James Whitcomb Riley: An Ode to Boy

Recntly I visited James Whitcomb Riley’s grave in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis.  James often wrote with a charming Hoosier style and was called “the child’s poet.”  If Mark Twain captured the spirit of childhood adventure during that era, then James Whitcomb Riley certainly claimed the prize for the poetic side of childhood.  As a Hoosier myself, and after having visited Baltimore harbor just a week ago – I offer this little bit in honor of Mr. Riley.


An Ode to Boy

Thar wuz, ya see, a bit part o’ me,
who wuz likin’ dat sav’ry sea.
Dem big ol’ boats tied to dem docks,
how gently back n’ forth dey rocks….

Da smell of ‘er wuz just a might off –
kindy like dat of a fish gut trough –
but it a’ soon get back to norm’l smellun.
least til dem sea-boys gets back from whalin’…

Dem cuttin’ dat blubba and carvin’ dem bones,
Da seag’lls a flyin and divin fo Davy Jones…
Da cussin and da spittun
and da talk of nightly women…
Dem boys wuz needin affec-shun…. fo sho….

So me walked on past
til me heard “Avast!”
“A fiver fo ten”
“Beat dat if cha ken”

And he show’d a bag o’ crawly crabs
dat me mind’s eye shorely grabs
but me pockets as bare as bare cood be.
Me stumuk’s a bitin’ wit stips and stabs
and dem crabby’s a lookin’ like me could hab
a mighty fine suppah fo-ME!

“Avast, my ass…..”
me sez to him…
“Me pockets are bare
and me gots no wares,
to buy dem der crabs to-nite.”

“But me’d mend yor sails, sir,
if you could avail sir,
one or two for momma’s delight.”
“be off wich ya boy,
me won’t be coy,
it’s five fo ten or nun…..”

“Avast” is right,
sez me stumuk’s plight,
fo it’s momma’s 3-day ol’ meat-pie a-gin, to-Nite!

-by John Allen Richter


Then God smiled and it was morning.
Matchless and supreme
Heaven’s glory seemed adorning
Earth with its esteem:
Every heart but mine seemed gifted
With the voice of prayer, and lifted
Where my Leonainie drifted
From me like a dream


– James Whitcomb Riley, excerpt from “Leonainie”

(Riley wrote this poem, “Leonanie”, but falsely sold it as a long lost poem from Edgar Allan Poe.  He did this early in his career when he was having trouble finding paying publishers, and his reason was to prove that he could write as well as other famous poets.  But it was quickly discovered and sparked a major scandal in the literary world of the day.)  I mention this because my recent trip to Baltimore also included a visit to Edgar Allen Poe’s grave. NOTE: The last photo I took from Riley’s monument was a view of the Indianapolis skyline.  There is a small boy in the photo sitting on another gravestone.  I do not know where he came from or how he got into this photo…  odd, indeed….





Of course this is all copyrighted by me friends, as is everything offered on this blog.  Sorry for that, and I hate that it needs to be said.  And the sad truth is – and the horrendous truth of who we all are as a people – is that it needs to be said.

  – John Allen Richter

© 2013 John Richter

About johnallenrichter

I am an aspiring Poet and adorer of life, a conqueror of nothing. However I am a champion curator of truth and friendship and hold both of those things most dearly to my heart. Welcome to my mind's eye. I hope you will enjoy what you may find and please know that you have a friend here. View all posts by johnallenrichter

16 responses to “James Whitcomb Riley: An Ode to Boy

  • Pat Hatt

    haha that was fun
    To give a run
    But avast me not
    That meat pie can rot
    Can’t say crabs do it at all
    Also here at my hall
    Don’t those you eat
    And those you get from another treat lol
    Great shots too
    Now I bid adieu

  • Mary

    Oh this is wonderful, John. You write dialect perfectly. (And impressive rhyming.) I’d love to hear you READ this one.

  • brian miller

    smiles…enjoy that meat pie…i was enjoying the boats up front in this…fabulous job with the dialect in this jown…authentic…and even still so very poetic…this would be a treat to hear performed…

  • claudia

    very cool…love the dialect….and the bag o’ crawly crabs…ha…so cool..and i would love to hear you read this

  • Björn Rudberg (brudberg)

    I love the read, and the story telling.. as a lover of fiction I think we poets sometimes forget to tell a real story (I do it myself) would be great to hear you read it… to get the dialect even more correct.

  • Audrey Howitt

    I loved the dialect–it worked really well–I got a great sense of the character from it–I would be great aloud I think

  • ayala

    Love the dialect, you did an awesome job here. Great!

  • Grace

    Interesting to work with a dialect & rhyming words too ~ Very creative work ~

  • M. J. Joachim

    Too fun! Really had to get into character to read this poem 🙂

  • Julie Laing

    You did a fabulous job–nailed the dialect, at least to my ears. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Kelvin S.M.

    …i appreciate the experimental vibe here eventhough i find it quite hard to read your poem with those intentional inverted / manipulated word/s & / or phrase/s… smiles…

    • johnallenrichter

      Thanks for stopping by, Kevin. Thought I’d put a excerpt from J.W. Riley to give you a better idea of where my inspiration came from…. He often wrote for children, using phrases and words that might capture their attention, and in fact became quite famous for it…. I’m afraid my own turned out to be a little more olde english than Hooiser, but the spirit is certainly there I think… This is from the first verse of Riley’s “Raggedy Man” poem:

      O The Raggedy Man! He works fer Pa;
      An’ he’s the goodest man ever you saw!
      He comes to our house every day,
      An’ waters the horses, an’ feeds ’em hay;
      An’ he opens the shed – an’ we all ist laugh
      When he drives out our little old wobble-ly calf;
      An’ nen – ef our hired girl says he can –
      He milks the cow fer ‘Lizabuth Ann. –
      Ain’t he a’ awful good Raggedy Man?
      Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

  • Todd Alan Kraft

    Very fun, has a sea shanty feel to it. Really did a great job of capturing a mood and a story.

  • Tony Maude

    Fabulous mood, great story telling, excellent use of dialect – I’d like to hear this one too.

  • willowdot21

    Great and interesting post, lovely poetry and photo and an enigmatic visiting small boy. What more could we ask for in a post! Thank you for sharing!!xx

  • zumpoems

    Very strong and solid. Consistent tone and approach provides the necessary foundation for a very strong work. This is wonderful.

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