Her Beautiful Hands by James Whitcomb Riley


Your hands–they are strangely fair!
O Fair–for the jewels that sparkle there,–
Fair–for the witchery of the spell
That ivory keys alone can tell;
But when their delicate touches rest
Here in my own do I love them best,
As I clasp with eager, acquisitive spans
My glorious treasure of beautiful hands!

Marvelous–wonderful–beautiful hands!
They can coax roses to bloom in the strands
Of your brown tresses; and ribbons will twine,
Under mysterious touches of thine,
Into such knots as entangle the soul
And fetter the heart under such a control
As only the strength of my love understands–
My passionate love for your beautiful hands.

As I remember the first fair touch
Of those beautiful hands that I love so much,
I seem to thrill as I then was thrilled,
Kissing the glove that I found unfilled–
When I met your gaze, and the queenly bow,
As you said to me, laughingly, “Keep it now!” . . .
And dazed and alone in a dream I stand,
Kissing this ghost of your beautiful hand.

When first I loved, in the long ago,
And held your hand as I told you so–
Pressed and caressed it and gave it a kiss
And said “I could die for a hand like this!”
Little I dreamed love’s fullness yet
Had to ripen when eyes were wet
And prayers were vain in their wild demands
For one warm touch of your beautiful hands.

Beautiful Hands!–O Beautiful Hands!
Could you reach out of the alien lands
Where you are lingering, and give me, to-night,
Only a touch–were it ever so light–
My heart were soothed, and my weary brain
Would lull itself into rest again;
For there is no solace the world commands
Like the caress of your beautiful hands.


    Queenly month of indolent repose!
  I drink thy breath in sips of rare perfume,
  As in thy downy lap of clover-bloom
I nestle like a drowsy child and doze
The lazy hours away. The zephyr throws
  The shifting shuttle of the Summer's loom
  And weaves a damask-work of gleam and gloom
Before thy listless feet. The lily blows
A bugle-call of fragrance o'er the glade;
  And, wheeling into ranks, with plume and spear,
Thy harvest-armies gather on parade;
  While, faint and far away, yet pure and clear,
A voice calls out of alien lands of shade:--
  All hail the Peerless Goddess of the Year!

                                 James Whitcomb Riley

DEAD SELVES by James Whitcomb Riley


How many of my selves are dead?
    The ghosts of many haunt me: Lo,
The baby in the tiny bed
With rockers on, is blanketed
    And sleeping in the long ago;
And so I ask, with shaking head,
How many of my selves are dead?

A little face with drowsy eyes
    And lisping lips comes mistily
From out the faded past, and tries
The prayers a mother breathed with sighs
    Of anxious care in teaching me;
But face and form and prayers have fled--
How many of my selves are dead?

The little naked feet that slipped
    In truant paths, and led the way
Through dead'ning pasture-lands, and tripped
O'er tangled poison-vines, and dipped
    In streams forbidden--where are they?
In vain I listen for their tread--
How many of my selves are dead?

The awkward boy the teacher caught
    Inditing letters filled with love,
Who was compelled, for all he fought,
To read aloud each tender thought
    Of "Sugar Lump" and "Turtle Dove."
I wonder where he hides his head--
How many of my selves are dead?

The earnest features of a youth
    With manly fringe on lip and chin,
With eager tongue to tell the truth,
To offer love and life, forsooth,
    So brave was he to woo and win;
A prouder man was never wed--
How many of my selves are dead?

The great, strong hands so all-inclined
    To welcome toil, or smooth the care
From mother-brows, or quick to find
A leisure-scrap of any kind,
    To toss the baby in the air,
Or clap at babbling things it said--
How many of my selves are dead?

The pact of brawn and scheming brain--
    Conspiring in the plots of wealth,
Still delving, till the lengthened chain,
Unwindlassed in the mines of gain,
    Recoils with dregs of ruined health
And pain and poverty instead--
How many of my selves are dead?

The faltering step, the faded hair--
    Head, heart and soul, all echoing
With maundering fancies that declare
That life and love were never there,
    Nor ever joy in anything,
Nor wounded heart that ever bled--
How many of my selves are dead?

So many of my selves are dead,
    That, bending here above the brink
Of my last grave, with dizzy head,
I find my spirit comforted,
    For all the idle things I think:
It can but be a peaceful bed,
Since all my other selves are dead.

THE FROG by James Whitcomb Riley


Who am I but the Frog--the Frog!
    My realm is the dark bayou,
And my throne is the muddy and moss-grown log
    That the poison-vine clings to--
And the blacksnakes slide in the slimy tide
    Where the ghost of the moon looks blue.

What am I but a King--a King!--
    For the royal robes I wear--
A scepter, too, and a signet-ring,
    As vassals and serfs declare:
And a voice, god wot, that is equaled not
    In the wide world anywhere!

I can talk to the Night--the Night!--
    Under her big black wing
She tells me the tale of the world outright,
    And the secret of everything;
For she knows you all, from the time you crawl,
    To the doom that death will bring.

The Storm swoops down, and he blows--and blows,--
    While I drum on his swollen cheek,
And croak in his angered eye that glows
    With the lurid lightning's streak;
While the rushes drown in the watery frown
    That his bursting passions leak.

And I can see through the sky--the sky--
    As clear as a piece of glass;
And I can tell you the how and why
    Of the things that come to pass--
And whether the dead are there instead,
    Or under the graveyard grass.

To your Sovereign lord all hail--all hail!--
    To your Prince on his throne so grim!
Let the moon swing low, and the high stars trail
    Their heads in the dust to him;
And the wide world sing:  Long live the King,
    And grace to his royal whim!