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Best Famous James Whitcomb Riley Poems

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Written by Henry Van Dyke | |

To James Whitcomb Riley

 On his "Book of Joyous Children"

Yours is a garden of old-fashioned flowers;
Joyous children delight to play there;
Weary men find rest in its bowers,
Watching the lingering light of day there.
Old-time tunes and young love's laughter Ripple and run among the roses; Memory's echoes, murmuring after, Fill the dusk when the long day closes.
Simple songs with a cadence olden-- These you learned in the Forest of Arden: Friendly flowers with hearts all golden-- These you borrowed from Eden's garden.
This is the reason why all men love you; Truth to life is the charm of art: Other poets may soar above you-- You keep close to the human heart.

Written 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.

Written by James Whitcomb Riley | |

The Merman


Who would be
A merman bold,
Sitting alone
Singing alone
Under the sea,
With a crown of gold,
On a throne?


I would be a merman bold,
I would sit and sing the whole of the day;
I would fill the sea-halls with a voice of power;
But at night I would roam abroad and play
With the mermaids in and out of the rocks,
Dressing their hair with the white sea-flower;
And holding them back by their flowing locks
I would kiss them often under the sea,
And kiss them again till they kiss'd me
 Laughingly, laughingly;
And then we would wander away, away,
To the pale-green sea-groves straight and high,
 Chasing each other merrily.
III There would be neither moon nor star; But the wave would make music above us afar -- Low thunder and light in the magic night -- Neither moon nor star.
We would call aloud in the dreamy dells, Call to each other and whoop and cry All night, merrily, merrily.
They would pelt me with starry spangles and shells, Laughing and clapping their hands between, All night, merrily, merrily, But I would throw to them back in mine Turkis and agate and almondine; Then leaping out upon them unseen I would kiss them often under the sea, And kiss them again till they kiss'd me Laughingly, laughingly.
O, what a happy life where mine Under the hollow-hung ocean green! Soft are the moss-beds under the sea; We would live merrily, merrily.

More great poems below...

Written 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.

Written by James Whitcomb Riley | |

Little Orphant Annie


To all the little children: -- The happy ones; and sad ones;
The sober and the silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones;
The good ones -- Yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.
Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay, An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away, An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep, An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep; An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done, We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about, An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you Ef you Don't Watch Out! Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,-- An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs, His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl, An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all! An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press, An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess; But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout:-- An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you Ef you Don't Watch Out! An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin, An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin; An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there, She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care! An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide, They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side, An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about! An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you Ef you Don't Watch Out! An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue, An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo! An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray, An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,-- You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear, An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear, An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about, Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you Ef you Don't Watch Out!

Written by James Whitcomb Riley | |

When the Frost is on the Punkin

 When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then's the times a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here-- Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees, And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees; But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock-- When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn, And the raspin' of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn; The stubble in the furries--kindo' lonesome-like, but still A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill; The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed; The hosses in theyr stalls below--the clover over-head!-- O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock, When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock! Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps; And your cider-makin' 's over, and your wimmern-folks is through With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! .
I don't know how to tell it--but ef sich a thing could be As the Angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me-- I'd want to 'commodate 'em--all the whole-indurin' flock-- When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock!

Written 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!"

Written 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.

Written by James Whitcomb Riley | |

Our Hired Girl

 Our hired girl, she's 'Lizabuth Ann;
An' she can cook best things to eat!
She ist puts dough in our pie-pan,
An' pours in somepin' 'at's good an' sweet;
An' nen she salts it all on top
With cinnamon; an' nen she'll stop
An' stoop an' slide it, ist as slow,
In th' old cook-stove, so's 'twon't slop
An' git all spilled; nen bakes it, so
It's custard-pie, first thing you know!
An' nen she'll say,
"Clear out o' my way!
They's time fer work, an' time fer play!
Take yer dough, an' run, child, run!
Er I cain't git no cookin' done!"

When our hired girl 'tends like she's mad,
An' says folks got to walk the chalk
When she's around, er wisht they had!
I play out on our porch an' talk
To Th' Raggedy Man 'at mows our lawn;
An' he says, "Whew!" an' nen leans on
His old crook-scythe, and blinks his eyes,
An' sniffs all 'round an' says, "I swawn!
Ef my old nose don't tell me lies,
It 'pears like I smell custard-pies!"
An' nen he'll say,
"Clear out o' my way!
They's time fer work, an' time fer play!
Take yer dough, an' run, child, run!
Er she cain't git no cookin' done!"

