Classic and Contemporary Poetry
THE OLD HOME-FOLKS, by JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY Poet's Biography
First Line: Such was the child-world of the long-ago
Last Line: "of like views with ""the noted traveler."
Alternate Author Name(s): Johnson Of Boone, Benj. F.
Subject(s): Children; Home; Youth; Childhood
SUCH was the Child-World of the long ago --
The little world these children used to know: --
Johnty, the oldest, and the best, perhaps,
Of the five happy little Hoosier chaps
Inhabiting this wee world all their own. --
Johnty, the leader, with his native tone
Of grave command -- a general on parade
Whose each punctilious order was obeyed
By his proud followers.
But Johnty yet --
After all serious duties -- could forget
The gravity of life to the extent,
At times, of kindling much astonishment
About him: With a quick, observant eye,
And mind and memory, he could supply
The tamest incident with liveliest mirth;
And at the most unlooked-for times on earth
Was wont to break into some travesty
On those around him -- feats of mimicry
Of this one's trick of gesture -- that
one's walk --
Or this one's laugh -- or that one's funny talk, --
The way "the watermelon-man" would try
His humor on town-folks that wouldn't buy; --
How he drove into town at morning -- then
At dusk (alas!) how he drove out again.
Though these divertisements of Johnty's were
Hailed with a hearty glee and relish, there
Appeared a sense, on his part, of regret --
A spirit of remorse that would not let
Him rest for days thereafter. -- Such times he,
As some boy said, "jist got too overly
Blame' good fer common boys like us, you know
To 'sociate with -- 'less'n we 'ud go
And jine his church!"
Next after Johnty came
His little towhead brother, Bud by name. --
And O how white his hair was -- and how thick
His face with freckles, -- and his ears, how quick
And curious and intrusive! -- And how pale
The blue of his big eyes; -- and how a tale
Of Giants, Trolls or Fairies, bulged them still
Bigger and bigger! -- And when "Jack" would kill
The old "Four-headed Giant," Bud's big eyes
Were swollen truly into giant-size.
And Bud was apt in make-believes -- would hear
His Grandma talk or read, with such an ear
And memory of both subject and big words,
That he would take the book up afterwards
And feign to "read aloud," with such success
As caused his truthful elders real distress.
But he must have big words -- they seemed to give
Extremer range to the superlative --
That was his passion. "My Gran'ma," he said,
One evening, after listening as she read
Some heavy old historical review --
With copious explanations thereunto
Drawn out by his inquiring turn of mind, --
"My Gran'ma she's read all books -- ever' kind
They is, 'at tells all 'bout the land an' sea
An' Nations of the Earth! -- An' she is the
Historicul-est woman ever wuz!"
(Forgive the verse's chuckling as it does
In its erratic current. -- Oftentimes
The little willowy water-brook of rhymes
Must falter in its music, listening to
The children laughing as they used to do.)
Who shall sing a simple ditty all about the Willow,
Dainty-fine and delicate as any bending spray
That dandles high the happy 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; --
Ay, 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 limpid kisses lave your leaves above,
Flashing back your sylvan beauty, and in shady places
Peering up with glimmering pebbles, like the eyes of love.
Next, Maymie, with her hazy cloud of hair,
And the blue skies of eyes beneath it there.
Her dignified and "little lady" airs
Of never either romping up the stairs
Or falling down them; thoughtful every way
Of others first -- The kind of child at play
That "gave up," for the rest, the ripest pear
Or peach or apple in the garden there
Beneath the trees where swooped the airy swing --
She pushing it, too glad for anything!
Or, in the character of hostess, she
Would entertain her friends delight-fully
In her playhouse, -- with strips of carpet laid
Along the garden-fence within the shade
Of the old apple trees -- where from next yard
Came the two dearest friends in her regard,
The little Crawford girls, Ella and Lu --
As shy and lovely as the lilies grew
In their idyllic home, -- yet sometimes they
Admitted Bud and Alex to their play,
Who did their heavier work and helped them fix
To have a "Festibul" -- and brought the bricks
And built the "stove," with a real fire and all,
And stovepipe-joint for chimney, looming tall
And wonderfully smoky -- even to
Their childish aspirations, as it blew
And swooped and swirled about them till their sight
Was feverish even as their high delight.
