A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bad Poetry: The Happy Little Cripple

James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916), "the Hoosier poet," was the most popular writer of his time. He cranked out a large amount of sentimental, homespun verse, often depicting the simple comforts of home. The attractive picture he painted of a prosperous and comfortable existence is thought by many to be the origin of the expression "the life of Riley."

Riley is most famous for such poems as "Little Orphant Annie," "The Old Swimmin' Hole," "When the Frost Is on the Punkin," and "The Raggedy Man." He wrote many works in dialect, a wildly popular style around the turn of the last century. Often his poems were told from the point of view of children, as the following example, startling to the politically correct twenty-first-century reader:

from The Happy Little Cripple

I'm thist a little crippled boy, an' never goin' to grow
An' git a great big man at all!--'cause Aunty told me so.
When I was this a baby onc't I falled out of the bed
An' got "The Curv'ture of the Spine"--'at's what the Doctor said.
I never had no Mother nen--fer my Pa runned away
An' dassn't come back here no more--'cause he was drunk one day
An' stobbed a man in thish-ere town, an' couldn't pay his fine!
An' nen my Ma she died--an' I got "Curv'ture of the Spine"!

I'm nine years old! an' you can't guess how much I weigh, I bet!
Last birthday I weighed thirty three! An' I weigh thirty yet!
I'm awful little for my size--I'm purt' nigh littler 'an
Some babies is!--an' neighbors all calls me "The Little Man!"
An' Doc one time he laughed and said: "I 'spect, first thing you know,
You'll have a spike-tail coat an' travel with a show!"
An' nen I laughed--till I looked round an' Aunty was a-cryin'--
Sometimes she acts like that, 'cause I got "Curv'ture of the Spine!"

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