Poetry Sunday: August by James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley was an American poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He was extremely popular in his day. He was known as the "Hoosier Poet" because he was from Indiana and his poems often reflected the rustic landscape and country values of that mostly rural state. He's fallen out of favor a bit today, but when I was in elementary school we still read his poems and I remember some of them quite fondly. 

This is not one that I remember but I came across it when searching for a poem to feature today and it seemed a perfect evocation of a hot August day. I hope you agree.


by James Whitcomb Riley

A day of torpor in the sullen heat
Of Summer's passion: In the sluggish stream
The panting cattle lave their lazy feet,
With drowsy eyes, and dream.

Long since the winds have died, and in the sky
There lives no cloud to hint of Nature's grief;
The sun glares ever like an evil eye,
And withers flower and leaf.

Upon the gleaming harvest-field remote
The thresher lies deserted, like some old
Dismantled galleon that hangs afloat
Upon a sea of gold.

The yearning cry of some bewildered bird
Above an empty nest, and truant boys
Along the river's shady margin heard--
A harmony of noise--

A melody of wrangling voices blent
With liquid laughter, and with rippling calls
Of piping lips and thrilling echoes sent
To mimic waterfalls.

And through the hazy veil the atmosphere
Has draped about the gleaming face of Day,
The sifted glances of the sun appear
In splinterings of spray.

The dusty highway, like a cloud of dawn,
Trails o'er the hillside, and the passer-by,
A tired ghost in misty shroud, toils on
His journey to the sky.

And down across the valley's drooping sweep,
Withdrawn to farthest limit of the glade,
The forest stands in silence, drinking deep
Its purple wine of shade.

The gossamer floats up on phantom wing;
The sailor-vision voyages the skies
And carries into chaos everything
That freights the weary eyes:

Till, throbbing on and on, the pulse of heat
Increases--reaches--passes fever's height,
And Day sinks into slumber, cool and sweet,
Within the arms of Night. 


  1. It certainly evokes the August weather and writers in that period had a distinctive way with words.

    1. There is something particular and unique in the language used by the writers of that period - I agree. Having grown up on a farm, I can especially appreciate Riley's country images.

  2. You are so right about those country images; they are spot on. I love this poem! Lazy cadence, like summer heat. ;-)

    1. Whitcomb was really very good at painting these bucolic scenes and they do remind me a lot of my childhood.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Don't Hesitate by Mary Oliver

Overboard by Sara Paretsky: A review

The Investigator by John Sandford: A review