James Whitcomb Riley

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

A Ballad


With A Serious Conclusion

Crowd about me, little children--
Come and cluster 'round my knee
While I tell a little story
That happened once with me.

My father he had gone away
A-sailing on the foam,
Leaving me--the merest infant--
And my mother dear at home;

For my father was a sailor,
And he sailed the ocean o'er
For full five years ere yet again
He reached his native shore.

And I had grown up rugged
And healthy day by day,
Though I was but a puny babe
When father went away.

Poor mother she would kiss me
And look at me and sigh
So strangely, oft I wondered
And would ask the reason why.

And she would answer sadly,
Between her sobs and tears,--
'You look so like your father,
Far away so many years!'

And then she would caress me
And brush my hair away,
And tell me not to question,
But to run about my play.

Thus I went playing thoughtfully--
For that my mother said,--
'YOU LOOK SO LIKE YOUR FATHER!'
Kept ringing in my head.

So, ranging once the golden sands
That looked out on the sea,
I called aloud, 'My father dear,
Come back to ma and me!'

Then I saw a glancing shadow
On the sand, and heard the shriek
Of a sea-gull flying seaward,
And I heard a gruff voice speak:--

'Ay, ay, my little shipmate,
I thought I heard you hail;
Were you trumpeting that sea-gull,
Or do you see a sail?'

And as rough and gruff a sailor
As ever sailed the sea
Was standing near grotesquely
And leering dreadfully.

I replied, though I was frightened,
'It was my father dear
I was calling for across the sea--
I think he didn't hear.'

And then the sailor leered again
In such a frightful way,
And made so many faces
I was little loath to stay:

But he started fiercely toward me--
Then made a sudden halt
And roared, '_I_ think he heard you!'
And turned a somersault.

Then a wild fear overcame me,
And I flew off like the wind,
Shrieking 'MOTHER!'--and the sailor
Just a little way behind!

And then my mother heard me,
And I saw her shade her eyes,
Looking toward me from the doorway,
Transfixed with pale surprise

For a moment--then her features
Glowed with all their wonted charms
As the sailor overtook me,
And I fainted in her arms.

When I awoke to reason
I shuddered with affright
Till I felt my mother's presence
With a thrill of wild delight--

Till, amid a shower of kisses
Falling glad as summer rain,
A muffled thunder rumbled,--
'Is he coming 'round again?'

Then I shrieked and clung unto her,
While her features flushed and burned
As she told me it was father
From a foreign land returned.

. . . . . . .

I said--when I was calm again,
And thoughtfully once more
Had dwelt upon my mother's words
Of just the day before,--

'I DON'T look like my father,
As you told me yesterday--
I know I don't--or father
Would have run the other way.'

Submitted: Friday, April 09, 2010

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  • Dr.subhendu Kar (11/12/2011 9:03:00 AM)

    ow what a story in verse, heart when stands and stares to myth of mist, as rhythm croons over vale of tunes. (Report) Reply

  • George J. Carroll (4/10/2011 6:39:00 PM)

    I am far from being a child but his lyrical style captivates me and I can see why children would be mesmerized with his wonderful poetry, easy to memorize and recite. (Report) Reply

Read all 2 comments »

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