Top 20 Most Popular Poems of James Whitcomb Riley

These are the top twenty (20) most popular poems of James Whitcomb Riley.

From A Backward Look to August..

If you want to know his greatest poems of all time, then this poetry collection is for you.

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A Backward Look

As I sat smoking, alone, yesterday,
And lazily leaning back in my chair,
Enjoying myself in a general way –
Allowing my thoughts a holiday
From weariness, toil and care, –
My fancies – doubtless, for ventilation –
Left ajar the gates of my mind, –
And Memory, seeing the situation,
Slipped out in street of “Auld Lang Syne.”

Wandering ever with tireless feet
Through scenes of silence, and jubilee
Of long-hushed voices; and faces sweet
Were thronging the shadowy side of the street
As far as the eye could see;
Dreaming again, in anticipation,
The same old dreams of our boyhood’s days
That never come true, from the vague sensation
Of walking asleep in the world’s strange ways.

Away to the house where I was born!
And there was the selfsame clock that ticked
From the close of dusk to the burst of morn,
When life-warm hands plucked the golden corn
And helped when the apples were picked.
And the “chany-dog” on the mantel-shelf,
With the gilded collar and yellow eyes,
Looked just as at first, when I hugged myself
Sound asleep with the dear surprise.

And down to the swing in the locust tree,
Where the grass was worn from the trampled ground
And where “Eck” Skinner, “Old” Carr, and three
Or four such other boys used to be
Doin’ “sky-scrapers,” or “whirlin’ round:”
And again Bob climbed for the bluebird’s nest,
And again “had shows” in the buggy-shed
Of Guymon’s barn, where still, unguessed,
The old ghosts romp through the best days dead!

And again I gazed from the old school-room
With a wistful look of a long June day,
When on my cheek was the hectic bloom
Caught of Mischief, as I presume –
He had such a “partial” way,
It seemed, toward me. – And again I thought
Of a probable likelihood to be
Kept in after school – for a girl was caught
Catching a note from me.

And down through the woods to the swimming-hole –
Where the big, white, hollow, old sycamore grows, –
And we never cared when the water was cold.
And always “clucked” the boy that told
On the fellow that tied the clothes. –
When life went so like a dreamy rhyme
That it seems to me now that then
The world was having a jollier time
Than it ever will have again.

By James Whitcomb Riley

A Ballad With A Serious Conclusion

By James Whitcomb Riley
Crowd about me, little children –
Come and cluster ’round my knee
While I tell a little story
That happened once with me.

My father he had gone away
A-sailing on the foam,
Leaving me – the merest infant –
And my mother dear at home;

For my father was a sailor,
And he sailed the ocean o’er
For full five years ere yet again
He reached his native shore.

And I had grown up rugged
And healthy day by day,
Though I was but a puny babe
When father went away.

Poor mother she would kiss me
And look at me and sigh
So strangely, oft I wondered
And would ask the reason why.

And she would answer sadly,
Between her sobs and tears, –
“You look so like your father,
Far away so many years!”

And then she would caress me
And brush my hair away,
And tell me not to question,
But to run about my play.

Thus I went playing thoughtfully –
For that my mother said, –
Kept ringing in my head.

So, ranging once the golden sands
That looked out on the sea,
I called aloud, “My father dear,
Come back to ma and me!”

Then I saw a glancing shadow
On the sand, and heard the shriek
Of a sea-gull flying seaward,
And I heard a gruff voice speak: –

“Ay, ay, my little shipmate,
I thought I heard you hail;
Were you trumpeting that sea-gull,
Or do you see a sail?”

And as rough and gruff a sailor
As ever sailed the sea
Was standing near grotesquely
And leering dreadfully.

I replied, though I was frightened,
“It was my father dear
I was calling for across the sea –
I think he didn’t hear.”

And then the sailor leered again
In such a frightful way,
And made so many faces
I was little loath to stay:

But he started fiercely toward me –
Then made a sudden halt
And roared, “I think he heard you!”
And turned a somersault.

Then a wild fear overcame me,
And I flew off like the wind,
Shrieking “MOTHER!” – and the sailor
Just a little way behind!

