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A Collection of Cowboy Poetry

While cowboy poetry is a genuinely American genre, cowboys worldwide share the same traditions & values of living close to nature & to God.

Badger Clark

Badger Clark

Badger Clark's "A Cowboy's Prayer"

Badger Clark's ballad consists of four riming octets, nostalgically dramatizing a celebration of his gratitude to God for his way of life.

Introduction and Text of “A Cowboy’s Prayer”

Badger Clark's "A Cowboy's Prayer" with the subtitle "Written for Mother"offers a prayer that would make any mother proud, as he celebrates his free lifestyle of living on the open range. Each octet stanza features the rime scheme ABABCDCD. This Badger classic was first published in The Pacific Monthly, in December of 1906.

About this poem/prayer, Katie Lee writes in her classic history of cowboy songs and poems starkly titled Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story, and Verse, "The language is true to his free-roving spirit and gives insight to the code he lived by the things he expected of himself."

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see my article, "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

A Cowboy's Prayer

(Written for Mother)

Oh Lord, I've never lived where churches grow.
I love creation better as it stood
That day You finished it so long ago
And looked upon Your work and called it good.
I know that others find You in the light
That's sifted down through tinted window panes,
And yet I seem to feel You near tonight
In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains.

I thank You, Lord, that I am placed so well,
That You have made my freedom so complete;
That I'm no slave of whistle, clock or bell,
Nor weak-eyed prisoner of wall and street.
Just let me live my life as I've begun
And give me work that's open to the sky;
Make me a pardner of the wind and sun,
And I won't ask a life that's soft or high.

Let me be easy on the man that's down;
Let me be square and generous with all.
I'm careless sometimes, Lord, when I'm in town,
But never let 'em say I'm mean or small!
Make me as big and open as the plains,
As honest as the hawse between my knees,
Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains,
Free as the hawk that circles down the breeze!

Forgive me, Lord, if sometimes I forget.
You know about the reasons that are hid.
You understand the things that gall and fret;
You know me better than my mother did.
Just keep an eye on all that's done and said
And right me, sometimes, when I turn aside,
And guide me on the long, dim, trail ahead
That stretches upward toward the Great Divide.

Recitation of "A Cowboy's Prayer"

Commentary

This poem, written in the traditional ballad form, reveals a grateful cowboy, who loves his rustic way of life and gives thanks for God for it.

First Stanza: Addressing the Lord

Oh Lord, I've never lived where churches grow.
I love creation better as it stood
That day You finished it so long ago
And looked upon Your work and called it good.
I know that others find You in the light
That's sifted down through tinted window panes,
And yet I seem to feel You near tonight
In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains.

The speaker begins his payer by addressing the Lord, telling Him that he has never been one to attend church, because "[he's] never lived where churches grow." But he admits that he loves creation just as the Lord finished it before mankind began to build things.

The speaker then confides that while others may find the Lord "in the light that is sifted down through tinted window panes," he feels Him near, "In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains." The speaker wants to assure the Divine that despite his absence from houses of worship, he worships without a house while simply stationed out on the open plains created by the Great Creator.

Second Stanza: Thanking the Lord

I thank You, Lord, that I am placed so well,
That You have made my freedom so complete;
That I'm no slave of whistle, clock or bell,
Nor weak-eyed prisoner of wall and street.
Just let me live my life as I've begun
And give me work that's open to the sky;
Make me a pardner of the wind and sun,
And I won't ask a life that's soft or high.

The speaker offers his heartfelt gratitude to the Lord for his blessings. He is especially grateful that the Lord has made "[his] freedom so complete." He then catalogues the places where he would not feel so free, places where he would have to heed the call "of whistle, clock or bell."

He asks the Lord to continue blessing him this way: "Just let me live my life as I've begun / And give me work that's open to the sky." He avers that he will not ever be asking "for a life that's soft or high."

Third Stanza: Praying for Wisdom

Let me be easy on the man that's down;
Let me be square and generous with all.
I'm careless sometimes, Lord, when I'm in town,
But never let 'em say I'm mean or small!
Make me as big and open as the plains,
As honest as the hawse between my knees,
Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains,
Free as the hawk that circles down the breeze!

The speaker then asks for the guidance and wisdom to treat other people with respect and honor. He admits that sometimes he is careless, especially when he is in town. But he asks that he never be mean or small. He wants others to think well of him because he behaves properly.

The speaker asks for three things, honesty, cleanliness, and freedom. Thus, he asks the Lord to make him, "As honest as the hawse between my knees, / Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains, / Free as the hawk that circles down the breeze!"

Fourth Stanza: Praying for Guidance

Forgive me, Lord, if sometimes I forget.
You know about the reasons that are hid.
You understand the things that gall and fret;
You know me better than my mother did.
Just keep an eye on all that's done and said
And right me, sometimes, when I turn aside,
And guide me on the long, dim, trail ahead
That stretches upward toward the Great Divide.

Again, the speaker acknowledges that he is not perfect, that at times he forgets proper behavior. He admits that he does not know all that God knows: "You know about the reasons that are hid." And he declares that the Lord knows him "better than my mother did."

So the speaker asks God to guard and guide him by watching over him, and when he misbehaves, he begs the Lord to "right me, sometimes, when I turn aside." He asks God to be with him as he moves "on the long, dim, trail ahead / That stretches up toward the Great Divide". He masterly employs the metaphoric Great Divide to signal the afterworld as well as a great Western geological phenomenon.

