The Barefoot Boy

The Barefoot Boy

by John Greenleaf Whittier

Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim’s jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy,—
I was once a barefoot boy!
Prince thou art,—the grown-up man
Only is republican.
Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy
In the reach of ear and eye,—
Outward sunshine, inward joy:
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!

Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;

How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine;
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy,—
Blessings on the barefoot boy!

Oh for boyhood’s time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw,
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey-bees;
For my sport the squirrel played,
Plied the snouted mole his spade;
For my taste the blackberry cone
Purpled over hedge and stone;
Laughed the brook for my delight
Through the day and through the night,
Whispering at the garden wall,
Talked with me from fall to fall;
Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
Mine, on bending orchard trees,
Apples of Hesperides!
Still as my horizon grew,
Larger grew my riches too;
All the world I saw or knew
Seemed a complex Chinese toy,
Fashioned for a barefoot boy!

Oh for festal dainties spread,
Like my bowl of milk and bread;
Pewter spoon and bowl of wood,
On the door-stone, gray and rude!
O’er me, like a regal tent,
Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
Looped in many a wind-swung fold;
While for music came the play
Of the pied frogs’ orchestra;
And, to light the noisy choir,
Lit the fly his lamp of fire.
I was monarch: pomp and joy
Waited on the barefoot boy!

Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt’s for work be shod,
Made to tread the mills of toil,
Up and down in ceaseless moil:
Happy if their track be found
Never on forbidden ground;
Happy if they sink not in
Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!

Summary of The Barefoot Boy

  • Popularity of “The Barefoot Boy”: John Greenleaf Whittier, a famous American Quaker (a Christian denomination) and Abolitionist, wrote ‘The Barefoot Boy’. It is a thought-provoking literary piece famous on account of its theme of innocence and connection with nature. It was first published in January 1855 in The Little Pilgrim. The poem speaks about the little barefoot boy who enjoys his childhood without worrying about the world. It also illustrates how that child makes the poet relives his own childhood.
  • “The Barefoot Boy”, As a Representative of Life: The speaker addresses a little boy who is lost in the charm of the summer. The boy is enjoying summer to the fullest with his pants rolled up, whistling a merry tune. He has the privilege to enjoy the ripen summer fruit. The speaker closely examines each action of the boy, saying he had also enjoyed the same bliss during his childhood. Also, he declares that the little boy is richer than the grown-ups, as he is free from the duties of citizenship. The speaker talks about the advantages of being barefoot.
    He believes that wearing shoes is being far from nature. As he watches carefree lad, he too dives deep into his childhood. He recalls spending time in the lap of nature. He recalls the beauty of the sunset, the sparkling colors of the sky, fresh and ripen fruits, and multi-colored flowers. Toward the end, the speaker gets back to the present time, where he asks the boy to enjoy this carefree time to the fullest, as the duties of adulthood will steal this pleasure from him.
  • Major Themes in “The Barefoot Boy”: Nature versus man, childhood memories, and life are the major themes of this poem. Throughout the poem, the speaker heaps blessings on the barefoot boy, who is tasting the fruits of a carefree life. The boy’s attitude toward life and the poet’s response toward it clearly points to the fleeting nature of time. The speaker had also enjoyed these pleasures during his childhood but today the duties of adulthood citizenship have barred him: they have rather eclipsed the enchanting glories of nature. He details the vibrant and joyous activities of the barefoot boy while reliving these moments with him.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “The Barefoot Boy”

literary devices are very important elements of a literary text. Their use not only brings richness to the text but also makes the readers understand the story. John Greenleaf Whittier has also used some literary devices in this poem to make it appealing. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem is listed below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /o/ in “Health that mocks the doctor’s rules” and the sound of /i/ in “How the woodchuck digs his cell”.
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession such as the sound of /l/ in “Live and laugh, as boyhood can!” and the sounds of /f/ and /b/ in “Fashioned for a barefoot boy.”
  3. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

“Happy if they sink not in
Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “Like my bowl of milk and bread”, “Purple-curtained, fringed with gold” and “Mine, on bending orchard trees.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects and persons that are different in nature. There are two metaphors used in the last stanza of the poem. For example, “All too soon these feet must hide, In the prison cells of pride” and “Happy if they sink not in, Quick and treacherous sands of sin.”
  3. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to non-human things. For example, “For, eschewing books and tasks, Nature answers all he asks.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Barefoot Boy”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “joy/boy”, “in/sin”, “found/ground” and “hide/pride.”
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme, and this pattern continues till the end.
  3. Repetition: There is a repetition of the verse “Blessings on the barefoot boy” which has created a musical quality in the poem.
  4. Refrain: The lines that are repeated again at some distance in the poems are called refrain. The verse, “Blessings on the barefoot boy” is repeated with the same words, and it has become a refrain as it has been repeated in the first two stanzas of the poem.
  5. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are five stanzas in this poem, with each varies in length.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful to describe the bounties of nature.

How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine.”