James Whitcomb Riley, a native of Greenfield, Indiana, is iconic for his depiction of rural America in his works. He is also known as the “Hoosier Poet.” His ‘Knee-Deep In June‘ is consistent with his portrait of the natural landscape. It captures the sense of living in the country during the warm month of June, immersing the experience of nature in rich sensory imagery.
Knee-Deep in June James Whitcomb RileyTell you what I like the best --'Long about knee-deep in June,'Bout the time strawberries meltsOn the vine, -- some afternoonLike to jes' git out and rest,And not work at nothin' else!Orchard's where I'd ruther be --Needn't fence it in fer me! --Jes' the whole sky overhead,And the whole airth underneath --Sort o' so's a man kin breatheLike he ort, and kind o' hasElbow-room to keerlesslySprawl out len'thways on the grassWhere the shadders thick and softAs the kivvers on the bedMother fixes in the loftAllus, when they's company!Jes' a-sort o' lazin there -S'lazy, 'at you peek and peerThrough the wavin' leaves above,Like a feller 'ats in loveAnd don't know it, ner don't keer!Ever'thing you hear and seeGot some sort o' interest -Maybe find a bluebird's nestTucked up there conveenentlyFer the boy 'at's ap' to beUp some other apple tree!Watch the swallers skootin' pastBout as peert as you could ast;Er the Bob-white raise and whizWhere some other's whistle is.Ketch a shadder down below,And look up to find the crow --Er a hawk, - away up there,'Pearantly froze in the air! --Hear the old hen squawk, and squatOver ever' chick she's got,Suddent-like! - and she knows whereThat-air hawk is, well as you! --You jes' bet yer life she do! --Eyes a-glitterin' like glass,Waitin' till he makes a pass!Pee-wees wingin', to expressMy opinion, 's second-class,Yit you'll hear 'em more er less;Sapsucks gittin' down to biz,Weedin' out the lonesomeness;Mr. Bluejay, full o' sass,In them baseball clothes o' his,Sportin' round the orchad jes'Like he owned the premises!Sun out in the fields kin sizz,But flat on yer back, I guess,In the shade's where glory is!That's jes' what I'd like to doStiddy fer a year er two!Plague! Ef they ain't somepin' inWork 'at kind o' goes ag'in'My convictions! - 'long aboutHere in June especially! --Under some ole apple tree,Jes' a-restin through and through,I could git along withoutNothin' else at all to doOnly jes' a-wishin' youWuz a-gittin' there like me,And June wuz eternity!Lay out there and try to seeJes' how lazy you kin be! --Tumble round and souse yer headIn the clover-bloom, er pullYer straw hat acrost yer eyesAnd peek through it at the skies,Thinkin' of old chums 'ats dead,Maybe, smilin' back at youIn betwixt the beautifulClouds o'gold and white and blue! --Month a man kin railly love --June, you know, I'm talkin' of!March ain't never nothin' new! --April's altogether tooBrash fer me! and May -- I jes''Bominate its promises, --Little hints o' sunshine andGreen around the timber-land --A few blossoms, and a fewChip-birds, and a sprout er two, --Drap asleep, and it turns inFore daylight and snows ag'in! --But when June comes - Clear my th'oatWith wild honey! -- Rench my hairIn the dew! And hold my coat!Whoop out loud! And th'ow my hat! --June wants me, and I'm to spare!Spread them shadders anywhere,I'll get down and waller there,And obleeged to you at that!
Explore Knee-Deep in June
‘Knee-Deep In June’ is a folksy pastoral poem that celebrates nature and its simple life-affirming pleasures.
This piece is a celebration of the month of June, which the speaker connects with happiness and blooming nature. The speaker vividly explains his pleasant surroundings in an orchard setting. June is a relaxing month and a symbol of optimism and serenity in the poem. It also accompanies fond memories and longings for loved ones. The poet offers his passionate plea to readers to take time away from the humdrum and relish the simple pleasures of life.
Structure and Form
‘Knee-Deep In June’ is split into eight differing length stanzas. The poem’s general rhyme scheme and meter are mostly irregular. This is to say that there are some alternate and some immediate rhyming lines, and the meter is mostly iambic tetrameter. Thus, due to its lack of a fixed meter, the poem qualifies as free verse. This irregularity alludes to the poem’s casual conversational structure, which is meant to be an informal and spontaneous expression of the speaker.
