When the Frost is on the Punkin

childcraft encyclopedia image from James Whitcomb Riley poem

Illustration from Childcraft Encyclopedia

James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) was known as “The Hoosier Poet” or “The Children’s Poet.”  This wonderful poem about fall in the country reminds me of my childhood, when I would gaze at the pictures and text in my Childcraft Encyclopedia as my father recited this poem to me.  Probably to Daddy’s chagrin, it was over and over and over. 

This poemalong with The Raggedy Man and Little Orphant Annie–counts as one of my childhood favorites.  However, Riley wrote in an earthy country dialect that is now  cumbersome to the modern reader’s eye.  So I have taken the liberty of toning down the apostrophes, some of the contractions and many of Riley’s intentional misspellings to make the poem more readable for today’s audience.

Sadly, kids today do not have any idea what fodder is, what kind of animal a guinea is, nor do they spend hours immersed in books of poems. 

Childcraft encyclopedia illustration

Illustration is from Childcraft Encyclopedia

When the Frost is on the Punkin

By James Whitcomb Riley

(gently abridged by Jacquelyn H. Burns)

Graphics Fairy old time roosterWhen the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,

And you hear the cluck and gobble of the strutting turkey-cock,

And the clacking of the guineas and the clucking of the hens,

And the rooster’s hallelujah as he tiptoes on the fence;

O, it’s then’s the time a fellow is a-feeling at his best,

With the rising 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.


There’s something kind of hearty-like about the atmospherebotanical pumpkin graphic from Graphics Fairy

When the heat of summer’s over and the cooling fall is here—

Of course we miss the flowers and the blossoms on the trees,

And the mumble of Graphics Fairy beesthe hummingbirds and buzzing of the bees;

But the air’s so appetizing; and the landscape through the haze

Of a crisp and sunny morning of the early autumn days

Is a picture that no painter has the coloring to mock—

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.




The husky, rusty rustle of the tassels in the corn,pumpkin and shock of corn

And the rasping of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;

The stubble in the furrows, kind of lonesome-like, but still

A-preaching sermons to us of the barns they growed to fill;

The strawstack in the meadow, and the reaper in the shed;

The horses in their stalls below—the clover overhead!—

horses pulling a plowO, it sets my heart a-clicking like the ticking of a clock,

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

Then your apples all is gathered and the ones a fellow keeps

Is poured round about the cellar floor in red and yellow heaps;Graphics Fairy botanical print apples

And your cider-making’s over, and your womenfolks is through

With their mince and apple butter, and their souse and sausage, too!

I don’t know how to tell it—but if such a thing could be

As the angels wanting boarding and they’d call around on me—

I’d want to accommodate them—all the whole enduring flock—

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

vintage ad for mince pies

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