Riley Love Lyrics (1905) ⭐⭐⭐⭐ by James Whitcomb Riley
Yesterday I finished reading a book called Riley Love Lyrics, a collection of love poems by James Whitcomb Riley. I really enjoyed this collection. I shouldn’t have been surprised that I would like it, though, because he is the one who wrote famous poems like Raggedy Man and Little Orphant Annie, the latter being one of the my most favorite poems in all the world.
Most of the poems included in this collection are pretty sad, actually, of lost loves and loved ones. Some poems in the book are not spectacular, kind of going too far into the flowery department for my taste, and not very gripping. The book is full of real photos to accompany the poetry, but none of them are special. My copy has a soft red leather cover with gold leaf only on the top of the pages, which, seems odd to me. There is an inscription written in pencil:
With loving wishes for a Merry Christmas to “An old sweetheart of mine”, My Wife, Lovingly Walter.“
My copy has the copyright year of 1905, though this book was originally published in 1899. It was published by Grosset & Dunlap, and the life photos were taken by William B. Dyer. There is a small logo imprint on the bottom right corner that says “Farrar’s, Augusta. GA.” I think this refers to the stores that Fred Parker Farrar and his wife ran in Augusta in the early 1900s. From what I glean, Fred Parker Farrar was an amateur photographer, and these stores mainly sold photography materials.
I’m going to list 6 of my favorite poems from Love Lyrics in order of my preference. These are all very good, so it was hard to put them in order, but I’ll leave it like this.
All spellings are exactly as originally written.
6. How It Happened
I got to thinkin’ of her—both her parents dead and gone—
And all her sisters married off, and none but her and John
A-livin’ all alone there in that lonesome sort o’ way,
And him a blame old bachelor, confirmder ev’ry day!
I’d knowed ‘em all from childern, and their daddy from the time
He settled in the neighberhood, and hadn’t airy a dime
Er dollar, when he married , fer to start housekeepin’ on!—
So I got to thinkin’ of her—both her parents dead and gone!
I got to thinkin’ of her; and a-wundern what she done
That all her sisters kep’ a-gittin’ married, one by one,
And her without no chances—and the best girl of the pack—
An old maid, with her hands, you might say, tied behind her back!
And Mother, too, afore she died, she ust to jes’ take on,
When one of ‘em was left, you know, but Evaline and John,
And jes’ declare to goodness ‘at the young men must be bline
To not see what a wife they’d git if they got Evaline!
I got to thinkin’ of her; in my great affliction she
Was sich a comfert to us, and so kind and neighberly,—
She’d come, and leave her housework, fer to he’p out little Jane,
And talk of her own mother ‘at she’d never see again—
Maybe sometimes cry together—though, fer the most part she
Would have the child so riconciled and happy-like ‘at we
Felt lonesomer ‘n ever when she’d put her bonnet on
And say she’d railly haf to be a-gittin’ back to John!
I got to thinkin’ of her, as I say,—and more and more
I’d think of her dependence, and the burdens ‘at she bore,—
Her parents both a-bein’ dead, and all her sisters gone
And married off, and her a-livin’ there alone with John—
You might say jes’ a-toilin’ and a-slavin’ out her life
Fer a man ‘at hadn’t pride enough to git hisse’f a wife—
‘Less some one married Evaline and packed her off some day!—
So I got to thinkin’ of her—and it happened thataway.
I liked this one, because it reminded me of the tone that is in so many of those Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark stories. It’s in local accent, and you can really feel the almost backwoodsy, local storytelling vibe. He keeps repeating over and over again how her parents are dead… why is that? Maybe to drive home the lonesome aspect?
5. Nothin’ To Say
Nothin’ to say, my daughter! Nothin’ at all to say!
Gyrls that’s in love, I’ve noticed, ginerly has their way!
Yer mother did, afore you, when her folks objected to me—
Yit here I am, and here you air; and yer mother—where is she?
You look lots like yer mother; Purty much same in size;
And about the same complected; and favor about the eyes:
Like her, too, about livin’ here,—because she couldn’t stay:
It’ll ‘most seem like you was dead—-like her!—But I hain’t got nothin’ to say!
She left you her little Bible—write yer name acrost the page—
And left her ear bobs fer you, ef ever you come of age.