And then my mother heard me,
And I saw her shade her eyes,
Looking toward me from the doorway,
Transfixed with pale surprise

For a moment – then her features
Glowed with all their wonted charms
As the sailor overtook me,
And I fainted in her arms.

When I awoke to reason
I shuddered with affright
Till I felt my mother’s presence
With a thrill of wild delight –

Till, amid a shower of kisses
Falling glad as summer rain,
A muffled thunder rumbled, –
“Is he coming ’round again?”

Then I shrieked and clung unto her,
While her features flushed and burned
As she told me it was father
From a foreign land returned.

. . . . . . .

I said – when I was calm again,
And thoughtfully once more
Had dwelt upon my mother’s words
Of just the day before, –

“I DON’T look like my father,
As you told me yesterday –
I know I don’t – or father
Would have run the other way.”

James Whitcomb Riley

A Bear Family

Wunst, ‘way West in Illinoise,
Wuz two Bears an’ their two boys:
An’ the two boys’ names, you know,
Wuz – like ours is, – Jim an’ Jo;
An’ their parunts’ names wuz same’s,
All big grown-up people’s names, –
Ist Miz Bear, the neighbers call
‘Em, an’ Mister Bear – ‘at’s all.
Yes – an’ Miz Bear scold him, too,
Ist like grown folks shouldn’t do!

Wuz a grea’-big river there,
An’, ‘crosst that, ‘s a mountain where
Old Bear said some day he’d go,
Ef she don’t quit scoldin’so!
So, one day when he been down
The river, fishin’, ‘most to town,
An’ come back ‘thout no fish a-tall,
An’ Jim an’ Jo they run an’ bawl
An’ tell their ma their pa hain’t fetch’
No fish, – she scold again an’ ketch
Her old broom up an’ biff him, too. –

An’ he ist cry, an’ say, “Boo-hoo!
I told you what I ‘d do some day’.”
An’ he ist turned an’ runned away
To where’s the grea’-big river there,
An’ ist splunged in an’ swum to where
The mountain’s at, ‘way th’other side,
An’ clumbed up there. An’ Miz Bear cried –
An’ little Jo an’ little Jim –
Ist like their ma – bofe cried fer him! –
But he clumbed on, clean out o’ sight,
He wuz so mad! – An’ served ’em right!

Nen – when the Bear got ‘way on top
The mountain, he heerd somepin’ flop
Its wings – an’ somepin’ else he heerd
A-rattlin’-like. – An’ he wuz skeerd,
An’ looked ‘way up, an’ – Mercy sake! –

It wuz a’ Eagul an’ a SNAKE!
An’-sir! the Snake, he bite an’ kill’
The Eagul, an’ they bofe fall till
They strike the ground – k’spang-k’spat! –
Wite where the Bear wuz standin’ at!
An’ when here come the Snake at him,
The Bear he think o’ little Jim
An’ Jo, he did – an’ their ma, too, –
All safe at home; an’ he ist flew
Back down the mountain – an’ could hear
The old Snake rattlin’, sharp an’ clear,
Wite clos’t behind! – An’ Bear he’s so
All tired out, by time, you know,
He git down to the river there,
He know’ he can’t swim back to where
His folks is at. But ist wite nen
He see a boat an’ six big men

‘At’s been a-shootin’ ducks: An’ so
He skeerd them out the boat, you know,
An’ ist jumped in – an’ Snake he tried
To jump in, too, but failed outside
Where all the water wuz; an’ so
The Bear grabs one the things you row
The boat wiv an’ ist whacks the head
Of the old Snake an’ kills him dead! –

An’ when he’s killed him dead, w’y, nen
The old Snake’s drownded dead again!
Nen Bear set in the boat an’ bowed
His back an’ rowed – an’ rowed – an’ rowed –
Till he’s safe home – so tired he can’t
Do nothin’ but lay there an’ pant
An’ tell his childern, “Bresh my coat!”
An’ tell his wife, “Go chain my boat!”
An’ they’re so glad he’s back, they say
“They knowed he’s comin’ thataway
To ist surprise the dear ones there!”
An’ Jim an’ Jo they dried his hair

An’ pulled the burrs out; an’ their ma
She ist set there an’ helt his paw
Till he wuz sound asleep, an’ nen
She tell’ him she won’t scold again –
Never – never – never –
Ferever an’ ferever!

