Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE LITTLE DEAD MAN, by JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY

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THE LITTLE DEAD MAN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: It was a little dead man
Last Line: And a pencil in the right.
Alternate Author Name(s): Johnson Of Boone, Benj. F.
Subject(s): Coffins; Death; Hands; Hearses; Mourning; Dead, The; Bereavement


IT was a little dead man,
At peace with all the earth;
Yet I never saw a dead man
So seeming near to mirth.

His hands were meekly hidden,
At his very last request --
The right in his hip pocket,
And the other in his vest.

His collar was thrown open,
And he wore his easy clothes --
Had his ordinary boots on,
With rosin on the toes.


And so the little dead man
Lay coffined for the tomb.
The hearse was at the doorway --
The mourners in the room --

When suddenly a stranger,
Who had called the day before
With a book beneath his elbow,
Entered softly at the door,

And stood before the mourners
In his bold and brazen might,
A note-book in the left hand
And a pencil in the right.

And he turned him to the mourners
With a business air, and said:
"I must really beg your pardon,
But the gentleman that's dead

"Was kind enough to tell me,
If I'd call around to-day
He'd be prepared to listen
To all I had to say.

"And in view of that engagement,
I would gently intimate
(As it may pitch the funeral
Some dozen hours late,)

"That you have my indulgence,"
And with eyelids downward thrown,
They left the little dead man
And the agent all alone.

As only stars may lighten
Up the grandeur of the plains,
And the mountains where the midnight
In her mystic beauty reigns,

So the stars must shed their glory
O'er imagination's vales,
And illuminate the story
Where the poet's pencil fails.

. . . . . . .

But there was a little dead man --
Ah! so very dead indeed,
They fastened down his coffin lid
With most judicious speed.

And they whose latest office
Was to shroud his form from sight,
Saw a note-book in the left hand,
And a pencil in the right.

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