Halloween is a distinctly odd holiday – initially a day when the boundary between the living and the dead was more than a little blurred. How it became a celebration of costume, children, and candy treats … well, it seems a bit odd to me. Living humans are generally a bit nervous around the dead. We want them to be comfortable in their surreal existence, and suspect that signs of their presence on earth are not a cause for celebration. We assume they must be ghosts – whose malevolence seems less threatening – or, goblins – those unpleasant gremlins who are up to no good. Ah, I see one now.
When I was a child sometime in the last century, my father used to recite a ghoulish poem by James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) every Halloween. In the spirit of the season, I share it with you now. Try reading it aloud with the dialectic accents.
Incidentally, Mr. Riley dedicated this poem:
“With all Faith and Affection to all the little children: —
The happy ones; and sad ones;
The sober and silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones;
The good ones – Yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.”
I can’t quite decide if he liked children or not.
LITTLE ORPHANT ANNIE
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘’ll git you
Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,–
An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout:–
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laught an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin;
An’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ole folks wuz there,
She mocked ‘em an’ shocked ‘em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things an-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns ’ll git you
An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,–
You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns ‘ill get you
With thanks to the Handsome Bloke who suggested I write something about Halloween.
Wishing you all a “spooktacular” Halloween!
“Little Orphant Annie” reprinted from James Whitcomb Riley, Complete Works, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1916. Accessed from The Poetry Archive, http://www.poetry-archive.com/r/little_orphant_annie.html. Oct. 28, 2013.
Featured Jack-o-Lantern Image by Erick Charlton, 2007, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution, Wikimedia Commons.
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.