Now I know why I was such an obedient child ;). It all stems from a poem my mother used to read to us at night that was TERRIFYING! She’d open up this ancient book and read the poem from a piece of tattered newspaper taped to the inside cover. The book belonged to my great-grandmother and it’s called The Best Loved Poems of the American People, Copyright 1936.
I remember the goosebumps I’d get and can still hear my mom’s voice when she read us this poem that was so scary, it gave me nightmares. (Thanks a lot, mom!)
The poem is called “Little Orphant Annie” and it inspired the beloved “Annie” character of movie, radio and comic strip fame. It was written in 1885 by James Whitcomb Riley who wrote his rhymes in nineteenth century Hoosier dialect.
The stories in the poem each tell of a naughty child who is snatched away by goblins as a result of their misbehavior. The underlying moral and warning is announced in the final stanza, telling children that they should obey their parents and be kind to the unfortunate, lest they suffer the same fate.
Now a parent to three young children, I’m starting to believe my mom had ulterior motives in reading us this rhyme and I thought I’d share it with you to set a spooky tone for this gray and chilly Halloween night…
Little Orphant Annie
by James Whitcomb Riley
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 ‘at gits you Ef you Don’t Watch Out! 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’ 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 Ef you Don’t Watch Out! 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 Ef you Don’t Watch Out! 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 Ef you Don’t Watch Out!
Do you have any favorite poems for Halloween or any day of the year? If so, please share in the comments box below. And just in case the “Little Orphant Annie” poem alone is not quite creepy enough, enjoy this reading by James Whitcomb Riley himself and have a Happy Halloween!