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 children, 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 ‘at git you
Onc’t they was a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,--
So 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 wasn’t there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An’ they seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found was thist his pants an’ roundabout—
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’one, an’ all her blood an’ kin;
An’ onc’t, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks was 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 was two great big Black Things a-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 parents, an’ yer teachers 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’ll git you
When I was a girl, I loved poems. I read them a lot. I used to shut myself in my parents’ bedroom with a copy of Best Loved Poems of the American People and sing my way through it. It was at least 3 inches thick, so I never made it to the end.
I couldn’t tell you which poem was my favorite. I had lots of favorites, and Little Orphant Annie was one of them. I’m not sure where I read it, but I think it was probably in my third or fourth grade Voyages in English book. I have scoured the bookshelves for that book, but I seem to have given it away.
I loved—I still love—everything about the poem, but most of all, I love the scariness of it. It used to make me shiver. I didn’t know what kivvers meant, but I thought it was something terrible, and it sent a thrill of terror through my bones. I was an adult before I finally figured out it was only covers. I’m so glad I didn’t know then.
There was a black and white illustration in the book, but it was only the hearth, which was frustrating because I wanted to see Annie! I had a vague image of a poor little girl, and I think I assumed she was black because in the South in the 50s she would have been, but it was never a clear picture.
Today, though, I finally found out what she looked like on Wikipedia.
She was a real person who lived with James Whitcomb Riley’s family when he was growing up. Her name was Mary Alice (Allie) Smith. The Wikepedia article says that the poem was originally entitled The Elf Child. For the third printing, Riley changed the name to Little Orphant Allie, but a printing error changed Allie to Annie.
The article also says that the poem was the inspiration for both Little Orphan Annie, which seems likely enough, and Raggedy Ann, which was a surprise. There is a legend that the creator of the the Raggedy Ann doll named her after Little Orphant Annie, and another Riley poem, The Raggedy Man.
The accent, which I never would have guessed, is a 19th century Hoosier accent. If you want to hear what Riley thought that sounded like, you can hear him reading the poem if you scroll down in the Wikipedia article here.
—Janet Cupo is a great-grandmother (and a great grandmother) on temporary (maybe) sabbatical from the workaday world.