James Whitcomb Riley

(7 October 1849 - 22 July 1916 / Greenfield, Indiana)

Mr. What's-His-Name - Poem by James Whitcomb Riley

They called him Mr. What's-his-name:
From where he was, or why he came,
Or when, or what he found to do,
Nobody in the city knew.

He lived, it seemed, shut up alone
In a low hovel of his own;
There cooked his meals and made his bed,
Careless of all his neighbors said.

His neighbors, too, said many things
Expressive of grave wonderings,
Since none of them had ever been
Within his doors, or peered therein.

In fact, grown watchful, they became
Assured that Mr. What's-his-name
Was up to something wrong--indeed,
Small doubt of it, we all agreed.

At night were heard strange noises there,
When honest people everywhere
Had long retired; and his light
Was often seen to burn all night.

He left his house but seldom--then
Would always hurry back again,
As though he feared some stranger's knock,
Finding him gone, might burst the lock.

Beside, he carried, every day,
At the one hour he went away,
A basket, with the contents hid
Beneath its woven willow lid.

And so we grew to greatly blame
This wary Mr. What's-his-name,
And look on him with such distrust
His actions seemed to sanction just.

But when he died--he died one day--
Dropped in the street while on his way
To that old wretched hut of his--
You'll think it strange--perhaps it is--

But when we lifted him, and past
The threshold of his home at last,
No man of all the crowd but stepped
With reverence,--Aye, _quailed_ and _wept_!

What was it? Just a shriek of pain
I pray to never hear again--
A withered woman, old and bowed,
That fell and crawled and cried aloud--

And kissed the dead man's matted hair--
Lifted his face and kissed him there--
Called to him, as she clutched his hand,
In words no one could understand.

Insane? Yes.--Well, we, searching, found
An unsigned letter, in a round
Free hand, within the dead man's breast:
'Look to my mother--_I'm_ at rest.

You'll find my money safely hid
Under the lining of the lid
Of my work-basket. It is hers,
And God will bless her ministers!'

And some day--though he died unknown--
If through the City by the Throne
I walk, all cleansed of earthly shame,
I'll ask for Mr. What's-his-name.

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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 9, 2010

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