James Whitcomb Riley

A Song Of Singing

Sing! gangling lad, along the brink
Of wild brook-ways of shoal and deep,
Where killdees dip, and cattle drink,
And glinting little minnows leap!
Sing! slimpsy lass who trips above
And sets the foot-log quivering!
Sing! bittern, bumble-bee, and dove –
Sing! Sing! Sing!

Sing as you will, O singers all
Who sing because you want to sing!
Sing! peacock on the orchard wall,
Or tree-toad by the trickling spring!
Sing! every bird on every bough –
Sing! every living, loving thing –
Sing any song, and anyhow,
But Sing! Sing! Sing!

James Whitcomb Riley

The Rain.


The rain! the rain! the rain!
It gushed from the skies and streamed
Like awful tears; and the sick man thought
How pitiful it seemed!
And he turned his face away,
And stared at the wall again,
His hopes nigh dead and his heart worn out.
O the rain! the rain! the rain!


The rain! the rain! the rain!
And the broad stream brimmed the shores;
And ever the river crept over the reeds
And the roots of the sycamores:
A corpse swirled by in a drift
Where the boat had snapt its chain –
And a hoarse-voiced mother shrieked and raved.
O the rain! the rain! the rain!


The rain! the rain! the rain! –
Pouring, with never a pause,
Over the fields and the green byways –
How beautiful it was!
And the new-made man and wife
Stood at the window-pane
Like two glad children kept from school. –
O the rain! the rain! the rain!

James Whitcomb Riley

A Cup Of Tea.

I have sipped, with drooping lashes,
Dreamy draughts of Verzenay;
I have flourished brandy-smashes
In the wildest sort of way;
I have joked with “Tom and Jerry”
Till wee hours ayont the twal’ –
But I’ve found my tea the very
Safest tipple of them all!

‘Tis a mystical potation
That exceeds in warmth of glow
And divine exhilaration
All the drugs of long ago –
All of old magicians’ potions –
Of Medea’s filtered spells –
Or of fabled isles and oceans
Where the Lotos-eater dwells!

Though I’ve reveled o’er late lunches
With blasé dramatic stars,
And absorbed their wit and punches
And the fumes of their cigars –
Drank in the latest story,
With a cock-tail either end, –
I have drained a deeper glory
In a cup of tea, my friend.

Green, Black, Moyune, Formosa,
Congou, Amboy, Pingsuey –
No odds the name it knows – ah!
Fill a cup of it for me!
And, as I clink my china
Against your goblet’s brim,
My tea in steam shall twine a
Fragrant laurel round its rim.

James Whitcomb Riley

A Dream

I dreamed I was a spider;
A big, fat, hungry spider;
A lusty, rusty spider
With a dozen palsied limbs;
With a dozen limbs that dangled
Where three wretched flies were tangled
And their buzzing wings were strangled
In the middle of their hymns.

And I mocked them like a demon –
A demoniacal demon
Who delights to be a demon
For the sake of sin alone;
And with fondly false embraces
Did I weave my mystic laces
Round their horror-stricken faces
Till I muffled every groan.

And I smiled to see them weeping,
For to see an insect weeping,
Sadly, sorrowfully weeping,
Fattens every spider’s mirth;
And to note a fly’s heart quaking,
And with anguish ever aching
Till you see it slowly breaking
Is the sweetest thing on earth.

I experienced a pleasure,
Such a highly-flavored pleasure,
Such intoxicating pleasure,
That I drank of it like wine;
And my mortal soul engages
That no spider on the pages
Of the history of ages
Felt a rapture more divine.

I careened around and capered –
Madly, mystically capered –
For three days and nights I capered
Round my web in wild delight;
Till with fierce ambition burning,
And an inward thirst and yearning
I hastened my returning
With a fiendish appetite.

And I found my victims dying,
“Ha!” they whispered, “we are dying!”
Faintly whispered, “we are dying,
And our earthly course is run.”
And the scene was so impressing
That I breathed a special blessing,
As I killed them with caressing
And devoured them one by one.

