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Three sonnets

"When June is Here," "Pan," and "Silence"

You know you've made it as a poet when your creation has not only become a beloved fixture of American pop culture, but has also been used to sell merchandise.
  • You know you've made it as a poet when your creation has not only become a beloved fixture of American pop culture, but has also been used to sell merchandise.
  • By Joe Haupt from USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

When June Is Here

  • When June is here—what art have we to sing
  • The whiteness of the lilies midst the green
  • Of noon-tranced lawns? Or flash of roses seen
  • Like redbirds’ wings? Or earliest ripening
  • Prince-Harvest apples, where the cloyed bees cling
  • Round winey juices oozing down between
  • The peckings of the robin, while we lean
  • In under-grasses, lost in marveling.
  • Or the cool term of morning, and the stir
  • Of odorous breaths from wood and meadow walks,
  • The bobwhite’s liquid yodel, and the whir
  • Of sudden flight; and, where the milkmaid talks
  • Across the bars, on tilted barley-stalks
  • The dewdrops’ glint in webs of gossamer.

Pan

  • This Pan is but an idle god, I guess,
  • Since all the fair midsummer of my dreams
  • He loiters listlessly by woody streams,
  • Soaking the lush glooms up with laziness;
  • Or drowsing while the maiden-winds caress
  • Him prankishly, and powder him with gleams
  • Of sifted sunshine. And he ever seems
  • Drugged with a joy unutterable—unless
  • His low pipes whistle hints of it far out
  • Across the ripples to the dragon-fly
  • That like a wind-born blossom blown about,
  • Drops quiveringly down, as though to die—
  • Then lifts and wavers on, as if in doubt
  • Whether to fan his wings or fly without. 

Silence

  • Thousands of thousands of hushed years ago,
  • Out on the edge of Chaos, all alone
  • I stood on peaks of vapor, high upthrown
  • Above a sea that knew nor ebb nor flow,
  • Nor any motion won of winds that blow,
  • Nor any sound of watery wail or moan,
  • Nor lisp of wave, nor wandering undertone
  • Of any tide lost in the night below.
  • So still it was, I mind me, as I laid
  • My thirsty ear against mine own faint sigh
  • To drink of that, I sipped it, half afraid
  • ‘Twas but the ghost of a dead voice spilled by
  • The one starved star that tottered through the shade
  • And came tiptoeing toward me down the sky. 

James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) was an American poet, known during his lifetime as the “Hoosier Poet.” A native of Indiana, Riley was immensely popular during his lifetime and achieved the rare feat of becoming wealthy from his poetry. His verse for children was his most popular, and it was on this verse that his fortune, if not his fame, rested during his lifetime. He was one of the first poets to establish a cultural identity in the Midwest, and he wrote many of his poems in a Midwestern dialect. He is best known for two poems: “Little Orphant Annie,” which was the inspiration for the popular comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” and “The Raggedy Man,” which was the inspiration for the Raggedy Ann doll.

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