During his lifetime, James Whitcomb Riley was known as "the children's poet" and was a popular performer on the Lyceum performance circuit. A friend to both Presidents Cleveland and Harrison. In 1908, he was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and later awarded a special medal for poetry. His poem, "Nine Little Goblins" is fun to read together as a family and makes a perfect partner to our Digital Decoration, Eerie Eyes: Goblin Eyes.
They all climbed up on a high board-fence—
Nine little Goblins, with green-glass eyes—
Nine little Goblins that had no sense,
And couldn't tell coppers from cold mince pies;
And they all climbed up on the fence, and sat—
And I asked them what they were staring at.
And the first one said, as he scratched his head
With a queer little arm that reached out of his ear
And rasped its claws in his hair so red—
"This is what this little arm is fer!"
And he scratched and stared, and the next one said,
"How on earth do you scratch your head?"
And he laughed like the screech of a rusty hinge—
Laughed and laughed till his face grew black;
And when he choked, with a final twinge
Of his stifling laughter, he thumped his back
With a fist that grew on the end of his tail
Till the breath came back to his lips so pale.
And the third little Goblin leered round at me—
And there were no lids on his eyes at all—
And he clucked one eye, and he says, says he,
"What is the style of your socks this fall?"
And he clapped his heels—and I sighed to see
That he had hands where his feet should be.
Then a bald-faced Goblin, gray and grim,
Bowed his head, and I saw him slip
His eyebrows off, as I looked at him,
And paste them over his upper lip;
And then he moaned in remorseful pain—
"Would--Ah, would I'd me brows again!"
And then the whole of the Goblin band
Rocked on the fence-top to and fro,
And clung, in a long row, hand in hand,
Singing the songs that they used to know—
Singing the songs that their grandsires sung
In the goo-goo days of the Goblin-tongue.
And ever they kept their green-glass eyes
Fixed on me with a stony stare—
Till my own grew glazed with a dread surmise,
And my hat whooped up on my lifted hair,
And I felt the heart in my breast snap to
As you've heard the lid of a snuff-box do.
And they sang "You're asleep! There is no board-fence,
And never a Goblin with green-glass eyes!—
'Tis only a vision the mind invents
After a supper of cold mince-pies,—
And you're doomed to dream this way," they said,—
"And you sha'n't wake up till you're clean plum dead!"