I’ve allus kep’ ‘em gyuarded ‘em, but ef yer goin’ away—
Nothin’ to say, my daughter! Nothin’ at all to say!
You don’t rikollect her, I reckon? No; you wasn’t a year old then!
And now yer—how old air you? W’y, child, not “twenty!” When?
And yer nex’ birthday’s in Aprile? And you want to git married that day?
. . . I wisht yer mother was livin’!—But—I hain’t got nothin’ to say!
Twenty year! And as good a gyrl as parent ever found!
There’s a straw ketched onto yer dress there—I’ll bresh it off—-turn round.
(Her mother was jes’ twenty when us two run away!)
Nothin’ to say, my daughter! Nothin’ at all to say!
What’s interesting here is, apart from the dialect, (that apparently is very prevalent in a good chunk of Riley’s poems) is the blatant passive-aggressiveness that he is displaying toward his daughter. The speaker is pretending it is fully her choice to go off and have her own life, but he is plainly stating his opinion on what he thinks she should do. He’s obviously displeased that she is all grown up and will be getting married within the year. This is evident when he compares the fact that her mother is dead and her now going off and leaving him all alone, “It’ll ‘most seem like you was dead—-like her!—But I hain’t got nothin’ to say!” I can feel the tension of the daughter during this conflict. If I may digress, I can totally see Father Barbour from the old time radio show One Man’s Family saying this entire thing to one of his daughters if they were planning on getting married and living far away. It’s fortunate that all of his children live very near!
4. When Lide Married Him
When Lide married him—w’y, she had to jes dee-fy
The whole poppilation!—But she never bat’ an eye!
Her parents begged, and threatened—she must give him up—that he
Wuz jes “a common drunkard!”—And he wuz appearantly.—
Swore they’d chase him off the place
Ef he ever showed his face—
Long after she’d eloped with him and married him fer shore!—
When Lide married him, it wuz “Katy, bar the door!”
When Lide married him—Well! She had to go and be
A hired girl in town somewheres—while he tromped round to see
What he could git that he could do,—you might say, jes sawed wood
From door to door!—that’s what he done—’cause that wuz best he could!
And the strangest thing, I jing!
Wuz, he didn’t drink a thing.—
But jes got down to bizness, like he someway wanted to,
When Lide married him, like they warned her not to do!
When Lide married him—er, ruther, had ben married
A little up’ards of a year—some feller come and carried
That hired girl away with him—a ruther stylish feller
In a bran-new green spring-wagon, with the wheels striped red and yeller:
And he whispered, as they driv
Tords the country, “Now we’ll live!”—
And somepin’ else she laughed to hear, though both her eyes wuz dim,
‘Bout “trustin’ Love and Heav’n above, sence Lide married him!”
I love this one because it seems to be coming from a gossipy neighbor! The speaker puts emphasis on certain words to create that ‘Can you believe it!?’ type of element that comes from the very best town gossips. What’s so nice about this story is that, although Lide had defied her elders, it turned out the way she thought it would. She loved him, and she knew he’d make good, and her faith in him proved worthy. This is pure “told you so” in the right sense, and I just plain love it.
Leonainie—Angels named her;
And they took the light
Of the laughing stars and framed her
In a smile of white;
And they made her hair of gloomy
Midnight, and her eyes of bloomy
Moonshine, and they brought her to me
In the solemn night.—
In a solemn night of summer,
When my heart of gloom
Blossomed up to greet the comer
Like a rose in bloom;
All forebodings that distressed me
I forgot as Joy caressed me—
(Lying Joy! That caught and pressed me
In the arms of doom!)
Only spake the little lisper
In the Angel-tongue;
Yet I, listening, heard her whisper—
“Songs are only sung
Here below that they may grieve you—
Tales but told you to deceive you,—
So must Leonainie leave you
While her love is young.”
I don’t know why I liked this sad poem about losing a baby. It’s heartbreaking, but beautiful. In researching this poem, I found that there is actually a very interesting and amusing story around this poem. That’s right, amusing!
In 1877, Riley was still struggling to put his name out there, and have his poems published. It was difficult to get his work published, and, he was convinced that this was because he was an unknown name in the literary world. To test out this theory, he concocted a hoax. He wrote a poem in the style of Edgar Allen Poe, and with the help of a friend who was an editor of the Indiana paper Kokomo Dispatch, had it published under “Posthumous Poetry”. It was signed E.A.P., and scholars all over the country praised it, thinking it was a newly discovered poem by Poe. It was maintained that the poem was found written in the flyleaf of a book, left at an inn years ago by a strange gentleman. The only thing is, that when people wanted to see the original manuscript, there wasn’t one, so one of Riley’s friends had to hastily write out the poem in an old dictionary and pawn it off as authentic. It was soon discovered that the whole thing was a hoax, and initially Riley was ostracized from the newspapers for misinforming the public. Eventually, things cooled down, and James Whitcomb Riley’s plan had ultimately worked. His name was now known nationally, and the rest, as they say, is history.
2. The Passing of a Heart
O touch me with your hands–
For pity’s sake!
My brow throbs ever on with such an ache
As only your cool touch may take away;
And so, I pray
You, touch me with your hands!
Touch–touch me with your hands.–
Smooth back the hair
You once caressed, and kissed, and called so fair
That I did dream its gold would wear alway,
And lo, to-day–
O touch me with your hands!
Just touch me with your hands,
And let them press
My weary eyelids with the old caress,
And lull me till I sleep. Then go your way,
That Death may say:
He touched her with his hands.
This poem (I almost typed, ‘song’, which it could easily be) takes my breath away, gives me peace, and makes me sad all in one short subject. When I read it, I imagine a wind, a whisper, a silence. Nothing much more to say on this one, except I really liked it.
1. Farmer Whipple, Bachelor
It’s a mystery to see me–a man o’ fifty-four,
Who’s lived a cross old bachelor fer thirty year’ and more–
A-lookin’ glad and smilin’! And they’s none o’ you can say
That you can guess the reason why I feel so good to-day!
I must tell you all about it! But I’ll have to deviate
A little in beginnin’, so’s to set the matter straight
As to how it comes to happen that I never took a wife–
Kindo’ “crawfish” from the Present to the Springtime of my life!
I was brought up in the country: Of a family of five–
Three brothers and a sister–I’m the only one alive,–
Fer they all died little babies; and ’twas one o’ Mother’s ways,
You know, to want a daughter; so she took a girl to raise.
The sweetest little thing she was, with rosy cheeks, and fat–
We was little chunks o’ shavers then about as high as that!
But someway we sort o’ suited-like! and Mother she’d declare
She never laid her eyes on a more lovin’ pair
Than we was! So we growed up side by side fer thirteen year’,
And every hour of it she growed to me more dear!–
W’y, even Father’s dyin’, as he did, I do believe
Warn’t more affectin’ to me than it was to see her grieve!
I was then a lad o’ twenty; and I felt a flash o’ pride
In thinkin’ all depended on me now to pervide
Fer Mother and fer Mary; and I went about the place
With sleeves rolled up–and workin’, with a mighty smilin’ face.–
Fer sompin’ else was workin’! but not a word I said
Of a certain sort o’ notion that was runnin’ through my head,–
“Some day I’d mayby marry, and a brother’s love was one
Thing–a lover’s was another!” was the way the notion run!
I remember onc’t in harvest, when the “cradle-in'” was done–
(When the harvest of my summers mounted up to twenty-one),
I was ridin’ home with Mary at the closin’ o’ the day–
A-chawin’ straws and thinkin’, in a lover’s lazy way!
And Mary’s cheeks was burnin’ like the sunset down the lane:
I noticed she was thinkin’, too, and ast her to explain.
Well–when she turned and kissed me, with her arm around me–law!
I’d a bigger load o’ heaven than I had a load o’ straw!
I don’t p’tend to learnin’, but I’ll tell you what’s a fac’,
They’s a mighty truthful sayin’ somers in a’ almanack–
Er somers–’bout “puore happiness”–perhaps some folks’ll laugh
At the idy–“only lastin’ jest two seconds and a half.”–
But it’s jest as true as preachin’!–fer that was a sister’s kiss,
And a sister’s lovin’ confidence a-tellin’ to me this:–
“She was happy, bein’ promised to the son o’ farmer Brown.”–
And my feelin’s struck a pardnership with sunset and went down!
