Neglected now is the old guitar
And moldering into decay;
Fretted with many a rift and scar
That the dull dust hides away,
While the spider spins a silver star
In its silent lips to-day.

The keys hold only nerveless strings–
The sinews of brave old airs
Are pulseless now; and the scarf that clings
So closely here declares
A sad regret in its ravelings
And the faded hue it wears.

But the old guitar, with a lenient grace,
Has cherished a smile for me;
And its features hint of a fairer face
That comes with a memory
Of a flower-and-perfume-haunted place
And a moonlit balcony.

Music sweeter than words confess,
Or the minstrel’s powers invent,
Thrilled here once at the light caress
Of the fairy hands that lent
This excuse for the kiss I press
On the dear old instrument.

The rose of pearl with the jeweled stem
Still blooms; and the tiny sets
In the circle all are here; the gem
In the keys, and the silver frets;
But the dainty fingers that danced o’er them–
Alas for the heart’s regrets!–

Alas for the loosened strings to-day,
And the wounds of rift and scar
On a worn old heart, with its roundelay
Enthralled with a stronger bar
That Fate weaves on, through a dull decay
Like that of the old guitar!

Analysis, meaning and summary of James Whitcomb Riley's poem The Old Guitar


  1. John H Conley Jr says:

    I was pleasently surprised to find this site”and a poem about the Guitsr. I to am a poet from Indiana.
    I am a fan of Mr Riely. I wrote a book called:::
    ;;;Cowboys-Farmersand Friends.
    If you want to know more I can be reached at——————
    Thank You
    And I hope you will keep My Reilys poem on the web forever. John

  2. andre fritze says:

    the narrator remembers the guitar that they hold in their hands & remembers a love past a kiss is pressed upon it as the narrator regrets a past love, lost, & we are led to wonder about this, whether it ended in hurt the wounds of rift & scar.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by James Whitcomb Riley better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.