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James Whitcomb Riley

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

The Child-World


A Child-World, yet a wondrous world no less,
To those who knew its boundless happiness.
A simple old frame house--eight rooms in all--
Set just one side the center of a small
But very hopeful Indiana town,--
The upper-story looking squarely down
Upon the main street, and the main highway
From East to West,--historic in its day,
Known as The National Road--old-timers, all
Who linger yet, will happily recall
It as the scheme and handiwork, as well
As property, of 'Uncle Sam,' and tell
Of its importance, 'long and long afore
Railroads wuz ever _dreamp_' of!'--Furthermore,
The reminiscent first Inhabitants
Will make that old road blossom with romance
Of snowy caravans, in long parade
Of covered vehicles, of every grade
From ox-cart of most primitive design,
To Conestoga wagons, with their fine
Deep-chested six-horse teams, in heavy gear,
High names and chiming bells--to childish ear
And eye entrancing as the glittering train
Of some sun-smitten pageant of old Spain.
And, in like spirit, haply they will tell
You of the roadside forests, and the yell
Of 'wolfs' and 'painters,' in the long night-ride,
And 'screechin' catamounts' on every side.--
Of stagecoach-days, highwaymen, and strange crimes,
And yet unriddled mysteries of the times
Called 'Good Old.' 'And why 'Good Old'?' once a rare
Old chronicler was asked, who brushed the hair
Out of his twinkling eyes and said,--'Well John,
They're 'good old times' because they're dead and gone!'

The old home site was portioned into three
Distinctive lots. The front one--natively
Facing to southward, broad and gaudy-fine
With lilac, dahlia, rose, and flowering vine--
The dwelling stood in; and behind that, and
Upon the alley north and south, left hand,
The old wood-house,--half, trimly stacked with wood,
And half, a work-shop, where a workbench stood
Steadfastly through all seasons.--Over it,
Along the wall, hung compass, brace-and-bit,
And square, and drawing-knife, and smoothing-plane--
And little jack-plane, too--the children's vain
Possession by pretense--in fancy they
Manipulating it in endless play,
Turning out countless curls and loops of bright,
Fine satin shavings--Rapture infinite!
Shelved quilting-frames; the toolchest; the old box
Of refuse nails and screws; a rough gun-stock's
Outline in 'curly maple'; and a pair
Of clamps and old krout-cutter hanging there.
Some 'patterns,' in thin wood, of shield and scroll,
Hung higher, with a neat 'cane-fishing-pole'
And careful tackle--all securely out
Of reach of children, rummaging about.

Beside the wood-house, with broad branches free
Yet close above the roof, an apple-tree
Known as 'The Prince's Harvest'--Magic phrase!
That was _a boy's own tree_, in many ways!--
Its girth and height meet both for the caress
Of his bare legs and his ambitiousness:
And then its apples, humoring his whim,
Seemed just to fairly _hurry_ ripe for him--
Even in June, impetuous as he,
They dropped to meet him, halfway up the tree.
And O their bruised sweet faces where they fell!--
And ho! the lips that feigned to 'kiss them _well_'!

'The Old Sweet-Apple-Tree,' a stalwart, stood
In fairly sympathetic neighborhood
Of this wild princeling with his early gold
To toss about so lavishly nor hold
In bounteous hoard to overbrim at once
All Nature's lap when came the Autumn months.
Under the spacious shade of this the eyes
Of swinging children saw swift-changing skies
Of blue and green, with sunshine shot between,
And 'when the old cat died' they saw but green.
And, then, there was a cherry-tree.--We all
And severally will yet recall
From our lost youth, in gentlest memory,
The blessed fact--There was a cherry-tree.

There was a cherry-tree. Its bloomy snows
Cool even now the fevered sight that knows
No more its airy visions of pure joy--
As when you were a boy.

There was a cherry-tree. The Bluejay set
His blue against its white--O blue as jet
He seemed there then!--But _now_--Whoever knew
He was so pale a blue!

There was a cherry-tree--Our child-eyes saw
The miracle:--Its pure white snows did thaw
Into a crimson fruitage, far too sweet
But for a boy to eat.

There was a cherry-tree, give thanks and joy!--
There was a bloom of snow--There was a boy--
There was a Bluejay of the realest blue--
And fruit for both of you.

Then the old garden, with the apple-trees
Grouped 'round the margin, and 'a stand of bees'
By the 'white-winter-pearmain'; and a row
Of currant-bushes; and a quince or so.
The old grape-arbor in the center, by
The pathway to the stable, with the sty
Behind it, and _upon_ it, cootering flocks
Of pigeons, and the cutest 'martin-box'!--
Made like a sure-enough house--with roof, and doors
And windows in it, and veranda-floors
And balusters all 'round it--yes, and at
Each end a chimney--painted red at that
And penciled white, to look like little bricks;
And, to cap all the builder's cunning tricks,
Two tiny little lightning-rods were run
Straight up their sides, and twinkled in the sun.
Who built it? Nay, no answer but a smile.--
It _may_ be you can guess who, afterwhile.
Home in his stall, 'Old Sorrel' munched his hay
And oats and corn, and switched the flies away,
In a repose of patience good to see,
And earnest of the gentlest pedigree.
With half pathetic eye sometimes he gazed
Upon the gambols of a colt that grazed
Around the edges of the lot outside,
And kicked at nothing suddenly, and tried
To act grown-up and graceful and high-bred,
But dropped, _k'whop!_ and scraped the buggy-shed,
Leaving a tuft of woolly, foxy hair
Under the sharp-end of a gate-hinge there.
Then, all ignobly scrambling to his feet
And whinneying a whinney like a bleat,
He would pursue himself around the lot
And--do the whole thing over, like as not!...
Ah! what a life of constant fear and dread
And flop and squawk and flight the chickens led!
Above the fences, either side, were seen
The neighbor-houses, set in plots of green
Dooryards and greener gardens, tree and wall
Alike whitewashed, and order in it all:
The scythe hooked in the tree-fork; and the spade
And hoe and rake and shovel all, when laid
Aside, were in their places, ready for
The hand of either the possessor or
Of any neighbor, welcome to the loan
Of any tool he might not chance to own.

Submitted: Friday, April 09, 2010

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