I don’t know how I acted, and I don’t know what I said,
Fer my heart seemed jest a-turnin’ to an ice-cold lump o’ lead;
And the hosses kindo’ glimmered before me in the road,
And the lines fell from my fingers–And that was all I knowed–
Fer–well, I don’t know how long–They’s a dim rememberence
Of a sound o’ snortin’ bosses, and a stake-and-ridered fence
A-whizzin’ past, and wheat-sheaves a-dancin’ in the air,
And Mary screamin’ “Murder!” and a-runnin’ up to where
I was layin’ by the roadside, and the wagon upside down
A-leanin’ on the gate-post, with the wheels a-whirlin’ roun’!
And I tried to raise and meet her, but I couldn’t, with a vague
Sort o’ notion comin’ to me that I had a broken leg.
Well, the women nussed me through it; but many a time I’d sigh
As I’d keep a-gittin’ better instid o’ goin’ to die,
And wonder what was left me worth livin’ fer below,
When the girl I loved was married to another, don’t you know!
And my thoughts was as rebellious as the folks was good and kind
When Brown and Mary married–Railly must ‘a’ been my mind
Was kindo’ out o’ kilter!–fer I hated Brown, you see,
Worse’n pizen–and the feller whittled crutches out fer me—
And done a thousand little ac’s o’ kindness and respec’–
And me a-wishin’ all the time that I could break his neck!
My relief was like a mourner’s when the funeral is done
When they moved to Illinois in the Fall o’ Forty-one.
Then I went to work in airnest–I had nothin’ much in view
But to drownd out rickollections–and it kep’ me busy, too!
But I slowly thrived and prospered, tel Mother used to say
She expected yit to see me a wealthy man some day.
Then I’d think how little money was, compared to happiness–
And who’d be left to use it when I died I couldn’t guess!
But I’ve still kep’ speculatin’ and a-gainin’ year by year,
Tel I’m payin’ half the taxes in the county, mighty near!
Well!–A year ago er better, a letter comes to hand
Astin’ how I’d like to dicker fer some Illinois land–
“The feller that had owned it,” it went ahead to state,
“Had jest deceased, insolvent, leavin’ chance to speculate,”–
And then it closed by sayin’ that I’d “better come and see.”–
I’d never been West, anyhow–a’most too wild fer me,
I’d allus had a notion; but a lawyer here in town
Said I’d find myself mistakend when I come to look around.
So I bids good-bye to Mother, and I jumps aboard the train,
A-thinkin’ what I’d bring her when I come back home again–
And ef she’d had an idy what the present was to be,
I think it’s more’n likely she’d ‘a’ went along with me!
Cars is awful tejus ridin’, fer all they go so fast!
But finally they called out my stoppin’-place at last:
And that night, at the tavern, I dreamp’ I was a train
O’ cars, and skeered at sumpin’, runnin’ down a country lane!
Well, in the morning airly–after huntin’ up the man–
The lawyer who was wantin’ to swap the piece o’ land–
We started fer the country;’ and I ast the history
Of the farm–its former owner–and so forth, etcetery!
And–well–it was interestin’–I su’prised him, I suppose,
By the loud and frequent manner in which I blowed my nose!–
But his su’prise was greater, and it made him wonder more,
When I kissed and hugged the widder when she met us at the door!–
It was Mary: They’s a feelin’ a-hidin’ down in here–
Of course I can’t explain it, ner ever make it clear.–
It was with us in that meeting, I don’t want you to fergit!
And it makes me kindo’ nervous when I think about it yit!
I bought that farm, and deeded it, afore I left the town,
With “title clear to mansions in the skies,” to Mary Brown!
And fu’thermore, I took her and the childern–fer you see,
They’d never seed their Grandma–and I fetched ’em home with me.
So now you’ve got an idy why a man o’ fifty-four,
Who’s lived a cross old bachelor fer thirty year’ and more,
Is a-lookin’ glad and smilin’!–And I’ve jest come into town
To git a pair o’ license fer to marry Mary Brown.
This long story/poem is perfectly measured, well told, a tale of sweet undying love! I love that everything turned out well for Farmer Whipple. He waited, however impatiently, though he should have said something earlier instead of keeping his love to himself when they were young. Ya snooze, ya lose, but in this case he won eventually.
Sources and other Reference
- Heritage Unit News: Photographs | What’s New at Augusta University Libraries?https://augusta.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10675.2/623499/Heritage%20Unit%20News_%20Photographs%20_%20March%202019.pdf?sequence=1
- Google Books – Riley Love Lyrics
- Leonainie Hoax
- Indiana Memory