Then Alex, with his freckles, and his freaks
Of temper, and the peach-bloom of his cheeks,
And "amber-colored hair" -- his mother said
'Twas that, when others laughed and called it "red"
And Alex threw things at them -- till they'd call
A truce, agreeing "'t'uzn't red ut-tall!"
But Alex was affectionate beyond
The average child, and was extremely fond
Of the paternal relatives of his,
Of whom he once made estimate like this: --
"I'm only got two brothers, -- but my
He's got most brothers'n you ever saw! --
He's got seben brothers! -- Yes, an' they're all my
Seben Uncles! -- Uncle John, an' Jim,
-- an' I
Got Uncle George, an' Uncle Andy. too,
An' Uncle Frank, an' Uncle Joe. -- An' you
Know Uncle Mart. -- An', all but him, they're great
Big mens! -- An' nen's Aunt Sarah -- she makes eight! --
I'm got eight uncles! -- 'cept Aunt Sarah
Be ist my uncle 'cause she's ist my
Then, next to Alex -- and the last indeed
Of these five little ones of whom you read --
Was baby Lizzie, with her velvet lisp, --
As though her elfin lips had caught some wisp
Of floss between them as they strove with speech,
Which ever seemed just in, yet out of, reach --
Though what her lips missed, her dark eyes could say
With looks that made her meaning clear as day.
And, knowing now the children, you must know
The father and the mother they loved so: --
The father was a swarthy man, black-eyed,
Black-haired, and high of forehead; and, beside
The slender little mother, seemed in truth
A very king of men -- since, from his youth,
To his hale manhood now -- (worthy as then, --
A lawyer and a leading citizen
Of the proud little town and county-seat --
His hopes his neighbors', and their fealty sweet) --
He had known outdoor labor -- rain and shine --
Bleak Winter, and bland Summer -- foul and fine.
So Nature had ennobled him and set
Her symbol on him like a coronet:
His lifted brow, and frank, reliant face --
Superior of stature as of grace, --
Even the children by the spell were wrought
Up to heroics of their simple thought,
And saw him, trim of build, and lithe and straight
And tall, almost, as at the pasture-gate
The towering ironweed the scythe had spared
For their sakes, when The Hired Man declared
It would grow on till it became a tree,
With cocoanuts and monkeys in -- maybe!
Yet, though the children, in their pride and awe
And admiration of the father, saw
A being so exalted -- even more
Like adoration was the love they bore
The gentle mother. -- Her mild, plaintive face
Was purely fair, and haloed with a grace
And sweetness luminous when joy made glad
Her features with a smile; or saintly sad
As twilight, fell the sympathetic gloom
Of any childish grief, or as a room
Were darkened suddenly, the curtain drawn
Across the window and the sunshine gone.
Her brow, below her fair hair's glimmering strands,
Seemed meetest resting-place for blessing hands
Or holiest touches of soft finger-tips
And little rose-leaf cheeks and dewy lips.
Though heavy household tasks were pitiless,
No little waist or coat or checkered dress
But knew her needle's deftness; and no skill
Matched hers in shaping plait or flounce or frill;
Or fashioning, in complicate design,
All rich embroideries of leaf and vine,
With tiniest twining tendril, -- bud and bloom
And fruit, so like, one's fancy caught perfume
And dainty touch and taste of them, to see
Their semblance wrought in such rare verity.
Shrined in her sanctity of home and love,
And love's fond service and reward thereof,
Restore her thus, O blessed Memory! --
Throned in her rocking-chair, and on her knee
Her sewing -- her work-basket on the floor
Beside her, -- Spring-time through the open door
Balmily stealing in and all about
The room; the bees' dim hum, and the far shout
And laughter of the children at their play
And neighbor children from across the way
Calling in gleeful challenge -- save alone
One boy whose voice sends back no answering tone --
The boy, prone on the floor, above a book
Of pictures, with a rapt, ecstatic look --
Even as the mother's, by the selfsame spell,
Is lifted, with a light ineffable --
As though her senses caught no mortal cry,
But heard, instead, some poem going by.
The Child-heart is so strange a little thing --
So mild -- so timorously shy and small, --
When grown-up hearts throb, it goes scampering
Behind the wall, nor dares peer out at all! --
It is the veriest mouse
That hides in any house --
So wild a little thing is any Child-heart!
Child-heart! -- mild heart! --
Ho, my little wild heart! --
Come up here to me out o' the dark, Or let me come to you!
