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on December 2, 2002
Folksy Hoosier James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) is America's premier poet of the sentimental.

'The Complete Poetical Works Of James Whitcomb Riley' brings together over 1,000 touching, humorous, easy to read, and intelligent but non-intellectual poems, many filled with longing for irretrievable childhood innocence, freedom, and joy.

Today's readers will find the volume a genuine time capsule into the past; these poems will evoke not only the reader's own memories of childhood, but also a simpler and perhaps more innocent and joyous America. The ambitions and expectations expressed by the speakers, narrators, and characters in the poems are humble, the horizons of their world near. One of the secrets of Riley's backward-glancing poems is that his reflections are only partially regretful; the joys of the past are equaled by the child-like joy still present in the adult poet's heart. Dozens of the pieces included here are suitable for reading to and sharing with children.

Titles 'The Swimming Hole,' 'The Noble Old Elm,' 'Company Manners,' 'When Mother Combed My Hair,' 'Us Farmers In The Country' 'My First Spectacles,' 'Blooms In May,' 'Two Sonnets To The June -Bug,' 'The Land Of Used-To-Be,' and 'Our Boyhood Haunts' offer a good indication of the book's content.

There are numerous nature poems and celebrations of the seasons, summer meadows of "clover to the knee," August moons, lazy rivers, "the twitter of the bluebird and the wren," and, in one of Riley's most famous, the frost "on the punkin."

There are tributes to William McKinley and Abraham Lincoln, to Tennyson, Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Joel Chandler Harris. Famous characters 'Little Orphant Annie' and 'The Raggedy Man' are here; Puck makes an appearance "under a low crescent moon" in a poem of his own, as do Pan, Santa Claus, pixies, and goblins in others. Odes to boyhood best friends abound. People lived on closer terms with death in Riley's time, and, appropriately, a number of the poems address the subject, all of which express either blissful faith in the afterlife or sadness for the living left behind.

Riley was endlessly inventive within the limited sphere of his talent, or, perhaps, within the limitations he purposefully set upon it. Oddly, there are relatively few poems celebrating romantic love and marriage.

Riley, who never married, apparently held the adult world and women in particular in no little suspicion. In his poetry, eligible women are generally kept at what Riley must have felt was a safe distance, though there are numerous tributes to mothers, aunts, sisters, and little girls---even stepmothers are embraced lovingly. But when Riley wrote about single women and imagined wives, his poetic vision generally darkened.

In 'The Werewife,' the volume's 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci,' Riley portrays the speaker's "fluttering, moth-winged soul" helplessly caught and mesmerized by his wife, a white-skinned, red-cheeked seductress who is also a murderous vampire.

In 'The Mad Lover,' the narrator lives in a state of grim emotional paralysis after falling in love with 'Miriam Wayne,' though whether "fate" or Miriam herself is the cause of the "evil" and the lover's madness is not made clear.

In 'Oh, Her Beauty,' the poet sings the praises his beloved's transcendent loveliness, but the last lines find him on his knees in thanks to God for revealing her spiritual ugliness at the eleventh hour.

The plucky woman in 'Her Choice' is asked by her lover to chose his "love or hate," and she chooses "your hate, my dear!" The cuckolded man in 'The Lovely Husband' fans his wife and cold creams her face upon command, ignores her plucky unfaithfulness, and is every way a "handy hubby" and "lovey-dovey" until he cheerfully takes a shot gun and shoots her.

The lover of the imprisoned killer in 'Life Sentence' is "false, while he was true," "the mistress of all siren arts," and "the poor soulless heroine of a hundred hearts!"

Riley and Carl Sandburg were kindred souls; admirers of Sandburg will find that Sandburg's work was partially a progression of Riley's. Both poets' verse is filled with anecdotes, homey bits of wisdom, funny stories, songs, folk truisms, and legendary characters. Riley's poems are snippets of life, fireside tales, and reflections; unlike Sandburg, politics are occasionally touched upon but never the pivotal focus in Riley's work.

How readers react to John Whitcomb Riley will depend on how they respond to the overtly sentimental and the character of the times in which he wrote, for these poems effortlessly evoke it.

Though warmly sentimental, Riley was also bright and witty and full of spark, a dreamy, reflective, pre -urban poet of the small town and the home, of the sun porch and the rocking chair, of back fence gossip and street corner news, and of the American dream as it was conceived in his era.

Potential readers may think themselves too sophisticated, cynical, or highbrow to enjoy the happily middlebrow works of James Whitcomb Riley. But such readers may be pleasantly surprised at how completely they find themselves immersed in Riley's detailed, frequently timeless, invigorating, and ingenious work.