Wunst our hired girl, when she
Got the supper, an' we all et,
An' it wuz night, an' Ma an' me
An' Pa went wher' the "Social" met,--
An' nen when we come home, an' see
A light in the kitchen door, an' we
Heerd a maccordeun, Pa says, "Lan'--
O'-Gracious! who can her beau be?"
An' I marched in, an' 'Lizabuth Ann
Wuz parchin' corn fer The Raggedy Man!
Better say,
"Clear out o' the way!
They's time fer work, an' time fer play!
Take the hint, an' run, child, run!
Er we cain't git no courtin' done!"

Written by James Whitcomb Riley | |


 Granny's come to our house,
 And ho! my lawzy-daisy!
All the childern round the place
 Is ist a-runnin' crazy!
Fetched a cake fer little Jake,
 And fetched a pie fer Nanny,
And fetched a pear fer all the pack
 That runs to kiss their Granny!

Lucy Ellen's in her lap,
 And Wade and Silas Walker
Both's a-ridin' on her foot,
 And 'Pollos on the rocker;
And Marthy's twins, from Aunt Marinn's,
 And little Orphant Annie,
All's a-eatin' gingerbread
 And giggle-un at Granny!

Tells us all the fairy tales
 Ever thought er wundered --
And 'bundance o' other stories --
 Bet she knows a hunderd! --
Bob's the one fer "Whittington,"
 And "Golden Locks" fer Fanny!
Hear 'em laugh and clap their hands,
 Listenin' at Granny!

"Jack the Giant-Killer" 's good;
 And "Bean-Stalk" 's another! --
So's the one of "Cinderell'"
 And her old godmother; --
That-un's best of all the rest --
 Bestest one of any, --
Where the mices scampers home
 Like we runs to Granny!

Granny's come to our house,
 Ho! my lawzy-daisy!
All the childern round the place
 Is ist a-runnin' crazy!
Fetched a cake fer little Jake,
 And fetched a pie fer Nanny,
And fetched a pear fer all the pack
 That runs to kiss their Granny!

Written by James Whitcomb Riley | |

The Old Swimmin-Hole

 OH! the old swimmin'-hole! whare the crick so still and deep
Looked like a baby-river that was laying half asleep,
And the gurgle of the worter round the drift jest below
Sounded like the laugh of something we onc't ust to know
Before we could remember anything but the eyes
Of the angels lookin' out as we left Paradise;
But the merry days of youth is beyond our controle,
And it's hard to part ferever with the old swimmin'-hole.
Oh! the old swimmin'-hole! In the happy days of yore, When I ust to lean above it on the old sickamore, Oh! it showed me a face in its warm sunny tide That gazed back at me so gay and glorified, It made me love myself, as I leaped to caress My shadder smilin' up at me with sich tenderness.
But them days is past and gone, and old Time's tuck his toll From the old man come back to the old swimmin'-hole.
Oh! the old swimmin'-hole! In the long, lazy days When the humdrum of school made so many run-a-ways, How plesant was the jurney down the old dusty lane, Whare the tracks of our bare feet was all printed so plane You could tell by the dent of the heel and the sole They was lots o' fun on hands at the old swimmin'-hole.
But the lost joys is past! Let your tears in sorrow roll Like the rain that ust to dapple up the old swimmin'-hole.
Thare the bullrushes growed, and the cattails so tall, And the sunshine and shadder fell over it all; And it mottled the worter with amber and gold Tel the glad lilies rocked in the ripples that rolled; And the snake-feeder's four gauzy wings fluttered by Like the ghost of a daisy dropped out of the sky, Or a wownded apple-blossom in the breeze's controle As it cut acrost some orchard to'rds the old swimmin'-hole.
Oh! the old swimmin'-hole! When I last saw the place, The scenes was all changed, like the change in my face; The bridge of the railroad now crosses the spot Whare the old divin'-log lays sunk and fergot.
And I stray down the banks whare the trees ust to be-- But never again will theyr shade shelter me! And I wish in my sorrow I could strip to the soul, And dive off in my grave like the old swimmin'-hole.

Written 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!

