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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

The Barefoot Boy


              1Blessings on thee, little man,
              2Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
              3With thy turned-up pantaloons,
              4And thy merry whistled tunes;
              5With thy red lip, redder still
              6Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
              7With the sunshine on thy face,
              8Through thy torn brim's jaunty grace;
              9From my heart I give thee joy, --
            10I was once a barefoot boy!
            11Prince thou art, -- the grown-up man
            12Only is republican.
            13Let the million-dollared ride!
            14Barefoot, trudging at his side,
            15Thou hast more than he can buy
            16In the reach of ear and eye, --
            17Outward sunshine, inward joy:
            18Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!

            19Oh for boyhood's painless play,
            20Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
            21Health that mocks the doctor's rules,
            22Knowledge never learned of schools,
            23Of the wild bee's morning chase,
            24Of the wild-flower's time and place,
            25Flight of fowl and habitude
            26Of the tenants of the wood;
            27How the tortoise bears his shell,
            28How the woodchuck digs his cell,
            29And the ground-mole sinks his well;
            30How the robin feeds her young,
            31How the oriole's nest is hung;
            32Where the whitest lilies blow,
            33Where the freshest berries grow,
            34Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
            35Where the wood-grape's clusters shine;
            36Of the black wasp's cunning way,
            37Mason of his walls of clay,
            38And the architectural plans
            39Of gray hornet artisans!
            40For, eschewing books and tasks,
            41Nature answers all he asks;
            42Hand in hand with her he walks,
            43Face to face with her he talks,
            44Part and parcel of her joy, --
            45Blessings on the barefoot boy!

            46Oh for boyhood's time of June,
            47Crowding years in one brief moon,
            48When all things I heard or saw,
            49Me, their master, waited for.
            50I was rich in flowers and trees,
            51Humming-birds and honey-bees;
            52For my sport the squirrel played,
            53Plied the snouted mole his spade;
            54For my taste the blackberry cone
            55Purpled over hedge and stone;
            56Laughed the brook for my delight
            57Through the day and through the night,
            58Whispering at the garden wall,
            59Talked with me from fall to fall;
            60Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
            61Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
            62Mine, on bending orchard trees,
            63Apples of Hesperides!
            64Still as my horizon grew,
            65Larger grew my riches too;
            66All the world I saw or knew
            67Seemed a complex Chinese toy,
            68Fashioned for a barefoot boy!

            69Oh for festal dainties spread,
            70Like my bowl of milk and bread;
            71Pewter spoon and bowl of wood,
            72On the door-stone, gray and rude!
            73O'er me, like a regal tent,
            74Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
            75Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
            76Looped in many a wind-swung fold;
            77While for music came the play
            78Of the pied frogs' orchestra;
            79And, to light the noisy choir,
            80Lit the fly his lamp of fire.
            81I was monarch: pomp and joy
            82Waited on the barefoot boy!

            83Cheerily, then, my little man,
            84Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
            85Though the flinty slopes be hard,
            86Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
            87Every morn shall lead thee through
            88Fresh baptisms of the dew;
            89Every evening from thy feet
            90Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
            91All too soon these feet must hide
            92In the prison cells of pride,
            93Lose the freedom of the sod,
            94Like a colt's for work be shod,
            95Made to tread the mills of toil,
            96Up and down in ceaseless moil:
            97Happy if their track be found
            98Never on forbidden ground;
            99Happy if they sink not in
          100Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
          101Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
          102Ere it passes, barefoot boy!

Notes

3] pantaloons: long trousers with wide legs at the ankle.

63] Apples of Hesperides: in classical mythology, golden apples given to Hera on her marriage to Zeus, and retrieved by Hercules, who killed the dragon guarding them.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Cambridge edition, ed. H. E. S. (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1894): 396-97. PS 3250 E94 1894 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1855
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/20

Form: couplets


Other poems by John Greenleaf Whittier