Despite its overall simplicity, Riley's work comfortably rests within the grander tradition of American literature, and makes for visionary reading in its own unique, whimsical manner.
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on June 15, 2000
You don't have to be a farmer, a Hoosier or a senior citizen longing for the days gone by to enjoy James Whitcomb Riley's poems! My mother (a born and bred Okie) loved his Farm Rhymes and Child Rhymes and I have her old, cracking books, as well as this complete volume which I bought myself several years ago. There is a poem in the book for every day and every occasion. Read what he writes about the rain, about summer, about the house of someone he loved, about marriage, about death, about children, about slamming screen doors, about parents and politicians and more! They're wonderful and accessible by anyone -- this isn't high-fallutin' poetry that might not make much sense. JWR's words inspired me to own a meadow with a tree to lie under, a creek to wade in and long grass to blow with the approach of a storm. I'm reading selected poems to my 8 year old son now, who enjoys them very much -- and then we write our own!
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on December 10, 1999
Riley's simple homespun tales.. his inflection of the local Hoosier dialect of the era and the unique way he has of creating a treasurery of pictures in your mind.. gives the reader a real feeling of stepping back in time and exploring the memories of the heart. Being a Hoosier farmer myself this author captures the emotions of the soul and releases them in the childlike purity of his script. I see now why my mother loved the works of James Whitcomb Riley. I'm just sorry it took me so long.
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on June 8, 2005
Twas struck with words as ne'r b'fore,

those gentle flowed from a poet of yore.

Each letter 'round our hearts was wrapt,

melodies of beauty lovely tapt.

Who'd er'er thunk that a pokety ole' man,

could know our thoughts and understan.

There ain't any we'd recomand as highly,

as Indyanna's James Whitcomb Riley.
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on June 12, 2002
You can take the Hoosier out of the state of Indiana, but you can't take the Hoosier out of one's heart. This book was an inspiration to me as a child, and as an adult living in another state, I am still transported by the words of James Whitcomb Riley to the lazy edge of a river, to the Ol' Swimmin' Hole, or to where the Frost is on the Punkin'. His images of simple pleasures of a past life still make us forget all of our modern problems. I recommend this to anyone who has ever lived in the country, or needs to be spirited far away from city stress.
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on January 26, 2002
when i was little, we wore out a copy of riley's poems and stories making my father read them to us. especially "the happy cripple" and "the bear story". riley is great.
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on April 7, 2003
After mulling over volumes like the "Viking Portable Library" it is refreshing to have an entire volume of light-hearted, folksy fun. Of course, Riley's works aren't ALL in that vein, but favorites like Ragedy Man and Little Orphan Annie are, and that's why I like him. Being from California, I hardly know how to use the type of speech inflections and what-not that Riley hasn't written into these rhyming tales. But the closer I get to being able to master such speech the more it entertains my kids! Great collection, get it!
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on May 6, 2001
Riley was the Poet Laureate of the U.S. from Indiana--Hoosier country. And his poetry was beautiful and I still enjoy reading them. There isn't any emotion that I can imagine that he didn't cover in the ten-volume set that I had come by as a youth. And now with all of them in a single volume, I'm happy again that I need not fear the loss of yellowed and crumbling pages, but that I may now, enjoy that simpler time yet once again.
Wait until it's a rainy day. Throw a log on the fire. Heat up some hot chocolate or cocoa and just read from this volume, either to yourself or your children. Let them grow up hearing of Hoosiers and their simple bit insightful life. Who knows, they may even embrace some of the purer values expressed in Riley's work for themselves. I did and I will. Again and again.
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on April 16, 2007
James Whitcomb Riley is one of the few poets to deal with the death of youngsters and oldsters alike. His poems give comfort to any who have experienced loss. He is little known today for these poems but they appear throughout this magnificent book. In these complete works there are love poems, grief poems and humorous poems told with such lyrical expertise and wisdom from someone who has experienced every emotion he writes about. Although his style is old fashioned rhyming poetry it is truly delightful.

I applaud the publishers of this great book (I have three copies and send it to friends and family)and recommend it to ALL who love poetry whether it be contemporary or otherwise.
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on June 16, 2012
This is a wonderful poetry book. He wrote poems so that even people that don't like poetry would like them. My father read his poems to me every night when I was a child. I purchased this book wondering if I would still love his works and have not been dissapointed. I LOVE IT!
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