James Whitcomb Riley

7 October 1849 - 22 July 1916 / Greenfield, Indiana

Wash Lowry's Reminiscence

And you're the poet of this concern?
I've seed your name in print
A dozen times, but I'll be dern
I'd 'a' never 'a' took the hint
O' the size you are--fer I'd pictured you
A kind of a tallish man--
Dark-complected and sallor too,
And on the consumpted plan.

'Stid o' that you're little and small,
With a milk-and-water face--
'Thout no snap in your eyes at all,
Er nothin' to suit the case!
Kind o'look like a--I don't know--
One o' these fair-ground chaps
That runs a thingamajig to blow,
Er a candy-stand perhaps.

'Ll I've allus thought that poetry
Was a sort of a--some disease--
Fer I knowed a poet once, and he
Was techy and hard to please,
And moody-like, and kindo' sad
And didn't seem to mix
With other folks--like his health was bad,
Er his liver out o' fix.

Used to teach fer a livelihood--
There's folks in Pipe Crick yit
Remembers him--and he was good
At cipherin' I'll admit--
And posted up in G'ography
But when it comes to tact,
And gittin' along with the school, you see,
He fizzled, and that's a fact!

Boarded with us fer fourteen months
And in all that time I'll say
We never catched him a-sleepin' once
Er idle a single day.
But shucks! It made him worse and worse
A-writin' rhymes and stuff,
And the school committee used to furse
'At the school warn't good enough.

He warn't as strict as he ought to been,
And never was known to whip,
Or even to keep a scholard in
At work at his penmanship;
'Stid o' that he'd learn 'em notes,
And have 'em every day,
Spilin' hymns and a-splittin' th'oats
With his 'Do-sol-fa-me-ra!'

Tel finally it was jest agreed
We'd have to let him go,
And we all felt bad--we did indeed,
When we come to tell him so;
Fer I remember, he turned so white,
And smiled so sad, somehow,
I someway felt it wasn't right,
And I'm shore it wasn't now!

He hadn't no complaints at all--
He bid the school adieu,
And all o' the scholards great and small
Was mighty sorry too!
And when he closed that afternoon
They sung some lines that he
Had writ a purpose, to some old tune
That suited the case, you see.

And then he lingered and delayed
And wouldn't go away--
And shet himself in his room and stayed
A-writin' from day to day;
And kep' a-gittin' stranger still,
And thinner all the time,
You know, as any feller will
On nothin' else but rhyme.

He didn't seem adzactly right,
Er like he was crossed in love,
He'd work away night after night,
And walk the floor above;
We'd hear him read and talk, and sing
So lonesome-like and low,
My woman's cried like ever'thing--
'Way in the night, you know.

And when at last he tuck to bed
He'd have his ink and pen;
'So's he could coat the muse' he said,
'He'd die contented then';
And jest before he past away
He read with dyin' gaze
The epitaph that stands to-day
To show you where he lays.

And ever sence then I've allus thought
That poetry's some disease,
And them like you that's got it ought
To watch their q's and p's ;
And leave the sweets of rhyme, to sup
On the wholesome draughts of toil,
And git your health recruited up
By plowin' in rougher soil.
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