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An Old Sweetheart of Mine

By James Whitcomb Riley

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 the air
Did 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 the blossom of the heart;
And to dream the old dreams over is a luxury divine—
When my truant fancies wander 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—
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 deeper into that old sweetheart of mine.
O Childhood-days enchanted!
Into being is like perfume…

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James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley (October 7, 1849 – July 22, 1916) was an American writer, poet, and best-selling author. During his lifetime he was known as the “Hoosier Poet” and “Children’s Poet” for his dialect works and his children’s poetry. His poems tend to be humorous or sentimental. Of the approximately 1,000 poems Riley wrote, the majority are in dialect. His famous works include “Little Orphant Annie” and “The Raggedy Man”.


Riley began his career writing verses as a sign maker and submitting poetry to newspapers. Thanks in part to poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s endorsement, he eventually earned successive jobs at Indiana newspaper publishers during the late 1870s. He gradually rose to prominence during the 1880s through his poetry reading tours. He traveled a touring circuit first in the Midwest, and then nationally, appearing either alone or with other famous talents. During this period Riley’s long-term addiction to alcohol began to affect his performing abilities, and he suffered financially as a result. However, once he extricated himself from a series of poorly negotiated contracts that sought to limit his earnings, he began to accumulate wealth and eventually became a financial success.

By the 1890s, Riley had become known as a bestselling author. His children’s poems were compiled into a book illustrated by Howard Chandler Christy. Titled Rhymes of Childhood, it was his most popular and sold millions of copies. As a poet, Riley achieved an uncommon level of fame during his lifetime. He was honored with annual Riley Day celebrations around the United States and was regularly called on to perform readings at national civic events. He continued to write and hold occasional poetry readings until a stroke paralyzed his right arm in 1910.

Riley’s chief legacy was his influence in fostering the creation of a Midwestern cultural identity and his contributions to the Golden Age of Indiana Literature. With other writers of his era, he helped create a caricature of Midwesterners and formed a literary community that produced works rivaling the established Eastern literati. There are many memorials dedicated to Riley, including the James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children.

James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley