bluest light 
Through clouds that race o'er fields 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.
The ho! and hey! and whop-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 dusky 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.
The ho! and hey! and whop-hooray! Though winter clouds be looming, Remember a November day Is merrier than mildest May With all her blossoms blooming.


by James Whitcomb Riley | |

The Rival

 I so loved once, when Death came by I hid 
 Away my face, 
And all my sweetheart's tresses she undid 
 To make my hiding-place.
The dread shade passed me thus unheeding; and I turned me then To calm my love -- kiss down her shielding hand And comfort her again.
And lo! she answered not: and she did sit All fixedly, With her fair face and the sweet smile of it, In love with Death, not me.