James Whitcomb Riley

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

Natural Perversities - Poem by James Whitcomb Riley

I am not prone to moralize
In scientific doubt
On certain facts that Nature tries
To puzzle us about,--
For I am no philosopher
Of wise elucidation,
But speak of things as they occur,
From simple observation.

I notice LITTLE things--to wit:--
I never missed a train
Because I didn't RUN for it;
I never knew it rain
That my umbrella wasn't lent,--
Or, when in my possession,
The sun but wore, to all intent,
A jocular expression.

I never knew a creditor
To dun me for a debt
But I was 'cramped' or 'bu'sted'; or
I never knew one yet,
When I had plenty in my purse,
To make the least invasion,--
As I, accordingly perverse,
Have courted no occasion.

Nor do I claim to comprehend
What Nature has in view
In giving us the very friend
To trust we oughtn't to.--
But so it is: The trusty gun
Disastrously exploded
Is always sure to be the one
We didn't think was loaded.

Our moaning is another's mirth,--
And what is worse by half,
We say the funniest thing on earth
And never raise a laugh:
'Mid friends that love us over well,
And sparkling jests and liquor,
Our hearts somehow are liable
To melt in tears the quicker.

We reach the wrong when most we seek
The right; in like effect,
We stay the strong and not the weak--
Do most when we neglect.--
Neglected genius--truth be said--
As wild and quick as tinder,
The more you seek to help ahead
The more you seem to hinder.

I've known the least the greatest, too--
And, on the selfsame plan,
The biggest fool I ever knew
Was quite a little man:
We find we ought, and then we won't--
We prove a thing, then doubt it,--
Know EVERYTHING but when we don't
Know ANYTHING about it.

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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 9, 2010

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