James Whitcomb Riley

A Good Man


A good man never dies –
In worthy deed and prayer
And helpful hands, and honest eyes,
If smiles or tears be there:
Who lives for you and me –
Lives for the world he tries
To help – he lives eternally.
A good man never dies.


Who lives to bravely take
His share of toil and stress,
And, for his weaker fellows’ sake,
Makes every burden less, –
He may, at last, seem worn –
Lie fallen – hands and eyes
Folded – yet, though we mourn and mourn,
A good man never dies.

James Whitcomb Riley

A Hobo Voluntary

Oh, the hobo’s life is a roving life;
It robs pretty maids of their heart’s delight –
It causes them to weep and it causes them to mourn
For the life of a hobo, never to return.

The hobo’s heart it is light and free,
Though it’s Sweethearts all, farewell, to thee! –
Farewell to thee, for it’s far away
The homeless hobo’s footsteps stray.

In the morning bright, or the dusk so dim,
It’s any path is the one for him!
He’ll take his chances, long or short,
For to meet his fate with a valiant heart.

Oh, it’s beauty mops out the sidetracked-car,
And it’s beauty-beaut’ at the pigs-feet bar;
But when his drinks and his eats is made
Then the hobo shunts off down the grade.

He camps near town, on the old crick-bank,
And he cuts his name on the water-tank –
He cuts his name and the hobo sign, –
“Bound for the land of corn and wine!”

(Oh, it’s I like friends that he’ps me through,
And the friends also that he’ps you, too, –
Oh, I like all friends, ‘most every kind
But I don’t like friends that don’t like mine.)

There’s friends of mine, when they gits the hunch,
Comes a swarmin’ in, the blasted bunch, –
“Clog-step Jonny” and “Flat-wheel Bill”
And “Brockey Ike” from Circleville.

With “Cooney Ward” and “Sikes the Kid”
And old “Pop Lawson” – the best we had –
The rankest mug and the worst for lush
And the dandiest of the whole blame push.

Oh, them’s the times I remembers best
When I took my chance with all the rest,
And hogged fried chicken and roastin’ ears, too,
And sucked cheroots when the feed was through.

Oh, the hobo’s way is the railroad line,
And it’s little he cares for schedule time;
Whatever town he’s a-striken for
Will wait for him till he gits there.

And whatever burg that he lands in
There’s beauties there just thick for him –
There’s beauty at “The Queen’s Taste Lunch-stand,” sure,
Or “The Last Chance Boardin’ House” back-door.

He’s lonesome-like, so he gits run in,
To git the hang o’ the world ag’in;
But the laundry circles he moves in there
Makes him sigh for the country air, –

So it’s Good-by gals! and he takes his chance
And wads hisself through the workhouse-fence:
He sheds the town and the railroad, too,
And strikes mud roads for a change of view.

The jay drives by on his way to town,
And looks on the hobo in high scorn,
And so likewise does the farmhands stare –
But what the haids does the hobo care!

He hits the pike, in the summer’s heat
Or the winter’s cold, with its snow and sleet –
With a boot on one foot, and one shoe –
Or he goes barefoot, if he chooses to.

But he likes the best, when the days is warm,
With his bum Prince-Albert on his arm –
He likes to size up a farmhouse where
They haint no man nor bulldog there.

Oh, he gits his meals wherever he can,
So natchurly he’s a handy man –
He’s a handy man both day and night,
And he’s always blest with an appetite!

A tin o’ black coffee, and a rhuburb pie –
Be they old and cold as charity –
They’re hot-stuff enough for the pore hobo,
And it’s “Thanks, kind lady, for to treat me so!”

Then he fills his pipe with a stub cigar
And swipes a coal from the kitchen fire,
And the hired girl says, in a smilin’ tone, –
“It’s good-by, John, if you call that goin’!”

Oh, the hobo’s life is a roving life,
It robs pretty maids of their heart’s delight –
It causes them to weep and it causes them to mourn
For the life of a hobo, never to return.

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 school-girl 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!

James Whitcomb Riley

A Dream Of Autumn.

