- Little Orphant Annie
- Inscribed with all faith and affection
To all the little children: - The happy ones; and sad ones;
The sober and the silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones;
The good ones - Yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.
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-listenin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers, -
An' 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 wuzn'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 wuz 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' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz 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 wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'for 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 parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' cherish 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
--James Whitcomb Riley
It always annoyed me that this poem has nothing whatsoever to do with a little red haired girl that sings about tomorrow (though it's generally accepted that this poem is where the comic strip got its name).
It also annoys me that the poem is so packed with "morality." If a little orphan girl ends up somewhere, working hard to earn her keep, she may very well tell the other children stories (Sara Crewe did). Yet I doubt that those stories would be about how you ought to be respectful to your elders and say your prayers or else Bad Things will happen. By that sort of reckoning, the orphan girl must have done something horrible to deserve her fate. No, her stories would be about how Bad Things happen to even the most virtuous children, but that if you play your cards right, you might prevail.
I think it's interesting that many of the sites that quote this poem only post the first stanza. It's got the "Little Orphant Annie" bit, which is one reason people remember it. It's also got the main idea of the poem -- kids sit around and listen to this girl tell ghost stories. Finally it's got the fun "An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you Ef You Don't Watch Out!" part which is the other reason people remember this poem. When you get past that fun scene that reminds you of campfire tales, the actual ghost stories are a real let down.
I heard an interesting quote yesterday. I've found various versions online, and can't tell which is the accurate quotation, since none of the quotes sites give sources other than the supposed author. Anyway, the gist of it is that G.K. Chesterton said: "Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."
Take a look at poetry and literature. Lots of stuff has been written from both of these philosophies. But what has survived? Which stories do children ask to be told again and again? What books do parents fondly remember and buy for their children? It's certainly not the ones with heavy handed moralizing like we've got in this poem.
Children instinctively know, or quickly learn that those stories are false. Parents or nannies may tell them to scare the children into obedience, but when the child does something bad, and nothing bad happens, or when somebody else does something bad to the child, and they aren't instantly devoured by Gobble-uns, then the child feels betrayed and lied to, which indeed he was. If stuff happened that way, then we'd be living in Satan's world of forced obedience. Nobody would do bad things if they were instantly punished for them. I think it's interesting that one of the most common arguments against religion is "How could a loving, all-powerful God allow (bad thing x) to happen?" Satan has gotten people to blame God for allowing free will to exist.