A Barefoot Boy

By James Whitcomb Riley 1849–1916
A barefoot boy! I mark him at his play—
      For May is here once more, and so is he,—
      His dusty trousers, rolled half to the knee,
And his bare ankles grimy, too, as they:
Cross-hatchings of the nettle, in array
      Of feverish stripes, hint vividly to me
      Of woody pathways winding endlessly
Along the creek, where even yesterday
He plunged his shrinking body—gasped and shook—
      Yet called the water "warm," with never lack
Of joy. And so, half enviously I look
      Upon this graceless barefoot and his track,—
      His toe stubbed—ay, his big toe-nail knocked back
Like unto the clasp of an old pocketbook.

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet James Whitcomb Riley 1849–1916

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Living, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Youth, Nature

Poetic Terms Imagery, Sonnet, Simile

 James Whitcomb Riley

Biography

Known as “The Hoosier Poet” because of his birth in Indiana and poems celebrating the state, and as “The Children’s Poet” due to his appeal for young readers, James Whitcomb Riley was one of his day’s best-selling writers. Full of sentiment and traditional in form, his work features rustic subjects who speak in a homely, countrified dialect. When Riley died, Woodrow Wilson called him “a man who imparted joyful pleasure and a . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Youth, Nature

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Imagery, Sonnet, Simile

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.