So lorn at times the Child-heart needs must be
With never one maturer heart for friend
And comrade, whose tear-ripened sympathy
And love might lend it comfort to the end, --
Whose yearnings, aches and stings,
Over poor little things
Were pitiful as ever any Child-heart.
Child-heart! -- mild heart! --
Ho, my little wild heart! --
Come up here to me out o' the dark, Or let me come to you!
Times, too, the little Child-heart must be glad --
Being so young, nor knowing, as we know,
The fact from fantasy, the good from bad,
The joy from woe, the -- all that hurts us so!
What wonder then that thus
It hides away from us? --
So weak a little thing is any Child-heart!
Child-heart! -- mild heart! --
Ho, my little wild heart! --
Come up here to me out o' the dark,
Or let me come to you!
Nay, little Child-heart, you have never need
To fear us; -- we are weaker far than you --
'Tis we who should be fearful -- we indeed
Should hide us, too, as darkly as you do, --
Safe, as yourself, withdrawn,
Hearing the World roar on
Too wilful, woeful, awful for the Child-heart!
Child-heart! -- mild heart! --
Ho, my little wild heart! --
Come up here to me out o' the dark,
Or let me come to you!
The clock chats on confidingly; a rose
Taps at the window, as the sunlight throws
A brilliant, jostling checkerwork of shine
And shadow, like a Persian-loom design,
Across the home-made carpet -- fades, -- and then
The dear old colors are themselves again.
Sounds drop in visiting from everywhere --
The bluebird's and the robin's trill are there,
Their sweet liquidity diluted some
By dewy orchard-spaces they have come:
Sounds of the town, too, and the great highway --
The Mover-wagons' rumble, and the neigh
Of over-traveled horses, and the bleat
Of sheep and low of cattle through the street --
A Nation's thoroughfare of hopes and fears,
First blazed by the heroic pioneers
Who gave up old-home idols and set face
Toward the unbroken West, to found a race
And tame a wilderness now mightier than
All peoples and all tracts American.
Blent with all outer sounds, the sounds within: --
In mild remoteness falls the household din
Of porch and kitchen: the dull jar and thump
Of churning; and the "glung-glung" of the pump,
With sudden pad and skurry of bare feet
Of little outlaws, in from field or street:
The clang of kettle, -- rasp of damperring
And bang of cook-stove door -- and everything
That jingles in a busy kitchen lifts
Its individual wrangling voice and drifts
In sweetest tinny, coppery, pewtery tone
Of music hungry ear has ever known
In wildest famished yearning and conceit
Of youth, to just cut loose and eat and eat! --
The zest of hunger still incited on
To childish desperation by long-drawn
Breaths of hot, steaming, wholesome things that stew
And blubber, and uptilt the pot-lids, too,
Filling the sense with zestful rumors of
The dear old-fashioned dinners children love:
Redolent savorings of home-cured meats,
Potatoes, beans and cabbage; turnips, beets
And parsnips -- rarest composite entire
That ever pushed a mortal child's desire
To madness by new-grated fresh, keen, sharp
Horseradish -- tang that sets the lips awarp
And watery, anticipating all
The cloyed sweets of the glorious festival. --
Still add the cinnamony, spicy scents
Of clove, nutmeg, and myriad condiments
In like-alluring whiffs that prophesy
Of sweltering pudding, cake, and custard-pie --
The swooning-sweet aroma haunting all
The house -- up-stairs and down -- porch, parlor, hall
And sitting-room -- invading even where
The Hired Man sniffs it in the orchard-air,
And pauses in his pruning of the trees
To note the sun minutely and to -- sneeze.
Then Cousin Rufus comes -- the children hear
His hale voice in the old hall, ringing clear
As any bell. Always he came with song
Upon his lips and all the happy throng
Of echoes following him, even as the crowd
Of his admiring little kinsmen -- proud
To have a cousin grown -- and yet as young
Of soul and cheery as the songs he sung.
He was a student of the law -- intent
Soundly to win success, with all it meant;
And so he studied -- even as he played, --
With all his heart: And so it was he made
His gallant fight for fortune -- through all stress
Of battle bearing him with cheeriness
And wholesome valor.
And the children had
Another relative who kept them glad
And joyous by his very merry ways --
As blithe and sunny as the summer days, --
Their father's youngest brother -- Uncle Mart.
The old "Arabian Nights" he knew by heart --
"Baron Munchausen," too; and likewise "The
Swiss Family Robinson." -- And when these three
Gave out, as he rehearsed them, he could go
Straight on in the same line -- a steady flow
Of arabesque invention that his good
Old mother never clearly understood.
He was to be a printer -- wanted, though,
To be an actor. -- But the world was "show"
Enough for him, -- theatric, airy, gay, --
Each day to him was jolly as a play.
And some poetic symptoms, too, in sooth,
Were certain. -- And, from his apprentice youth,
He joyed in verse-quotations -- which he took
Out of the old "Type Foundry Specimen Book."
He craved and courted most the favor of
The children. -- They were foremost in his love;
And pleasing them, he pleased his own boy-heart
And kept it young and fresh in every part.
So was it he devised for them and wrought
To life his quaintest, most romantic thought: --
Like some lone castaway in alien seas,
He built a house up in the apple trees,
Out in the corner of the garden, where
No man-devouring native, prowling there,
Might pounce upon them in the dead o' night --
For lo, their little ladder, slim and light,
They drew up after them. And it was known
That Uncle Mart slipped up sometimes alone
And drew the ladder in, to lie and moon
Over some novel all the afternoon.
And one time Johnty, from the crowd below, --
Outraged to find themselves deserted so --
Threw bodily their old black cat up in
The airy fastness, with much yowl and din
Resulting, while a wild periphery
Of cat went circling to another tree,
And, in impassioned outburst, Uncle Mart
Loomed up, and thus relieved his tragic heart:
"'Hence, long-tailed, ebon-eyed, nocturnal ranger!
What led thee hither 'mongst the types and cases?
Didst thou not know that running midnight races
O'er standing types was fraught with imminent danger?
Did hunger lead thee -- didst thou think to find
Some rich old cheese to fill thy hungry maw?
Vain hope! for none but literary jaw
Can masticate our cookery for the mind!'"
So likewise when, with lordly air and grace,
He strode to dinner, with a tragic face
With ink-spots on it from the office, he
Would aptly quote more "Specimen-poetry" --
Perchance like "'Labor's bread is sweet to eat,
(Ahem!) And toothsome is the toiler's meat.'"
Ah, could you see them all, at lull of noon! --
A sort of boisterous lull, with clink of spoon
And clatter of deflecting knife, and plate
Dropped saggingly, with its all-bounteous weight,
And dragged in place voraciously; and then
Pent exclamations, and the lull again. --
The garland of glad faces round the board --
Each member of the family restored
To his or her place, with an extra chair
Or two for the chance guests so often there. --
The father's farmer-client, brought home from
The court room, though he "didn't want to come
Tel he jist saw he hat to!" he'd explain,
Invariably, time and time again,
To the pleased wife and hostess, as she pressed
Another cup of coffee on the guest. --
Or there was Johnty's special chum, perchance,
Or Bud's, or both -- each childish countenance
Lit with a higher glow of youthful glee,
To be together thus unbrokenly, --
Jim Offutt, or Eck Skinner, or George Carr --
The very nearest chums of Bud's these are, --
So, very probably, one of the three,
At least, is there with Bud, or ought to be.
Like interchange the town-boys each had known --
His playmate's dinner better than his own --
Yet blest that he was ever made to stay
At Almon Keefer's any blessed day,
For any meal! . . . Visions of biscuits, hot
And flaky-perfect, with the golden blot
Of molten butter for the center, clear,
Through pools of clover-honey -- dear-o-dear! --
With creamy milk for its divine "farewell":
And then, if any one delectable
Might yet exceed in sweetness, O restore
The cherry-cobbler of the days of yore
Made only by Al Keefer's mother! -- Why,
The very thought of it ignites the eye
Of memory with rapture -- cloys the lip
Of longing, till it seems to ooze and drip
With veriest juice and stain and over-waste
Of that most sweet delirium of taste
That ever visited the childish tongue,
Or proved, as now, the sweetest thing unsung.
Ah, Almon Keefer! what a boy you were,
With your back-tilted hat and careless hair,
And open, honest, fresh, fair face and eyes
With their all-varying looks of pleased surprise
And joyous interest in flower and tree,
And poising humming-bird, and maundering bee.
The fields and woods he knew; the tireless tramp
With gun and dog; and the night-fisher's camp --
No other boy, save Bee Lineback, had won
Such brilliant mastery of rod and gun.