Mellow hazes, lowly trailing
Over wood and meadow, veiling
Somber skies, with wildfowl sailing
Sailor-like to foreign lands;
And the north-wind overleaping
Summer’s brink, and floodlike sweeping
Wrecks of roses where the weeping
Willows wring their helpless hands.

Flared, like Titan torches flinging
Flakes of flame and embers, springing
From the vale the trees stand swinging
In the moaning atmosphere;
While in dead’ning-lands the lowing
Of the cattle, sadder growing,
Fills the sense to overflowing
With the sorrow of the year.

Sorrowfully, yet the sweeter
Sings the brook in rippled meter
Under boughs that lithely teeter
Lorn birds, answering from the shores
Through the viny, shady-shiny
Interspaces, shot with tiny
Flying motes that fleck the winy
Wave-engraven sycamores.

Fields of ragged stubble, wrangled
With rank weeds, and shocks of tangled
Corn, with crests like rent plumes dangled
Over Harvest’s battle-piain;
And the sudden whir and whistle
Of the quail that, like a missile,
Whizzes over thorn and thistle,
And, a missile, drops again.

Muffled voices, hid in thickets
Where the redbird stops to stick its
Ruddy beak betwixt the pickets
Of the truant’s rustic trap;
And the sound of laughter ringing
Where, within the wild-vine swinging,
Climb Bacchante’s schoolmates, flinging
Purple clusters in her lap.

Rich as wine, the sunset flashes
Round the tilted world, and dashes
Up the sloping west and splashes
Red foam over sky and sea –
Till my dream of Autumn, paling
In the splendor all-prevailing,
Like a sallow leaf goes sailing
Down the silence solemnly.

James Whitcomb Riley

A Christmas Memory

By James Whitcomb Riley
Pa he bringed me here to stay
‘Til my Ma she’s well. – An’ nen
He’s go’ hitch up, Chris’mus-day,
An’ come take me back again
Wher’ my Ma’s at! Won’t I be
Tickled when he comes fer me!

My Ma an’ my A’nty they
‘Uz each-uvver’s sisters. Pa –
A’nty telled me, th’ other day, –
He comed here an’ married Ma….
A’nty said nen, “Go run play,
I must work now!” … An’ I saw,
When she turn’ her face away,
She ‘uz cryin’. – An’ nen I
‘Tend-like I “run play” – an’ cry.

This-here house o’ A’nty’s wher’
They ‘uz borned – my Ma an’ her! –
An’ her Ma ‘uz my Ma’s Ma,
An’ her Pa ‘uz my Ma’s Pa –

Ain’t that funny? – An’ they’re dead:
An’ this-here’s “th’ ole Homestead.” –
An’ my A’nty said, an’ cried,
It’s mine, too, ef my Ma died –
Don’t know what she mean – ’cause my
Ma she’s nuvver go’ to die!

When Pa bringed me here ‘t ‘uz night –
‘Way dark night! An’ A’nty spread
Me a piece – an’ light the light
An’ say I must go to bed. –
I cry not to – -but Pa said,
“Be good boy now, like you telled
Mommy ‘at you’re go’ to be!”
An’, when he ‘uz kissin’ me
My good night, his cheeks’ all wet
An’ taste salty. – An’ he held
Wite close to me an’ rocked some
An’ langhed-like – ’til A’nty come
Git me while he’s rockin’ yet.

A’nty he’p me, ’til I be
Purt’-nigh strip-pud – nen hug me
In bofe arms an’ lif’ me ‘way
Up in her high bed – an’ pray
Wiv me, – ’bout my Ma – an’ Pa –
An’ ole Santy Claus – an’ Sleigh –
An’ Reindeers an’ little Drum –
Yes, an’ Picture-books, “Tom Thumb,”
An’ “Three Bears,” an’ ole “Fee-Faw” –

Yes, an’ “Tweedle-Dee” an’ “Dum,”
An’ “White Knight” an’ “Squidjicum,”
An’ most things you ever saw! –
An’ when A’nty kissed me, she
‘Uz all cryin’ over me!

Don’t want Santy Claus – ner things
Any kind he ever brings! –
Don’t want A’nty! – Don’t want Pa! –
I ist only want my Ma!

James Whitcomb Riley

A Country Pathway.