- Hyperbole: The poem has multiple examples of exaggerated language. For example, “Eyes a-glitterin’ like glass,” “And June wuz eternity!” overstating the intensity of the hen’s eyes and the speaker’s love for June. The device throughout the poem often emphasizes the speaker’s delight in nature.
- Metaphor: The poem makes multiple links between two disparate things. “In them baseball clothes o’ his, / Sportin’ round…,” the speaker compares blue jay to a baseball player. Similarly, in “Where the shadders thick and soft…,” shadows are compared to bed coverings.
- Personification: The speaker humanizes the orchard’s birds and animals by giving them human behaviors and emotions. He argues, for example, that the hen “knows where / That-air hawk is, well as you…” Here, the hen is given human-like foreknowledge. Similarly, in “Sapsucks gittin’ down to biz, Weedin’ out the lonesomeness,” the poet attributes human-like characteristics to Sapsucks, who are out for some business to weed out their loneliness.
- Alliteration: The poem employs alliteration to create attractive sounds and rhythm. For example, in “Where some other’s whistle is,” the “s” sound is repeated in “some,” “other’s” and “whistle.” Similarly, in “Watch the swallers skootin’ past,” the repetition of the “s” sound in “swallers,” and “scootin'” creates an alliteration.
- Nature: The treatment of nature in ‘Knee-Deep In June’ is vivid and sensual. It becomes the speaker’s healthful company, a source of eternal delight and peace. The speaker explains the flora and animals and expresses appreciation at the end. In stanza two of the poem, he expresses his fondness for being out in the orchard with “Jes’ the whole sky overhead, And the whole airth underneath.” The entire section emphasizes not just the joy of being outside in nature but also this opportunity as something that a man “ort” or ought to have. This awe and wonder motivate him to urge listeners to make time for nature in their routines.
- Nostalgia: Later in the poem, the accompaniment of nature combines with nostalgia. There is nostalgia for past events, such as climbing apple trees, and a wish to see the joyful faces of lost loved ones. In stanza 5, the speaker expresses a desire for the company of some “you.” The poem tries to make a point that the speaker affords time to the remembrance of his living ones due to nature’s silence and contemplative character.
- Transience: The iteration of the month of June as a sign of peace and joy emphasizes the transient character of eternal bliss. The onset of summer is a blessing that will not stay forever. The speaker encourages the audience to relax and enjoy the month of June. Deep down, this exploration hints at the fleeting nature of time.
Tell you what I like the best —
‘Long about knee-deep in June,
‘Bout the time strawberries melts
On the vine, — some afternoon
Like to jes’ git out and rest,
And not work at nothin’ else!
The poem begins with a rhetorical inquiry, which the speaker quickly answers. The speaker (presumably the poet) “longs” for the warm month of June. He yearns for the lush June when he can wade through flourishing meadows that are “knee-deep.” This longing grows stronger as the prospect of seeing ripe strawberries on the vine approaches.
The speaker’s informal, colloquial English, “jes’ git out and rest,” reveals his mood. He wishes to spend this time simply savoring nature and its surroundings; he has no desires at the moment.
The first section establishes the time period and setting for the poem, which is maintained throughout. The location could be somewhere remote in Greenfield (where the poet was from). The lines draw attention to the value of enjoying simple pleasures.
Orchard’s where I’d ruther be —
Needn’t fence it in fer me! —
Jes’ the whole sky overhead,
And the whole airth underneath —
Sort o’ so’s a man kin breathe
Like he ort, and kind o’ has
Elbow-room to keerlessly
Sprawl out len’thways on the grass
Where the shadders thick and soft
As the kivvers on the bed
Mother fixes in the loft
Allus, when they’s company!
The second stanza contains a lot of colloquialisms and contractions. This indicates the speaker’s carefree disposition. He’d rather be in the orchard, out in the “whole sky.” He does not want to be trapped in the orchard, however, so he does not want the orchard to be fenced off. This refers to his passion for nature as well as the openness and freedom that comes with it.
