When kids return to school and harvest begins, can autumn be far behind? Shorter days and cooler nights signal summer’s end.
It’s not too soon to think of autumn and the grand introduction to the Holidays that follow. No frost yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
When the frost is on the punkin’ and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kynouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
Oh, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin’ and the fodder’s in the shock.
What better way to conclude a summer reading program than browsing through the poems of James Whitcomb Riley. Seldom has a writer captured the sense of nature and changing seasons more plainly than one of America’s most popular poets. Riley’s sentimental style and countrified dialect recall a simpler bygone era.
Born in Greenfield, Indiana, on October 7, 1849, James learned at an early age his dislike of school discipline. Yet, he loved books, music and poetry.
An Indiana Hoosier at heart, James had an unquenchable sense of humor. Although the term “Hoosier” is of uncertain origin, many explanations exist. James’s rendition went like this. Early settlers in Indiana were vicious fighters. Frequently, during a brawl, one combatant might bite off the ear of another. This occurred so frequently that, upon walking into a barroom, a stranger might see an ear on the floor and ask, “Whose ear?”
James left school at sixteen and worked in his father’s law office for a time. When he wasn’t working he wrote verse -- which his father did not encourage. James never imagined his verse would amount to anything.
In his early years, Riley explored various avocations as actor, composer and playwright. He eventually landed a job as associate editor with the Anderson Democrat. During this period his poetry appeared in a number of Indiana newspapers.
One of Riley’s classic poems became immensely popular. Millions of people adored the poem “Little Orphant Annie.” It became so popular that, together with another of his poems, “The Raggedy Man,” inspired John Gruelle, cartoonist for the Indianapolis Star, to write stories for his little daughter. The attraction in these stories became the character named Raggedy Ann. This children’s character evolved into a cartoon strip, books, and eventually, a $20 million line of dolls.
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth and sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board an’ keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you ef you don’t watch out!
“Little Orphant Annie” masterfully captures the sentiment of autumn. The poem conjures up thoughts of cooler nights, specters of Halloween, a slice of time.
Riley’s down-to-earth poetry, written for common folk, earned him the reputation as the most popular American poet ever. At his passing, 35,000 people attended the memorial service to bid him farewell.
James Whitcomb Riley: October 7, 1849 - July 22, 1916. Will we ever produce another like him?