I come upon it suddenly, alone –
A little pathway winding in the weeds
That fringe the roadside; and with dreams my own,
I wander as it leads.

Full wistfully along the slender way,
Through summer tan of freckled shade and shine,
I take the path that leads me as it may –
Its every choice is mine.

A chipmunk, or a sudden-whirring quail,
Is startled by my step as on I fare –
A garter-snake across the dusty trail
Glances and – is not there.

Above the arching jimson-weeds flare twos
And twos of sallow-yellow butterflies,
Like blooms of lorn primroses blowing loose
When autumn winds arise.

The trail dips – dwindles – broadens then, and lifts
Itself astride a cross-road dubiously,
And, from the fennel marge beyond it, drifts
Still onward, beckoning me.

And though it needs must lure me mile on mile
Out of the public highway, still I go,
My thoughts, far in advance in Indian-file,
Allure me even so.

Why, I am as a long-lost boy that went
At dusk to bring the cattle to the bars,
And was not found again, though Heaven lent
His mother ail the stars

With which to seek him through that awful night.
O years of nights as vain! – Stars never rise
But well might miss their glitter in the light
Of tears in mother-eyes!

So – on, with quickened breaths, I follow still –
My avant-courier must be obeyed!
Thus am I led, and thus the path, at will,
Invites me to invade

A meadow’s precincts, where my daring guide
Clambers the steps of an old-fashioned stile,
And stumbles down again, the other side,
To gambol there awhile

In pranks of hide-and-seek, as on ahead
I see it running, while the clover-stalks
Shake rosy fists at me, as though they said –
“You dog our country-walks

And mutilate us with your walking-stick! –
We will not suffer tamely what you do
And warn you at your peril, – for we’ll sic
Our bumble-bees on you!”

But I smile back, in airy nonchalance, –
The more determined on my wayward quest,
As some bright memory a moment dawns
A morning in my breast –

Sending a thrill that hurries me along
In faulty similes of childish skips,
Enthused with lithe contortions of a song
Performing on my lips.

In wild meanderings o’er pasture wealth –
Erratic wanderings through dead’ning-lands,
Where sly old brambles, plucking me by stealth,
Put berries in my hands:

Or, the path climbs a boulder – wades a slough –
Or, rollicking through buttercups and flags,
Goes gaily dancing o’er a deep bayou
On old tree-trunks and snags:

Or, at the creek, leads o’er a limpid pool
Upon a bridge the stream itself has made,
With some Spring-freshet for the mighty tool
That its foundation laid.

I pause a moment here to bend and muse,
With dreamy eyes, on my reflection, where
A boat-backed bug drifts on a helpless cruise,
Or wildly oars the air,

As, dimly seen, the pirate of the brook –
The pike, whose jaunty hulk denotes his speed –
Swings pivoting about, with wary look
Of low and cunning greed.

Till, filled with other thought, I turn again
To where the pathway enters in a realm
Of lordly woodland, under sovereign reign
Of towering oak and elm.

A puritanic quiet here reviles
The almost whispered warble from the hedge,
And takes a locust’s rasping voice and files
The silence to an edge.

In such a solitude my somber way
Strays like a misanthrope within a gloom
Of his own shadows – till the perfect day
Bursts into sudden bloom,

And crowns a long, declining stretch of space,
Where King Corn’s armies lie with flags unfurled,
And where the valley’s dint in Nature’s face
Dimples a smiling world.

And lo! through mists that may not be dispelled,
I see an old farm homestead, as in dreams,
Where, like a gem in costly setting held,
The old log cabin gleams.

* * * * *

O darling Pathway! lead me bravely on
Adown your valley way, and run before
Among the roses crowding up the lawn
And thronging at the door, –

And carry up the echo there that shall
Arouse the drowsy dog, that he may bay
The household out to greet the prodigal
That wanders home to-day.

James Whitcomb Riley

A Child-World

The Child-World – long and long since lost to view –
A Fairy Paradise! –
How always fair it was and fresh and new –
How every affluent hour heaped heart and eyes
With treasures of surprise!

