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James Whitcomb Riley

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

The Hoosier Folk-Child


The Hoosier Folk-Child--all unsung--
Unlettered all of mind and tongue;
Unmastered, unmolested--made
Most wholly frank and unafraid:
Untaught of any school--unvexed
Of law or creed--all unperplexed--
Unsermoned, aye, and undefiled,
An all imperfect-perfect child--
A type which (Heaven forgive us!) you
And I do tardy honor to,
And so, profane the sanctities
Of our most sacred memories.
Who, growing thus from boy to man,
That dares not be American?
Go, Pride, with prudent underbuzz--
Go _whistle_! as the Folk-Child does.

The Hoosier Folk-Child's world is not
Much wider than the stable-lot
Between the house and highway fence
That bounds the home his father rents.
His playmates mostly are the ducks
And chickens, and the boy that 'shucks
Corn by the shock,' and talks of town,
And whether eggs are 'up' or 'down,'
And prophesies in boastful tone
Of 'owning horses of his own,'
And 'being his own man,' and 'when
He gets to be, what he'll do then.'--
Takes out his jack-knife dreamily
And makes the Folk-Child two or three
Crude corn-stalk figures,--a wee span
Of horses and a little man.

The Hoosier Folk-Child's eyes are wise
And wide and round as Brownies' eyes:
The smile they wear is ever blent
With all-expectant wonderment,--
On homeliest things they bend a look
As rapt as o'er a picture-book,
And seem to ask, whate'er befall,
The happy reason of it all:--
Why grass is all so glad a green,
And leaves--and what their lispings mean;--
Why buds grow on the boughs, and why
They burst in blossom by and by--
As though the orchard in the breeze
Had shook and popped its _popcorn-trees_,
To lure and whet, as well they might,
Some seven-league giant's appetite!

The Hoosier Folk-Child's chubby face
Has scant refinement, caste or grace,--
From crown to chin, and cheek to cheek,
It bears the grimy water-streak
Of rinsings such as some long rain
Might drool across the window-pane
Wherethrough he peers, with troubled frown,
As some lorn team drives by for town.
His brow is elfed with wispish hair,
With tangles in it here and there,
As though the warlocks snarled it so
At midmirk when the moon sagged low,
And boughs did toss and skreek and shake,
And children moaned themselves awake,
With fingers clutched, and starting sight
Blind as the blackness of the night!

The Hoosier Folk-Child!--Rich is he
In all the wealth of poverty!
He owns nor title nor estate,
Nor speech but half articulate,--
He owns nor princely robe nor crown;--
Yet, draped in patched and faded brown,
He owns the bird-songs of the hills--
The laughter of the April rills;
And his are all the diamonds set.
In Morning's dewy coronet,--
And his the Dusk's first minted stars
That twinkle through the pasture-bars,
And litter all the skies at night
With glittering scraps of silver light;--
The rainbow's bar, from rim to rim,
In beaten gold, belongs to him.

Submitted: Friday, April 09, 2010

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