Like bell-bottom pants, pet rocks, New Coke, and 8 Track tapes, Riley’s poetry has not stood the test of time. Many critics think of his poetry as saccharine and cliched. Today, in the pantheon of American poetry, James Whitcomb Riley is considered a minor poet. With his star faded, and fewer visiting his grave, a movement has begun to remove his remains to his birthplace of Greenfiled, Indiana, to a grave he purchased next to his parents.
On the Website, jameswhitcombriley.com, the Webmaster writes, “Recently the fame of this great writer has dimmed. His humanism and glorification of things Hoosier are not so valued now as in former days. So is it time to allow him to rest in peace where he intended, in his hometown of Greenfield, Indiana? Should America’s “Children’s Poet” be allowed to have his remains returned to the empty grave he purchased to house his remains?” That is a question that remains to be answered.
I can not say, and I will not say
That she is dead. – She is just away!
With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand,
She has wandered into an unknown land,
And left us dreaming of how very fair
It needs must be, since she lingers there.
And you – O you, who the wildest yearn
For the old-time step and the glad return, –
Think of her faring on, as dear
In the love of There as the love of Here:
And loyal still, as she gave the blows
Of her warrior-strength to her children’s foes. –
Mild and gentle, as she was brave,
When the sweetest love of her life she gave
To simple things: – Where the violets grew
Blue as the eyes they were likened to,
The touches of her hands have strayed
As revently as her lips have prayed:
When the little brown thrush that harshly chirred
Was dear to her as the mocking-bird:
And she pitied as much as someone in pain
A writhing honey-bee wet with rain. –
Think of her still as the same, I say:
She is not dead – she is just away.