The Passing of the
By James Whitcomb
When memory keeps me company,
and moves to smiles or tears
Some sources say
that James Whitcomb Riley did not write "The Passing of
the Backhouse" or "The Ode to the Outhouse"
which is a similar poem, but shorter. Charles T. Rankin's
daughter, Kathleen Rankin, has a copyright and claims that
her father is the true author. A copy of the copyright is
in the Fulton County Museum, Rochester, IN. In 1910 the
poem was published on postcards and inaccurately attributed
to James Whitcomb Riley. Riley is recorded as saying it was
far too risqué for him.
A weather-beaten object looms through the mist of years.
Behind the house and barn it stood, a half a mile or
And hurrying feet a path had made, straight to its swinging
Its architecture was a type of simple classic art,
But in the tragedy of life it played a leading part.
And oft the passing traveler drove slow and heaved a
To see the modest hired girl slip out with glances sly.
We had our poesy garden that the women loved so well
I loved it too, but better still, I loved the stronger
That filled the evening breezes so full of homely cheer,
And told the night-o're-taken tramp that human life was
On lazy August afternoons it made a little bower
Delightful, where my grandpa sat and whiled away an hour.
For there the summer morning, its very cares entwined,
And berry bushes reddened in the steaming soil behind
But when the crust was on the snow and sullen skies were
In sooth the building was no place where one could wish to
We did our duties promptly; there one purpose swayed the
We tarried not, nor lingered on what we left behind.
When grandpa had to go "out back" and make a morning call
We’d bundle up the dear old man with a muffler and a
I knew the hole on which he sat ‘twas padded all
And once a dared to sit there, ‘twas all too wide I
My loins were all too little and I jack-knifed there to
They had to come and get me out or I'd have passed away.
Then father said that ambition was a thing that boys should
And I must use the children’s hole ‘till childhood
days are done.
But still I marvel at the craft that cut those holes so
The baby hole and the slender hole that fitted sister
That dear old country landmark, I've tramped around a bit
And in the lap of luxury my lot has been to sit.
But e're I die, I'll eat the fruit of trees I robbed of
Then seek the shanty where my name is carved upon the
I know the old familiar smell will soothe my faded soul,
I'm now a man, but nonetheless I'll use the children's