By James Whitcomb Riley
Published by Bobbs-Merrill Co.
1902

1. An Old Sweetheart of Mine!—Is this
Her presence here with me,
Or but a vain creation of
A lover’s memory?

By James Whitcomb Riley

Published by Bobbs-Merrill Co.

1902

 

1. 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?

 

2. 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.

 

3. 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

 

4. 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 leave of Fancy,

till, in shadowy design,

I find the smiling features of

an old sweetheart of mine.

 

5. 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.

 

6. ‘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.

 

7. 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—

 

8. In face, 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.

 

9. 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.

 

10. 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.

 

11. 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.

 

12. 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.

 

13. 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!

 

14. 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 Think”

Across the back—in blue-and-red­—

that old sweetheart of mine!

 

15. 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....

 

16. When we should live together

In a cozy little cot

Hid in a next 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....

 

17. 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!

 

18. 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.