Even in his earliest childhood had he shown
These traits that marked him as his father's own.
Dogs all paid Almon honor and bowwowed
Allegiance, let him come in any crowd
Of rabbit-hunting town-boys, even though
His own dog "Sleuth" rebuked their acting so
With jealous snarls and growlings.
But the best
Of Almon's virtues -- leading all the rest --
Was his great love of books, and skill as well
In reading them aloud, and by the spell
Thereof enthralling his mute listeners, as
They grouped about him in the orchard-grass,
Hinging their bare shins in the mottled shine
And shade, as they lay prone, or stretched supine
Beneath their favorite tree, with dreamy eyes
And Argo-fancies voyaging the skies.
"Tales of the Ocean" was the name of one
Old dog's-eared book that was surpassed by none
Of all the glorious list. -- Its back was gone,
But its vitality went bravely on
In such delicious tales of land and sea
As may not ever perish utterly.
Of still more dubious caste, "Jack Sheppard" drew
Full admiration; and "Dick Turpin," too.
And, painful as the fact is to convey,
In certain lurid tales of their own day,
These boys found thieving heroes and outlaws
They hailed with equal fervor of applause:
"The League of the Miami" -- why, the name
Alone was fascinating -- is the same,
In memory, this venerable hour
Of moral wisdom shorn of all its power,
As it unblushingly reverts to when
The old barn was "the Cave," and hears again
The signal blown, outside the buggyshed --
The drowsy guard within uplifts his head,
And "'Who goes there?'" is called, in bated breath --
The challenge answered in a hush of death, --
"Sh! -- 'Barney Gray!'" And then "'What do you seek?'"
"'Stables of The League!'" the voice comes spent and weak,
For, ha! the Law is on the "Chieftain's" trail --
Tracked to his very lair! -- Well, what avail?
The "secret entrance" opens -- closes. -- So
The "Robber-Captain" thus outwits his foe;
And, safe once more within his "cavern-halls,"
He shakes his clenched fist at the warped plank-walls
And mutters his defiance through the cracks
At the balked Enemy's retreating backs
As the loud horde flees pell-mell down the lane,
And -- Almon Keefer is himself again!
Excepting few, they were not books indeed
Of deep import that Almon chose to read; --
Less fact than fiction. -- Much he favored those --
If not in poetry, in hectic prose --
That made our native Indian a wild,
Feathered and fine-preened hero that a child
Could recommend as just about the thing
To make a god of, or at least a king.
Aside from Almon's own books -- two or three --
His store of lore The Township Library
Supplied him weekly: All the books with "or's"
Subtitled -- lured him -- after "Indian Wars,"
And "Life of Daniel Boone," -- not to include
Some few books spiced with humor, -- "Robin Hood"
And rare "Don Quixote." -- And one time he took
"Dadd's Cattle Doctor." . . . How he hugged the book
And hurried homeward, with internal glee
And humorous spasms of expectancy! --
All this confession -- as he promptly made
It, the day later, writhing in the shade
Of the old apple tree with Johnty and
Bud, Noey Bixler, and The Hired Hand --
Was quite as funny as the book was not. . . .
O Wonderland of wayward Childhood! what
An easy, breezy realm of summer calm
And dreamy gleam and gloom and bloom and balm
Thou art! -- The Lotus-Land the poet sung,
It is the Child-World while the heart beats young. . . .
While the heart beats young! -- O the splendor of the spring,
With all her dewy jewels on, is not so fair a thing!
The fairest, rarest morning of the blossom-time of May
Is not so sweet a season as the season of to-day
While Youth's diviner climate folds and holds us, close caressed
As we feel our mothers with us by the touch of face and breast; --
Our bare feet in the meadows, and our fancies up among
The airy clouds of morning -- while the heart beats young.
While the heart beats young and our pulses leap and dance,
With every day a holiday and life a glad romance, --
We hear the birds with wonder, and with wonder watch their flight --
Standing still the more enchanted, both of hearing and of sight,
When they have vanished wholly, -- for, in fancy, wing-to-wing
We fly to Heaven with them; and, returning, still we sing
The praises of this lower Heaven with tireless voice and tongue,
Even as the Master sanctions -- while the heart beats young.
While the heart beats young! -- While the heart beats young!
O green and gold old Earth of ours, with azure overhung
And looped with rainbows! -- grant us yet this grassy lap of thine --
We would be still thy children, through the shower and the shine!
