James Whitcomb Riley

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

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A Barefoot Boy


A barefoot boy! I mark him at his play --
For May is here once more, and so is he, --
His dusty trousers, rolled half to the knee,
And his bare ankles grimy, too, as they:
Cross-hatchings of the nettle, in array
Of feverish stripes, hint vividly to me
Of woody pathways winding endlessly
Along the creek, where even yesterday
He plunged his shrinking body -- gasped and shook --
Yet called the water 'warm,' with never lack
Of joy. And so, half enviously I look
Upon this graceless barefoot and his track, --
His toe stubbed -- ay, his big toe-nail knocked back
Like unto the clasp of an old pocketbook.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Edited: Monday, October 10, 2011

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  • Sixtus Osim (10/9/2013 12:41:00 PM)

    The poet is drawing mere comparisons between the sound produced by the barefoot boy's toe-nails and that produced when those who have pocketbook clasp on it; the poet isn't saying this has one. The poet closed his with a simile, not a metaphor. This poem is the epitome of an imagery - the poet creates in the reader's mind the scenes surrounding this boy at moments, from the start of the poem to the endings. (Report) Reply

  • Alistair Graham (10/9/2013 3:01:00 AM)

    Alas, today
    no change since yesterday,
    the barefoot boys
    and girls
    kicking pocket books
    up into the air
    to nowhere
    to nothing
    while, half enviously
    men look on (Report) Reply

  • Stevie Taite (10/9/2012 4:17:00 PM)

    Don't mean dog eared, rather flipped back clasp of the pages of the notebook. A great last line to the metaphoric theme of the poem as a whole (Report) Reply

  • Stevie Taite (10/9/2012 4:12:00 PM)

    He has read between the lines of the marks on the boys body, the toe mail is floppy back like an open clasp on the loose pages of a notebook. I think it is a great last line in the metaphoric feel of the poem as a whole! (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (10/9/2012 2:26:00 PM)

    This child has nothing to do with pocket books. A pocket book is the possession of a well-off conventional citizen. A pocket book contains the name, address and telephone number of the owner and money, perhaps a picture of the wife and children, and, above all, money. A silly pointless metaphor which cannot be defended. A pulled back nail is savage, untamed, careless of everything a pocket book indicates. It is interesting that most people who comment on this site cannot bring themselves to comment adversely about a poem. (Report) Reply

  • Deci Hernandez (10/9/2012 11:50:00 AM)

    To the clasp of an old pocket book. Childhood scars do make the best event recorders. but we cant live like that forever. And how lofty of Riley to remind us of this. And which is better, a pocketboook or pulled back toenails. lol. :) (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (10/9/2012 10:56:00 AM)

    I might have said this before but the old pocket book metaphor seems entirely out of place in a picture of this Huckleberry Finn. (Report) Reply

  • Sally Zhai (10/9/2011 10:59:00 AM)

    In this poem, we feel the poet and the boy are from two different world. Through his depiction of this coarse, happy boy, we can feel the poet's personality: passimistic, elegant, worried...He can't understand the mind of this kind of people who are simple and happy. He appreciate them yet is a little bit jealous of them. In the end of the poem, the boy's toe-nail is knocked back, I think the poet want to say, a person with a simple mind is happy indeed, but his would cause you trouble, makes you unfortunate. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (10/9/2011 3:54:00 AM)

    Poet feels envious at the sight of a boy's joy despite many drawbacks on him including the nail knocked back of his toe like an old pocket book! Indeed joy has no connection with wealth or knowledge in the world except pure heart to enjoy and wonder at the things of nature! (Report) Reply

  • Abhishek Tiwari (10/9/2011 12:39:00 AM)

    it just takes, a smile of a child, to shoot all my pain away..
    But here Iam not able to understand,
    Why the Poet is envious? (Report) Reply

  • Abhishek Tiwari (10/9/2011 12:30:00 AM)

    It just takes, a smile of a child, to shoot all my pain away..
    But I am not able to understand why the poet is 'envious' (Report) Reply

  • Michael Pruchnicki (10/9/2010 11:52:00 AM)

    Let me pose this question - When is a metaphor NOT a metaphor?

    A metaphor is NOT a metaphor when it is in fact a simile!

    Both 'metaphor' and 'simile' are figures of speech. A metaphor is an implied analogy which imaginatively identifies one object with another. A simile is a fgure of speech in which a similarity between two objects is directly expressed, as in James Whitcomb Riley's
    '... his big toe-nail knocked back
    Like unto the clasp of an old pocketbook.'
    One doesn't read a POCKETBOOK (as Linda Terrell says) , one keeps loose change and stuff in it for safekeeping and convenience! Most similes are introduced by AS or LIKE. Please read lines 13 and 14 closely. Strike me dead if the preposition that introduces the explicit comparison of a CLASP (a brass clip) with the Barefoot Boy's flapping big toe-nail as he ambles along the path is part and parcel of the image that makes up the simile. (Report) Reply

  • Mohammad Muzzammil (10/9/2010 2:18:00 AM)

    This poem presents a very good expression of a poor boy whose trousers is rolled half to knee. The language is simple but rich in conveying its message. (Report) Reply

  • Linda Terrell (10/29/2009 7:23:00 PM)

    He gives such vivid descriptions of the boy. The even must have made a real impression on him. (Report) Reply

  • Linda Terrell (10/29/2009 7:19:00 PM)

    Kevin the clasp book, , , , and I may be wrong....but I believe it is like a book that has a clasp on it to lock like a diary.. It would flip back and only attatched to one side of the book as the toenail would have flew back like the clasp on the book.
    I had a diary back in the 50's that had a lock on it but to push the button it hooked and unhooked without a lock...When the book was open the clasp flipped and flopped. Hope this helps... (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (10/10/2009 8:54:00 AM)

    This was great (Huckleberry Finn?) until the claspbook metaphor which I did not understand. (Report) Reply

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