Mr. Hammond's Parable

A poem by James Whitcomb Riley



He was a Dreamer of the Days:
Indolent as a lazy breeze
Of midsummer, in idlest ways
Lolling about in the shade of trees.
The farmer turned - as he passed him by
Under the hillside where he kneeled
Plucking a flower - with scornful eye
And rode ahead in the harvest field
Muttering - "Lawz! ef that-air shirk
Of a boy was mine fer a week er so,
He'd quit dreamin' and git to work
And airn his livin' - er - Well! I know!"
And even kindlier rumor said,
Tapping with finger a shaking head, -
"Got such a curious kind o' way -
Wouldn't surprise me much, I say!"

Lying limp, with upturned gaze
Idly dreaming away his days.
No companions? Yes, a book
Sometimes under his arm he took
To read aloud to a lonesome brook.
And school-boys, truant, once had heard
A strange voice chanting, faint and dim -
Followed the echoes, and found it him,
Perched in a tree-top like a bird,
Singing, clean from the highest limb;
And, fearful and awed, they all slipped by
To wonder in whispers if he could fly.
"Let him alone!" his father said
When the old schoolmaster came to say,
"He took no part in his books to-day -
Only the lesson the readers read. -
His mind seems sadly going astray!"
"Let him alone!" came the mournful tone,
And the father's grief in his sad eyes shone -
Hiding his face in his trembling hand,
Moaning, "Would I could understand!
But as heaven wills it I accept
Uncomplainingly!" So he wept.

Then went "The Dreamer" as he willed,
As uncontrolled as a light sail filled
Flutters about with an empty boat
Loosed from its moorings and afloat:
Drifted out from the busy quay
Of dull school-moorings listlessly;
Drifted off on the talking breeze,
All alone with his reveries;
Drifted on, as his fancies wrought -
Out on the mighty gulfs of thought.


The farmer came in the evening gray
And took the bars of the pasture down;
Called to the cows in a coaxing way,
"Bess" and "Lady" and "Spot" and "Brown,"
While each gazed with a wide-eyed stare,
As though surprised at his coming there -
Till another tone, in a higher key,
Brought their obeyance lothfully.

Then, as he slowly turned and swung
The topmost bar to its proper rest,
Something fluttered along and clung
An instant, shivering at his breast -
A wind-scared fragment of legal cap,
Which darted again, as he struck his hand
On his sounding chest with a sudden slap,
And hurried sailing across the land.
But as it clung he had caught the glance
Of a little penciled countenance,
And a glamour of written words; and hence,
A minute later, over the fence,
"Here and there and gone astray
Over the hills and far away,"
He chased it into a thicket of trees
And took it away from the captious breeze.

A scrap of paper with a rhyme
Scrawled upon it of summertime:
A pencil-sketch of a dairy-maid,
Under a farmhouse porch's shade,
Working merrily; and was blent
With her glad features such sweet content,
That a song she sung in the lines below
Seemed delightfully apropos: -


"Why do I sing - Tra-la-la-la-la!
Glad as a King? - Tra-la-la-la-la!
Well, since you ask, -
I have such a pleasant task,
I can not help but sing!

"Why do I smile - Tra-la-la-la-la!
Working the while? - Tra-la-la-la-la!
Work like this is play, -
So I'm playing all the day -
I can not help but smile!

"So, If you please - Tra-la-la-la-la!
Live at your ease! - Tra-la-la-la-la!
You've only got to turn,
And, you see, its bound to churn -
I can not help but please!"

The farmer pondered and scratched his head,
Reading over each mystic word. -
"Some o' the Dreamer's work!" he said -
"Ah, here's more - and name and date
In his hand-write'!" - And the good man read, -
"'Patent applied for, July third,
Eighteen hundred and forty-eight'!"
The fragment fell from his nerveless grasp -
His awed lips thrilled with the joyous gasp:
"I see the p'int to the whole concern, -
He's studied out a patent churn!"

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