Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday's Poetry: "The Sheep-Herder's Lament"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

There is an overused joke about degrees of difficulty in which a task is said to be "tougher than herding cats," and cats are indeed difficult to organize and direct.  I currently have six - Fiona and her five little ones - and the only time they seem to be focused a single goal is when I open a can of cat food.

Geese are also difficult creatures to direct.  My five Baby Huey goslings do tend to stay in a group, and if I am outside they quickly get underfoot.  But when I try to get them to leave a certain area, or go into the chicken coop in the evenings, well - that is a different story.  When I want them to do something they can be quite difficult.

Yesterday I began my sixth mowing cycle of the season, a process that usually takes five days to complete.  The first day is spent with a push mower trimming around buildings and obstacles, and mowing the slope along the roadway.   Normally the geese stay in the backyard and are not a problem.  Yesterday, of course, proved to be the exception to that rule.  As I was trudging along the roadway I suddenly sensed a commotion and turned to see that all five geese had not only come into the front yard, a place where they are definitely not welcome, but all five had decided it would be fun to gather in the road.

I quickly turned off the mower and ran to get the naughty geese out of harm's way.  I was waving both arms to slow an approaching car - a car which turned out to be a sheriff's department vehicle being driven by a Howl County deputy.  The nice law enforcement officer stopped as I chased the bad geese back into the yard - and then, instead of giving me a ticket or a lecture, he laughed and declared, "They do what they want, don't they!"

Yes sir, they damned sure do!

To memorialize yesterday's battle of wills with the geese, I determined to find a poem on "herding."  Unfortunately, I could not come up with any that focused on geese - or even cats - but I did find one that I liked, a piece about the loneliness of herding sheep.  It is an example of "cowboy poetry," a form that has graced this spot many times in the past.

Different countries have foster different poetic forms.   Italy and England brought forth sonnets, Ireland brought us limericks, and Japan introduced the world to haiku.   Cowboy poetry, the rough-and-tumble rhyming verse that captures the hardships and joys that cowboys experienced on the American frontier, is a decidedly American form.  

Today's selection, "The Sheep-Herder's Lament" by Curley Fletcher, is a classic of the genre.  It is from his collection, Songs of the Sage, which was published in 1931.


The Sheep-Herder's Lament
by Curley Fletcher


I have summered in the tropics,
With the yellow fever chill;
I have been down with the scurvy;
I've had every ache and ill.

I have wintered in the Arctic,
Frost-bitten to the bone;
I've been in a Chinese dungeon,
Where I spent a year alone.

I've been shanghaied on a whaler;
And was stranded on the deep,
But I never knew was misery was,
Till I started herding sheep.

The camp boss now is two weeks late
The burro dead three days.
The dogs are all sore footed, but
The sheep have got to graze.

They won't bed down till after dark,
And they're off before the dawn;
With their baaing and their blatting
They are scattered and they're gone.

I smell their wooly stink all day
And I hear them in my sleep;
Oh, I never knew what misery was,
Till I started herding sheep.

My feet are sore, my boots worn out;
I'm afraid I'll never mend;
I've got to where a horny-toad
Looks like a long lost friend.

The Spanish Inquisition might
Have been a whole lot worse,
If instead of crucifixion, they
Had had some sheep to nurse.

Old Job had lots of patience, but
He got off pretty cheap--
He never knew what misery was,
For he never herded sheep.

It's nice enough to tell the kids,
Of the big old horny ram,
The gentle soft-eyed mother ewe,
And the wooly little lamb.

It's nice to have your mutton chops,
And your woolen clothes to wear,
But you never stop to give a thought
To the man that put them there.

The blind and deaf are blessed,
The cripples, too, that creep;
They'll never know what misery is,
For they never will herd sheep.

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