An Old Sweetheart of Mine
James Whitcomb Riley
Drawings by Howard Chandler Christy
Decorations by Virginia Keep
The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers Indianapolis
Copyright, 1888-1899-1902 James Whitcomb Riley
Copyright, 1902 The Bowen-Merrill Company
An Old Sweetheart of Mine
To GEORGE C. HITT
The beginning of whose steadfast friendship was marked by the first publication of these verses which now, expanded by writer, honored by publisher and masterfully graced by artist, seem to be a worthier symbol of the author's grateful and affectionate regard for his earliest friend
List of Illustrations
I Frontispiece—An Old Sweetheart of Mine.
II A fair, illusive vision that would vanish into air
III The then of changeless sunny days—The now of shower and shine
IV The old bookshelves and prints along the wall
V I find the smiling features of an old sweetheart of mine
VI Its fate with my tobacco and to vanish with the smoke
VII When my truant fancies wander with that old sweetheart of mine
VIII The voices of my children and the mother as she sings
IX For I find an extra flavor in Memory's mellow wine
X O childhood days enchanted! O the magic of the spring
XI To—smile, behind my lesson, at that old sweetheart of mine
XII A face of lily-beauty, with a form of airy grace
XIII When first I kissed her, and she answered the caress
XIV I slipped the apple in it—and the teacher didn't know
XV She gave me her photograph, and printed "Ever Thine"
XVI And again I feel the pressure of her slender little hand
XVII Where the vines were ever fruited, and the weather ever fine
XVIII And she my faithful sweetheart till the golden hair was gray
XIX The door is softly opened, and—my wife is standing there
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 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—
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 sweetheart 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.