Written by James Whitcomb Riley | |

Nine Little Goblins

 THEY all climbed up on a high board-fence---
 Nine little Goblins, with green-glass eyes---
Nine little Goblins that had no sense,
 And couldn't tell coppers from cold mince pies;
 And they all climbed up on the fence, and sat---
 And I asked them what they were staring at.
And the first one said, as he scratched his head With a queer little arm that reached out of his ear And rasped its claws in his hair so red--- "This is what this little arm is fer!" And he scratched and stared, and the next one said, "How on earth do you scratch your head ?" Nine Little Gobblins And he laughed like the screech of a rusty hinge--- Laughed and laughed till his face grew black; And when he clicked, with a final twinge Of his stifling laughter, he thumped his back With a fist that grew on the end of his tail Till the breath came back to his lips so pale.
And the third little Goblin leered round at me--- And there were no lids on his eyes at all--- And he clucked one eye, and he says, says he, "What is the style of your socks this fall ?" And he clapped his heels---and I sighed to see That he had hands where his feet should be.
Then a bald-faced Goblin, gray and grim, Bowed his head, and I saw him slip His eyebrows off, as I looked at him, And paste them over his upper lip; And then he moaned in remorseful pain--- "Would---Ah, would I'd me brows again!" And then the whole of the Goblin band Rocked on the fence-top to and fro, And clung, in a long row, hand in hand, Singing the songs that they used to know--- Singing the songs that their grandsires sung In the goo-goo days of the Goblin-tongue.
And ever they kept their green-glass eyes Fixed on me with a stony stare--- Till my own grew glazed with a dread surmise, And my hat whooped up on my lifted hair, And I felt the heart in my breast snap to As you've heard the lid of a snuff-box do.
And they sang "You're asleep! There is no board-fence, And never a Goblin with green-glass eyes!--- "Tis only a vision the mind invents After a supper of cold mince-pies,--- And you're doomed to dream this way," they said,--- "And you sha'n't wake up till you're clean plum dead!"

Written by James Whitcomb Riley | |

Wet-weather Talk

 It hain't no use to grumble and complane;
 It's jest as cheap and easy to rejoice.
-- When God sorts out the weather and sends rain, W'y rain's my choice.
Men ginerly, to all intents -- Although they're apt to grumble some -- Puts most theyr trust in Providence, And takes things as they come -- That is, the commonality Of men that's lived as long as me Has watched the world enugh to learn They're not the boss of this concern.
With some, of course, it's different -- I've saw young men that knowed it all, And didn't like the way things went On this terrestchul ball; -- But all the same, the rain, some way, Rained jest as hard on picnic day; Er, when they railly wanted it, It mayby wouldn't rain a bit! In this existunce, dry and wet Will overtake the best of men -- Some little skift o' clouds'll shet The sun off now and then.
-- And mayby, whilse you're wundern who You've fool-like lent your umbrell' to, And want it -- out'll pop the sun, And you'll be glad you hain't got none! It aggervates the farmers, too -- They's too much wet, er too much sun, Er work, er waitin' round to do Before the plowin' 's done: And mayby, like as not, the wheat, Jest as it's lookin' hard to beat, Will ketch the storm -- and jest about The time the corn's a-jintin' out.
These-here cy-clones a-foolin' round -- And back'ard crops! -- and wind and rain! -- And yit the corn that's wallerd down May elbow up again! -- They hain't no sense, as I can see, Fer mortuls, sech as us, to be A-faultin' Natchur's wise intents, And lockin' horns with Providence! It hain't no use to grumble and complane; It's jest as cheap and easy to rejoice.
-- When God sorts out the weather and sends rain, W'y, rain's my choice.

Written by James Whitcomb Riley | |

A Summer Afternoon

 A languid atmosphere, a lazy breeze,
With labored respiration, moves the wheat
From distant reaches, till the golden seas
Break in crisp whispers at my feet.
My book, neglected of an idle mind, Hides for a moment from the eyes of men; Or lightly opened by a critic wind, Affrightedly reviews itself again.
Off through the haze that dances in the shine The warm sun showers in the open glade, The forest lies, a silhouette design Dimmed through and through with shade.
A dreamy day; and tranquilly I lie At anchor from all storms of mental strain; With absent vision, gazing at the sky, "Like one that hears it rain.
" The Katydid, so boisterous last night, Clinging, inverted, in uneasy poise, Beneath a wheat-blade, has forgotten quite If "Katy DID or DIDN'T" make a noise.
The twitter, sometimes, of a wayward bird That checks the song abruptly at the sound, And mildly, chiding echoes that have stirred, Sink into silence, all the more profound.
And drowsily I hear the plaintive strain Of some poor dove .
Why, I can scarcely keep My heavy eyelids--there it is again-- "Coo-coo!"--I mustn't--"Coo-coo!"--fall asleep!