James Whitcomb Riley and my great grandmother had something in common. They both were born in a log cabin in Indiana in 1849. I wonder if she knew who he was?
I remember memorizing his poems back when I was a kid. Of course, back then it was the norm to memorize poetry and Psalms. I can still recite some of them. Do you remember this Hoosier favorite?
At one point in his life, James tried going to college in order to follow in his attorney father’s shoes. While he tried to study law and make his father proud, he found that he was better suited to follow in his mother's steps by writing poetry.
Through his poetry, James found that he was more adept to entertaining than anything else. Couple that with his longing to wander, and you can see why he traveled around the country on a theater circuit tour reciting his poems.
James Whitcomb Riley was no stranger to rejection. His poetry had been published in various newspapers across the country, but since he hailed from the Midwest and not the East, getting his poems published appeared impossible. No one seemed to notice his talent.
In spite of his inability to adapt to studying or pursuing a degree, he came up with a resourceful way to “break in” to the writer’s world. He published one of his poems under another famous poet’s name – Edgar Allan Poe. The poem received wide acclaim and served as a springboard into fame for Riley once he made it known that it was he who wrote the poem and not Poe.
Here's a little quiz to see if you can tell the difference between Riley’s poems and Poe’s.
It is said that Riley became the wealthiest poet of his time. We in Indiana know him as “The Hoosier Poet”, but he was best known nationally as "The Children’s Poet”.
Do you have a favorite James Whitcomb Riley poem?