Enchantments tangible: The under-brink
Of dawns that launched the sight
Up seas of gold: The dewdrop on the pink,
With all the green earth in it and blue height
Of heavens infinite:

The liquid, dripping songs of orchard-birds –
The wee bass of the bees, –
With lucent deeps of silence afterwards;
The gay, clandestine whisperings of the breeze
And glad leaves of the trees.

* * * * *

O Child-World: After this world – just as when
I found you first sufficed
My soulmost need – if I found you again,
With all my childish dream so realised,
I should not be surprised.

James Whitcomb Riley

A Fantasy

A fantasy that came to me
As wild and wantonly designed
As ever any dream might be
Unraveled from a madman’s mind, –
A tangle-work of tissue, wrought
By cunning of the spider-brain,
And woven, in an hour of pain,
To trap the giddy flies of thought.

I stood beneath a summer moon
All swollen to uncanny girth,
And hanging, like the sun at noon,
Above the center of the earth;
But with a sad and sallow light,
As it had sickened of the night
And fallen in a pallid swoon.
Around me I could hear the rush
Of sullen winds, and feel the whir
Of unseen wings apast me brush
Like phantoms round a sepulcher;
And, like a carpeting of plush,0
A lawn unrolled beneath my feet,
Bespangled o’er with flowers as sweet
To look upon as those that nod
Within the garden-fields of God,
But odorless as those that blow
In ashes in the shades below.

And on my hearing fell a storm
Of gusty music, sadder yet
Than every whimper of regret
That sobbing utterance could form,
And patched with scraps of sound that seemed
Torn out of tunes that demons dreamed,
And pitched to such a piercing key,
It stabbed the ear with agony;
And when at last it lulled and died,
I stood aghast and terrified.
I shuddered and I shut my eyes,
And still could see, and feel aware
Some mystic presence waited there;
And staring, with a dazed surprise,
I saw a creature so divine
That never subtle thought of mine
May reproduce to inner sight
So fair a vision of delight.
A syllable of dew that drips
From out a lily’s laughing lips
Could not be sweeter than the word
I listened to, yet never heard. –
For, oh, the woman hiding there
Within the shadows of her hair,
Spake to me in an undertone
So delicate, my soul alone
But understood it as a moan
Of some weak melody of wind
A heavenward breeze had left behind.

A tracery of trees, grotesque
Against the sky, behind her seen,
Like shapeless shapes of arabesque
Wrought in an Oriental screen;
And tall, austere and statuesque
She loomed before it – e’en as though
The spirit-hand of Angelo
Had chiseled her to life complete,
With chips of moonshine round her feet.
And I grew jealous of the dusk,
To see it softly touch her face,
As lover-like, with fond embrace,
It folded round her like a husk:
But when the glitter of her hand,
Like wasted glory, beckoned me,
My eyes grew blurred and dull and dim –
My vision failed – I could not see –
I could not stir – I could but stand,
Till, quivering in every limb,
I flung me prone, as though to swim
The tide of grass whose waves of green
Went rolling ocean-wide between
My helpless shipwrecked heart and her
Who claimed me for a worshiper.

And writhing thus in my despair,
I heard a weird, unearthly sound,
That seemed to lift me from the ground
And hold me floating in the air.
I looked, and lo! I saw her bow
Above a harp within her hands;
A crown of blossoms bound her brow,
And on her harp were twisted strands
Of silken starlight, rippling o’er
With music never heard before
By mortal ears; and, at the strain,
I felt my Spirit snap its chain
And break away, – and I could see
It as it turned and fled from me
To greet its mistress, where she smiled
To see the phantom dancing wild
And wizard-like before the spell
Her mystic fingers knew so well.

James Whitcomb Riley

A Worn-Out Pencil.

Here I lay
You at rest – all worn away,
O my pencil, to the tip
Of our old companionship!

Sighs to see
What you are, and used to be,
Looking backward to the time
When you wrote your earliest rhyme! –

When I sat
Filing at
Your first point, and dreaming that
Your initial song should be
Worthy of posterity.

With regret
I forget
If the song be living yet,
Yet remember, vaguely now,
It was honest, anyhow.

You have brought
Me a thought –
Truer yet was never taught, –
That the silent song is best,
And the unsung worthiest.

So if I,
When I die,
May as uncomplainingly
Drop aside as now you do,
Write of me, as I of you: –

Here lies one
Who begun
Life a-singing, heard of none;
And he died, satisfied,
With his dead songs by his side.

James Whitcomb Riley

At Sea

O we go down to sea in ships –
But Hope remains behind,
And Love, with laughter on his lips,
And Peace, of passive mind;
While out across the deeps of night,
With lifted sails of prayer,
We voyage off in quest of light,
Nor find it anywhere.

O Thou who wroughtest earth and sea,
Yet keepest from our eyes
The shores of an eternity
In calms of Paradise,
Blow back upon our foolish quest
With all the driving rain
Of blinding tears and wild unrest,
And waft us home again.

James Whitcomb Riley

When Evening Shadows Fall

When evening shadows fall,
She hangs her cares away
Like empty garments on the wall
That hides her from the day;
And while old memories throng,
And vanished voices call,
She lifts her grateful heart in song
When evening shadows fall.

Her weary hands forget
The burdens of the day.
The weight of sorrow and regret
In music rolls away;
And from the day’s dull tomb,
That holds her in its thrall,
Her soul springs up in lily bloom
When evening shadows fall.

O weary heart and hand,
Go bravely to the strife –
No victory is half so grand
As that which conquers life!
One day shall yet be thine –
The day that waits for all
Whose prayerful eyes are things divine
When evening shadows fall.

James Whitcomb Riley

Wait For The Morning.

Wait for the morning: – It will come, indeed,
As surely as the night hath given need.
The yearning eyes, at last, will strain their sight
No more unanswered by the morning light;
No longer will they vainly strive, through tears,
To pierce the darkness of thy doubts and fears,
But, bathed in balmy dews and rays of dawn,
Will smile with rapture o’er the darkness drawn.

Wait for the morning, O thou smitten child,
Scorned, scourged and persecuted and reviled –
Athirst and famishing, none pitying thee,
Crowned with the twisted thorns of agony –
No faintest gleam of sunlight through the dense
Infinity of gloom to lead thee thence –
Wait for the morning: – It will come, indeed,
As surely as the night hath given need.

James Whitcomb Riley


A day of torpor in the sullen heat
Of Summer’s passion: In the sluggish stream
The panting cattle lave their lazy feet,
With drowsy eyes, and dream.

Long since the winds have died, and in the sky
There lives no cloud to hint of Nature’s grief;
The sun glares ever like an evil eye,
And withers flower and leaf.

Upon the gleaming harvest-field remote
The thresher lies deserted, like some old
Dismantled galleon that hangs afloat
Upon a sea of gold.

The yearning cry of some bewildered bird
Above an empty nest, and truant boys
Along the river’s shady margin heard –
A harmony of noise –

A melody of wrangling voices blent
With liquid laughter, and with rippling calls
Of piping lips and trilling echoes sent
To mimic waterfalls.

And through the hazy veil the atmosphere
Has draped about the gleaming face of Day,
The sifted glances of the sun appear
In splinterings of spray.

The dusty highway, like a cloud of dawn,
Trails o’er the hillside, and the passer-by,
A tired ghost in misty shroud, toils on
His journey to the sky.

And down across the valley’s drooping sweep,
Withdrawn to farthest limit of the glade,
The forest stands in silence, drinking deep
Its purple wine of shade.

The gossamer floats up on phantom wing;
The sailor-vision voyages the skies
And carries into chaos everything
That freights the weary eyes:

Till, throbbing on and on, the pulse of heat
Increases – reaches – passes fever’s height,
And Day sinks into slumber, cool and sweet,
Within the arms of Night.

James Whitcomb Riley

Wow! His poems are really excellent. That’s why he was known as the “Hoosier Poet” and “Children’s Poet” Overall, each of his poems is astounding!

At Sea is my favorite poem in this collection. I always feel the calmness and peace of the sea whenever I read this poem.

What about you? What’s your most favorite poem of James Whitcomb Riley?

Is your favorite poem included in this list? Let me know in the comment section below! 😉


4 thoughts on “Top 20 Most Popular Poems of James Whitcomb Riley

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