He refers to the need to go outside in nature so that a “man kin breathes” and has enough space to stretch carelessly through the grass. He opines that this desire is reasonable for a man to have. A man “ort” to have ample space and opportunities to relax and ease along the grasslands. The orchard provides him with thick shadows that shield him from the strong sunlight. The poet compares its comfort to “kivvers,” or bed coverings, that mother puts for guests in a loft.
These lines depict a lovely rural town environment. A welcoming orchard and its enticing comfort accompany the calm and freedom of nature’s pristine aspect. The “loft,” an area atop a barn, adds to the vibrant bucolic setting.
Jes’ a-sort o’ lazin there –
S’lazy, ‘at you peek and peer
Through the wavin’ leaves above,
Like a feller ‘ats in love
And don’t know it, ner don’t keer!
Ever’thing you hear and see
Got some sort o’ interest –
Maybe find a bluebird’s nest
Tucked up there conveenently
Fer the boy ‘at’s ap’ to be
Up some other apple tree!
Watch the swallers skootin’ past
Bout as peert as you could ast;
Er the Bob-white raise and whiz
Where some other’s whistle is.
The speaker romanticizes nature in stanza three. He calls himself a “feller ‘ats in love.” As its lover, he perceives more parts of nature and provides a detailed description of it. He doesn’t care about his state, like an enchanted lover.
“Lazin” in nature, he looks around through the leaves, completely relaxed. As a lover of nature, he is certain that whatever he “hears and sees” will pique his attention. Perhaps he will see some birds, their nests neatly “tucked” in branches. Or he might come across a young boy climbing an apple tree while a swallow flies by. He also anticipates the presence of another person in the orchard, the direction of whose “whistles” the bob-wiz bird “whiz.”
The stanza also indicates events that the speaker may have had in the past. A boy climbing an apple tree could be his own childhood memory. The lines reiterate the basic and cheerful qualities of nature.
Ketch a shadder down below,
And look up to find the crow —
Er a hawk, – away up there,
‘Pearantly froze in the air! —
Hear the old hen squawk, and squat
Over ever’ chick she’s got,
Suddent-like! – and she knows where
That-air hawk is, well as you! —
You jes’ bet yer life she do! —
Eyes a-glitterin’ like glass,
Waitin’ till he makes a pass!
Stanza four extends the speaker’s observations. He mentions watching prey birds from above, whose flying appears to cast a shadow on him. The birds appear frozen to him, suggesting his own peaceful condition in which time appears to stand still.
He places his bet on the hen’s capacity to save her brood. The phrase “a-glitterin’ like glass” emphasizes her caution and awareness of the dangers surrounding her.
The lines emphasize the speaker’s intact awareness by depicting the hen guarding her chicks against the prey. Despite his relaxed state, he pays close attention to the natural world around him.
Pee-wees wingin’, to express
My opinion, ‘s second-class,
Yit you’ll hear ’em more er less;
Sapsucks gittin’ down to biz,
Weedin’ out the lonesomeness;
Mr. Bluejay, full o’ sass,
In them baseball clothes o’ his,
Sportin’ round the orchad jes’
Like he owned the premises!
Sun out in the fields kin sizz,
But flat on yer back, I guess,
In the shade’s where glory is!
That’s jes’ what I’d like to do
Stiddy fer a year er two!
The next stanza refers to the orchard’s various bird species. It uses “Pee-wees wingin” as a metaphor for expressing one’s viewpoint, which will also soar high. The speaker examines that his viewpoint is “second-class.” But he still wants to express himself as freely as a bird sings and flies. This indicates that for the speaker, this day is not for hesitation and unease but contemplation and expression.
He mentions Sapsucks in their place of business. This alludes to their pursuit of insects, which may keep them occupied and busy. He then turns to Mr. Bluejay, comparing his boldness and confidence to that of a sportsman. In doing so, he indicates its natural tendency to dominate other birds.
He ends the verse with the appearance of the sun, which “sizzles.” Nonetheless, the hot sun may not deter his enjoyment of nature. He follows the “glory” of the sun. And he can easily feel at ease in this environment for a year or two.
