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Oklahoma Agriculture in the Classroom

Songs and Poems

When the Frost is on the Punkin

by James Whitcomb Riley

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then's the times a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover over-head!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock!
Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin' 's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! ...
I don't know how to tell it—but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me—
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

About Poet: James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley was among the most popular writers of the late 19th and early 20th century, known for his uncomplicated, sentimental, and humorous writing. Often writing his verses in dialect, his poetry caused readers to recall a nostalgic and simpler time in earlier American history. This gave his poetry a unique appeal during a period of rapid industrialization and urbanization in the US.

Riley was known as the "Hoosier Poet" for his dialect works and as the "Children's Poet" for his children's poetry. Riley gradually rose in prominence during the 1880s through his poetry reading tours. He traveled a touring circuit first in the Midwest, and then nationally, holding shows and making joint appearances on stage with other famous talents.

His family had a farm in rural Indiana. Riley's father was a lawyer but was partially paralyzed fighting for the Union army in the Civil War. He was unable to return to his legal practice, so the family sold their house in town and returned to the family farm.

Discussion and Activities
  1. Take turns reading the poem out loud as a class.
  2. What do you notice about Riley's use of language? What effect does his use of dialect have?
  3. Discuss the poem's meter. What is the rhyme pattern?
  4. Identify unfamiliar words and discuss what you think they mean in context before looking them up in a dictionary.
  5. Riley mostly grew up in town, but his family had a farm. Find the references to farm life in the poem.
  6. Identify and correct the misspelled words.

dialect: a regional variety of a language differing from the standard language

fodder: coarse dry food (as cornstalks) for livestock

furries (furrows): a trench in the earth made by or as if by a plow

guiney (guinea): a gray and white spotted African bird related to the pheasants that has a bare neck and head and is widely raised for food

reaper: a machine for cutting grain

shock: a bunch of sheaves of grain or stalks of corn set on end (as in a field)

stock: farm animals

tossels (tassels): the male flower cluster on the top of Indian corn that resembles a tassel

turkey cock: male turkey