So pray we, lisping, whispering, in childish love and trust,
With our beseeching hands and faces lifted from the dust
By fervor of the poem, all unwritten and unsung,
Thou givest us in answer, while the heart beats young.
Another hero of those youthful years
Returns, as Noey Bixler's name appears.
And Noey -- if in any special way --
Was notably good-natured. -- Work or play
He entered into with selfsame delight --
A wholesome interest that made him quite
As many friends among the old as young, --
So everywhere were Noey's praises sung.
And he was awkward, fat and over-grown,
With a round full-moon face, that fairly shone
As though to meet the simile's demand.
And, cumbrous though he seemed, both eye and hand
Were dowered with the discernment and deft skill
Of the true artisan: He shaped at will,
In his old father's shop, on rainy days,
Little toy-wagons, and curved-runner sleighs;
The trimmest bows and arrows -- fashioned, too,
Of "seasoned timber," such as Noey knew
How to select, prepare, and then complete,
And call his little friends in from the street.
"The very best bow," Noey used to say,
"Hain't made o' ash ner hick'ry thataway! --
But you git mulberry -- the bearin'-tree,
Now mind ye! and you fetch the piece to me,
And lemme git it seasoned; then, i gum!
I'll make a bow 'at you kin brag on some!
Er -- ef you can't git mulberry, -- you bring
Me a' old locus' hitch-post, and, i jing!
I'll make a bow o' that 'at common bows
Won't dast to pick on ner turn up their nose!"
And Noey knew the woods, and all the trees
And thickets, plants and myriad mysteries
Of swamp and bottom-land. And he knew where
The ground-hog hid, and why located there. --
He knew all animals that burrowed, swam,
Or lived in tree-tops: And, by race and dam,
He knew the choicest, safest deeps wherein
Fish-traps might flourish nor provoke the sin
Of theft in some chance peeking, prying sneak,
Or town-boy, prowling up and down the creek.
All four-pawed creatures tamable -- he knew
Their outer and their inner natures too;
While they, in turn, were drawn to him as by
Some subtle recognition of a tie
Of love, as true as truth from end to end,
Between themselves and this strange human friend.
The same with birds -- he knew them every one
And he could "name them, too, without a gun."
No wonder Johnty loved him, even to
The verge of worship. -- Noey led him through
The art of trapping redbirds -- yes, and taught
Him how to keep them when he had them caught --
What food they needed, and just where to swing
The cage, if he expected them to sing.
And Bud loved Noey, for the little pair
Of stilts he made him; or the stout old hair
Trunk Noey put on wheels, and laid a track
Of scantling-railroad for it in the back
Part of the barn-lot; or the crossbow, made
Just like a gun, which deadly weapon laid
Against his shoulder as he aimed, and -- "Sping!"
He'd hear the rusty old nail zoon and sing --
And zip! your Mr. Bluejay's wing would drop
A farewell-feather from the old treetop!
And Maymie loved him, for the very small
But perfect carriage for her favorite doll --
A lady's carriage -- not a baby-cab, --
But oil-cloth top, and two seats, lined with drab
And trimmed with white lace-paper from a case
Of shaving-soap his uncle bought some place
At auction once.
And Alex loved him yet
The best, when Noey brought him, for a pet,
A little flying-squirrel, with great eyes --
Big as a child's: And, childlike otherwise,
It was at first a timid, tremulous, coy,
Retiring little thing that dodged the boy
And tried to keep in Noey's pocket; -- till,
In time responsive to his patient will,
It became wholly docile, and content
With its new master, as he came and went, --
The squirrel clinging flatly to his breast,
Or sometimes scampering its craziest
Around his body spirally, and then
Down to his very heels and up again.
And Little Lizzie loved him, as a bee
Loves a great ripe red apple -- utterly.
For Noey's ruddy morning-face she drew
The window-blind, and tapped the window, too;
Afar she hailed his coming, as she heard
His tuneless whistling -- sweet as any bird
It seemed to her, the one lame bar or so
Of old "Wait for the Wagon" -- hoarse and low
The sound was, -- so that, all about the place,
Folks joked and said that Noey "whistled
The light remark originally made
By Cousin Rufus, who knew notes, and played
The flute with nimble skill, and taste as well,
And, critical as he was musical,
Regarded Noey's constant whistling thus
Likewise when Uncle Mart, who shared the love
Of jest with Cousin Rufus hand-in-glove,
Said "Noey couldn't whistle 'Bonny Doon'
Even! and, he'd bet, couldn't carry a tune
If it had handles to it!"