Plague! Ef they ain’t somepin’ in
Work ‘at kind o’ goes ag’in’
My convictions! – ‘long about
Here in June especially! —
Under some ole apple tree,
Jes’ a-restin through and through,
I could git along without
Nothin’ else at all to do
Only jes’ a-wishin’ you
Wuz a-gittin’ there like me,
And June wuz eternity!
The lines here depart from the easygoing tone of the previous stanzas. It expresses the speaker’s dissatisfaction with his or her occupation. He refers to an unnamed component of his work that violates his ideals. This annoyance will only grow as June approaches. This could be a reference to his incapacity to be a witness to nature due to his typical job load.
However, his annoyance passes quickly. He soon portrays a tranquil setting under an apple tree, where he has nothing to worry about. The speaker now simply wishes for some “you” to join him. At this moment, the request represents his loneliness. The presence of this loved one would only leave one wish – for June to live forever.
Lay out there and try to see
Jes’ how lazy you kin be! —
Tumble round and souse yer head
In the clover-bloom, er pull
Yer straw hat acrost yer eyes
And peek through it at the skies,
Thinkin’ of old chums ‘ats dead,
Maybe, smilin’ back at you
In betwixt the beautiful
Clouds o’gold and white and blue! —
Month a man kin railly love —
June, you know, I’m talkin’ of!
The speaker once again expresses his need for a getaway from life. Here, he addresses the listener. He encourages them to be as indolent as they can be by immersing themselves in the beauty and aroma of the clover plant. He proposes they cover their eyes with a hat, filtering off all distractions and focusing solely on nature.
The following lines have a nostalgic tinge to them. The speaker proposes that this moment be used to reminisce memories of loved ones who have passed away. A beautiful vivid description describes those “old chumps” smiling in the sky. The “Clouds o’gold and white and blue” as well as the imagery of lost loved ones peeking through them, provide solace and hope.
This stanza considers the need to take a break from everyday routine to appreciate our roots in nature and lost loved ones. The love of June is reawakened, a month of warmth and summer when nature is in full flower.
March ain’t never nothin’ new! —
April’s altogether too
Brash fer me! and May — I jes’
‘Bominate its promises, —
Little hints o’ sunshine and
Green around the timber-land —
A few blossoms, and a few
Chip-birds, and a sprout er two, —
Drap asleep, and it turns in
Fore daylight and snows ag’in! —
But when June comes – Clear my th’oat
With wild honey! — Rench my hair
In the dew! And hold my coat!
Whoop out loud! And th’ow my hat! —
June wants me, and I’m to spare!
Spread them shadders anywhere,
I’ll get down and waller there,
And obleeged to you at that!
In the final verse, the speaker expresses his undying love for June. He compares June to other months, which he describes as “brash” and “nothin’ new.” He professes his dislike for May, which makes a sporadic delivery of its promise of sunlight and greenery. There are only a “few blossoms” and “chirp-birds,” and the weather can return to snow in May.
This dissatisfaction with the prior months fuels the speaker’s enthusiasm for June, which he identifies with happiness. The language of the next sentences reflects this delight at the prospect of June’s coming. He greets June, the jubilant month in which he “rench my hair,” “tho’w my hat,” and “whoop out loud.”
He wouldn’t mind rolling around among the “wallers” or shadows of trees. The poem expresses gratitude for the chance to be out in nature and enjoy its simple joys.
The speaker contrasts June with the “brash” summer months of April and May. This comparison is very in-depth and includes a variety of features that are at once universal and specific.
The speaker is dissatisfied with his job, which contradicts his principles. He’d rather take a prolonged time off, as his yearning for June to become immortal implies.
The poem mentions several birds in the poem, including Bob-whites, pee-wees, sapsuckers, bluejays, bluebirds, and swallows. Their mention contributes to the poem’s rich imagery.
- ‘Leisure’ by William Henry Davies: The poem also advocates taking a break from the busy world and its monotonous routine and relishing nature.
- ‘The Summer Day’ by Mary Oliver: The poem reflects on the beauty of the natural world and the importance of living in the present.
- ‘Summer Morn in New Hampshire’ by Claude McKay: The poem also recounts the speaker’s experience surrounded by nature on an early summer morning. Like ‘Knee-Deep in June,’ it celebrates the simple pleasures of life.