Monday, August 27, 2007

James Whitcomb Riley and Me

The first poet I ever read extensively

When I was growing up, we lived over 30 miles from town. I didn't go to the library nearly as often as I wished, so I read every book in the house that was interesting at all. I didn't read the entire set of encyclopedias, but I did look at the pictures and read their captions.

Some of the books in our house were odd ones for a child to read. For example, my mother had two volumes of poetry by James Whitcomb Riley: Green Fields and Running Brooks and Afterwhiles. I read some of the poems in those books many times.

James Whitcomb Riley in 1913
James Whitcomb Riley, 1913
James Whitcomb Riley often wrote in dialect. It was like reading a foreign language, but I understood his poems quite well enough to develop favorites. I liked them for their stories. If there were any hidden, deeper meanings, I didn't notice.

One of my favorites was "The Raggedy Man" which reminded me a little of Grandma's cousin, Pete, who came to work for us every summer. Another one I liked was "Farmer Whipple. -- Bachelor," because romances and weddings were some of my favorite things.

"How John Quit the Farm" and "Uncle Jake's Place, St. Jo, Mo., 1874" were prodigal son stories with happy endings. (If you want to read these, you can find them in the full books, linked above.)

Another of my favorites was "Little Orphant Annie." That poem was in one of our reading textbooks at school, with an illustration of children sitting around a fireplace. I remembered the picture everytime I read the poem at home. Also, I thought of Little Orphant Annie having wild red hair and strange eyes, like Little Orphan Annie in the newspaper comics.

I have the copy of Green Fields and Running Brooks that I read as a child. I don't know what ever became of its companion volume, Afterwhiles. However, I can read its poems online whenever I have the urge. The internet, the wonderful internet, makes that possible.

Related post: Life Pictures by William B. Dyer

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Mourningdove's Serendipity said...

Thanks to you, I just bought the 1895 edition of Green Fields and Running Brooks on eBay! I can't wait to get it...

Genevieve said...

I hope you enjoy it. I'm sure many professional poetry readers would say that he was a sentimentalist, but if he was, so what?! He recorded, in poetry, what he had learned of life in his time and place.

I bought a 1905 volume titled Riley Love-Lyrics (first published in 1883) at an estate sale recently. I didn't really buy it for the poems. I bought it for its illustrations: "With Life Pictures by William B. Dyer." Most of the "life pictures" are impressionistic photos of Victorian people in soft focus. I'll scan and post some of them one of these days.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.