-- But forgive
The deviations here so fugitive,
And turn again to Little Lizzie, whose
High estimate of Noey we shall choose
Above all others. -- And to her he was
Particularly lovable because
He laid the woodland's harvest at her feet. --
He brought her wild strawberries, honey-sweet
And dewy-cool, in mats of greenest moss
And leaves, all woven over and across
With tender, biting "tongue-grass," and "sheep-sour,"
And twin-leaved beech-mast, pranked with bud and flower
Of every gipsy-blossom of the wild,
Dark, tangled forest, dear to any child. --
All these in season. Nor could barren, drear,
White and stark-featured Winter interfere
With Noey's rare resources: Still the same
He blithely whistled through the snow and came
Beneath the window with a Fairy sled;
And Little Lizzie, bundled heels-and-head,
He took on such excursions of delight
As even "Old Santy" with his reindeer might
Have envied her! And, later, when the snow
Was softening toward Spring-time and the glow
Of steady sunshine smote upon it, -- then
Came the magician Noey yet again --
While all the children were away a day
Or two at Grandma's! -- and behold when they
Got home once more; -- there, towering taller than
The doorway -- stood a mighty, old Snow-Man!
A thing of peerless art -- a masterpiece
Doubtless unmatched by even classic Greece
In heyday of Praxiteles. -- Alone
It loomed in lordly grandeur all its own.
And steadfast, too, for weeks and weeks it stood,
The admiration of the neighborhood
As well as of the children Noey sought
Only to honor in the work he wrought.
The traveler paid it tribute, as he passed
Along the highway -- paused and, turning, cast
A lingering, last look -- as though to take
A vivid print of it, for memory's sake,
To lighten all the empty, aching miles
Beyond with brighter fancies, hopes and smiles.
The cynic put aside his biting wit
And tacitly declared in praise of it;
And even the apprentice-poet of the town
Rose to impassioned heights, and then sat down
And penned a panegyric scroll of rhyme
That made the Snow-Man famous for all time.
And though, as now, the ever warmer sun
Of summer had so melted and undone
The perishable figure that -- alas! --
Not even in dwindled white against the grass
Was left its latest and minutest ghost,
The children yet -- materially, almost --
Beheld it -- circled round it hand-in-hand --
(Or rather round the place it used to stand) --
With "Ring-a-round-a-rosy! Bottle full
O' posy!" and, with shriek and laugh, would pull
From seeming contact with it -- just as when
It was the real-est of old Snow-Men!
Even in such a scene of senseless play
The children were surprised one summer day
By a strange man who called across the fence,
Inquiring for their father's residence;
And, being answered that this was the place,
Opened the gate, and, with a radiant face,
Came in and sat down with them in the shade
And waited -- till the absent father made
His noon appearance, with a warmth and zest
That told he had no ordinary guest
In this man whose low-spoken name he knew
At once, demurring as the stranger drew
A stuffy note-book out, and turned and set
A big fat finger on a page, and let
The writing thereon testify instead
Of further speech. And as the father read
All silently, the curious children took
Exacting inventory both of book
And man: -- He wore a long-napped white fur hat
Pulled firmly on his head, and under that
Rather long silvery hair, or iron-gray --
For he was not an old man, -- anyway,
Not beyond sixty. And he wore a pair
Of square-framed spectacles -- or rather there
Were two more than a pair, -- the extra two
Flared at the corners, at the eyes' side-view,
In as redundant vision as the eyes
Of grasshoppers or bees or dragon-flies.
Later the children heard the father say
He was "A Noted Traveler," and would stay
Some days with them. -- In which time host and guest
Discussed, alone, in deepest interest,
Some vague, mysterious matter that defied
The wistful children, loitering outside
The spare-room door. There Bud acquired a quite
New list of big words -- such as "Disunite,"
And "Shibboleth," and "Aristocracy,"
And "Juggernaut," and "Squatter Sovereignty,"
And "Antislavery," "Emancipate,"
"Irrepressible Conflict," and "The Great
Battle of Armageddon" -- obviously
A pamphlet brought from Washington, D. C.,
And spread among such friends as might occur
Of like views with "The Noted Traveler."
Other Poems of Interest...