Thursday, February 9, 2012

An Old Sweetheart of Mine - James Whitcomb Riley

The picture above shows the book An Old Sweetheart of Mine by James Whitcomb Riley (source: customer picture from .

James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) was the most popular American poet of his time, and An Old Sweetheart of Mine was one of his most popular poems. A version of this poem was included in Riley's fourth book Pipes o' Pan at Zekesbury which he finished in 1888 and Riley Love Lyrics (1899). The text here is a longer version which was published in its own book titled An Old Sweetheart of Mine in 1902, with illustrations by Howard Chandler Christy. This book is available online from both Project Gutenberg and Google Books.

The black and white illustrations included here are by Howard Chandler Christy. The color illustrations are postcards illustrated by Cobb Shinn, who is mainly known as a postcard artist. Both Riley and Shinn were Indiana residents.

An Old Sweetheart Of Mine

by James Whitcomb Riley

The ordered intermingling of the real and the dream,—
The mill above the river, and the mist above the stream;
The life of ceaseless labor, brave with song and cheery call—
The radiant skies of evening, with its rainbow o'er us all.

An Old Sweetheart of Mine!—Is this her presence here with me,
Or but a vain creation of a lover's memory?
A fair, illusive vision that would vanish into air
Dared I even touch the silence with the whisper of a prayer?

Nay, let me then believe in all the blended false and true—
The semblance of the old love and the substance of the new,—
The then of changeless sunny days— the now of shower and shine—
But Love forever smiling,— as that old sweetheart of mine.

This ever-restful sense of home, though shouts ring in the hall.—
The easy-chair—the old bookshelves and prints along the wall;
The rare Habanas in their box, or gaunt churchwarden-stem
That often wags, above the jar, derisively at them.

As one who cons at evening o'er an album all alone,
And muses on the faces of the friends that he has known
So I turn the leaves of fancy till, in shadowy design,
I find the smiling features of an old sweetheart of mine.

The lamplight seems to glimmer with a flicker of surprise,
As I turn it low to rest me of the dazzle in my eyes,
And light my pipe in silence, save a sigh that seems to yoke
Its fate with my tobacco and to vanish with the smoke.

'Tis a fragrant retrospection -- for the loving thoughts that start
Into being are like perfume from the blossom of the heart;
And to dream the old dreams over is a luxury divine --
When my truant fancy wanders with that old sweetheart of mine.

Though I hear, beneath my study, like a fluttering of wings,
The voices of my children, and the mother as she sings,
I feel no twinge of conscience to deny me any theme
When Care has cast her anchor in the harbor of a dream.

In fact, to speak in earnest, I believe it adds a charm
To spice the good a trifle with a little dust of harm --
For I find an extra flavor in Memory's mellow wine
That makes me drink the deeper to that old sweetheart of mine.

O Childhood-days enchanted! O the magic of the Spring!—
With all green boughs to blossom white, and all bluebirds to sing!
When all the air, to toss and quaff, made life a jubilee
And changed the children's song and laugh to shrieks of ecstasy.

With eyes half closed in clouds that ooze from lips that taste, as well,
The peppermint and cinnamon, I hear the old School-bell,
And from "Recess" romp in again from "Blackman's" broken line,
To—smile, behind my "lesson", at that old sweetheart of mine.

A face of lily-beauty, with a form of airy grace,
Floats out of my tobacco as the genii from the vase;
And I thrill beneath the glances of a pair of azure eyes
As glowing as the summer and as tender as the skies.

I can see the pink sunbonnet and the little checkered dress
She wore when first I kissed her and she answered the caress
With the written declaration that, "as surely as the vine
Grew round the stump," she loved me -- that old sweet heart of mine.

Again I make her presents, in a really helpless way,—
The big "Rhode Island Greening"— (I was hungry too, that day!)—
But I follow her from Spelling, with her hand behind her—so—
And I slip the apple in it— and the Teacher doesn't know!

I give my treasures to her—all,— my pencil—blue-and-red;—
And, if little girls played marbles, mine should all be hers, instead!—
But she gave me her photograph, and printed "Ever Thine"
Across the back—in blue-and-red— that old sweetheart of mine!

And again I feel the pressure of her slender little hand,
As we used to talk together of the future we had planned --
When I should be a poet, and with nothing else to do
But write the tender verses that she set the music to:

When we should live together in a cozy little cot
Hid in a nest of roses, with a fairy garden-spot,
Where the vines were ever fruited, and the weather ever fine,
And the birds were ever singing for that old sweetheart of mine:

When I should be her lover forever and a day,
And she my faithful sweetheart till the golden hair was gray;
And we should be so happy that when either's lips were dumb
They would not smile in Heaven till the other's kiss had come.

But, ah! my dream is broken by a step upon the stair,
And the door is softly opened, and -- my wife is standing there;
Yet with eagerness and rapture all my visions I resign
To greet the living presence of that old sweetheart of mine.

I included the next postcard because it has a portrait of James Whitcomb Riley. The verse is from a different poem, Song Of Long Ago.

The James Whitcomb Riley residence in Indianapolis, shown on this old postcard, is now a National Historic Landmark and museum.

An Old Sweetheart of Mine is one of the unpublished James Whitcomb Riley Recordings at the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library of the the poet reading his work. This recording was made by the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1912. To listen to the recording, click here.

Visit Sepia Saturday 112
for more Vintage Images on a Book Theme


  1. Wow! This was a fantastic post. I loved the recording, it was so neat to hear his voice. What a poem, and your photos and postcards are just wonderful.

    Thank you for working so hard on this for us.

    Kathy M.

  2. just marvelous & perfect for Valentines' day.

  3. Sweet. I couldn't help think of Bowery songs of the 1880s I've read that have the same kind of flowery sentiment. All though this one has a happy ending!

  4. Thanks for visiting my blog and for leaving the comment. Your blog is very interesting.

  5. What a clever post - on theme and seasonal and complete with your postcards. Perfect!

  6. A delightful post and a recording well worth listening too. Now I'm off to Project Gutenberg - thanks for letting us know we can find his work there.

  7. That was marvelous. I love "truant fancies" and "dust of harm." What a treat to hear it read by him.

  8. A wonderful post! I had never heard of James Whitcomb Riley until I read your post. I enjoyed reading his poem very much. Thank you for sharing and introducing me to Mr. Riley.

  9. Wonderful post! I loved the poem and was SO happy with the way it ended. I just knew she was going to die somewhere along the way. Guess I've read too much Poe.

  10. I have an old book that has this poem and "Good bye Jim" in it. It's interesting to hear him reading it in his creaky old voice.

  11. Great post. So nice to be able to combine the book, poem, cards, and history.

  12. We used to live in Northern Indiana a long time ago and we took my children to Indianapolis, IN for a day celebrating the poet. I enjoyed the recording as it was interesting, but can't say I liked his delivery of his own poetry! Ha. Thanks, though, it was really fun to hear his voice.

  13. There was a great fondness for this kind of lengthy epic poem in the 19th century, they seem to have gone out of fashion these days. It would probably be a song nowadays, and a fair bit shorter. Fascinating stuff.

  14. A nicely drawn together post. The sentimentsl poem seemed just right for Valentine's Day and the illustrations and cards are lovely.

  15. "In fact, to speak in earnest, I believe it adds a charm
    To spice the good a trifle with a little dust of harm --
    For I find an extra flavor in Memory's mellow wine
    That makes me drink the deeper to that old sweetheart of mine."

    Indeed, if it is only in memory, there is no harm done. We all have our own secret garden.

  16. wow! I like the book and illustrations.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...