"A Cowboy's Prayer" sung by Pete Charles

David Althouse

David Althouse

David Althouse’s "Cowboy Christmas Carol"

This Christmas ballad reveals a mystical experience that changed the heart of a "hard-bitten ol' cowpoke."

Introduction and Text of "Cowboy Christmas Carol"

The speaker in cowboy poet David Althouse's "Cowboy Christmas Carol" spins a deeply spiritual yarn about an old cowboy whose mystical experience leads him to a state of grace and thankfulness that he had been lacking—even though he had lived a relatively carefree life in the open prairie that he loved.

Cowboy Christmas Carol

For a hard-bitten ol' cowpoke like me a Christmas ain't always merry;
I've spent most of 'em a-ridin' fences, a-sleepin' in line cabins out on the prairie.
So for most a my hard life the spirit of Christmas did not abide within my heart.
How I come to possess the spirit is the story I hafta impart.

Tha year was '87 and I was a-follerin' doggie trails,
A-drinkin' rot gut whiskey to forget about my life's travails.
Ih was two days from the line cabin, at a far off lonely place,
A-roundin' up some strays, the snow whippin' crost my face.

Night came of a-suddin' so's I bedded down to rest,
A tin can full o' hot coffee a-restin' crost my chest.
Of a-suddin' I heard somthin' a-flutterin' down from the skies.
I taken a closer look an I couldn't believe my eyes.

It looked to be some kind o' Christmas Angel from the first I did suspect,
What with all the sugar plums a-hangin' 'round 'er neck.
Holly laced 'er halo an' lustrous pearls adorned 'er wings,
An' 'er sweet little silver bell voice was a-trillin' little ting-a-ling-a-lings.

"Cast away your fears, cowboy," she says, "I'm an Angel sent from on High,
And I'm here to do the bidding of the Great Trail Boss in the Sky."
Dadgumit she talked! She's a bonafide Angel fer shore!
Was I'a-goin' feral or was it that bad hooch I drank the night afore?

"It isn't the whiskey," she says, a-readin' my mind.
"You don't even know it cowboy, but it's Christmas time."
She had me dead to rights on that one, an' it caused me much chagrin,
Causin' the last time I partook a Christmas was back in ... heck, I don't know when.

"Why, thar ain't no time fer Christmas out 'ere Angel," I says. "It's absolut' absurd.
I've got fences to mend an' orn'ry doggies to git back to the herd!"
She says, "You've sunk lower than the wild beasts, lower than a longhorn steer,
For even the furry animals keep Christmas once a year."

"Critters a-keepin' Christmas?" I says. "Now this I gotta see!"
"Very well, cowboy," she says. "Come fly the night sky with me."
Well my eyes got as big as poker chips when flyin' she did suggest.
"Just take hold of my arm, cowboy," she says, "and I'll do the rest."

To a quiet faraway meadow we flew, to a lonely stand o' pines,
An' when I looked down a'neath them trees I was in fer a big surprise.
Fer a-layin' thar a'neath them trees all cuddled up on the ground,
Was ever' kind o' furry critter anywhere to be found.

Rabbits, squirrels, birds and deer all a-layin' in one spot,
With a coyote, wolf and mountain lion a-standin' guard over the entire lot.
She says, "They're huddled together because the spirit of Christmas fills the air."
"Mebbe so," I says, "But them smaller critters should be a-scampin' outa thar!"

"They've nothing of which to worry," she says. "Peace fill their hearts upon this night."
"Whatever ya thank," I says, " but they'd best make dust afore first light."
Yet, as I beheld this miracle, I recollect I shed some tears,
A-rememberin' all the wasted Christmases of my long-gone yesteryears.

I vowed I'd do thangs different, that I'd make another start,
That ever' day I had left I'd keep Christmas merry in my heart.
Then I gave thanks to this 'ere Angel fer a-savin' me from my demise.
She just smiled an angelic smile then she a-fluttered back up to the skies.

A-many a year has passed since I beheld that angelic sight,
An' I've tried to keep the promise I made to her upon that night.
Now I'm proud to herd these doggies, an watch over 'em with all I know —
Like extry hay fer the runt calves, when it's a-freezin' an' a-blowin' snow.

And now I'm thankful that I'm a cowboy, a-roamin' the trails a-wild an' free,
A-watchin' over these orn'ry doggies like the Great Trail Boss a-watches over me.

Commentary

The idea that the sentiment of Christmas belongs in each heart every day of the year and not just on one celebrated day enjoys widespread lip-service; although it is seldom achieved. This old cowboy intends to change that fact, at least, for himself .

First Movement: Cowboy Work Comes First

For a hard-bitten ol' cowpoke like me a Christmas ain't always merry;
I've spent most of 'em a-ridin' fences, a-sleepin' in line cabins out on the prairie.
So for most a my hard life the spirit of Christmas did not abide within my heart.
How I come to possess the spirit is the story I hafta impart.

Tha year was '87 and I was a-follerin' doggie trails,
A-drinkin' rot gut whiskey to forget about my life's travails.
Ih was two days from the line cabin, at a far off lonely place,
A-roundin' up some strays, the snow whippin' crost my face.

The speaker is a cowboy who has been practicing his profession for many years, and he admits that mending fences while tending cattle out on the prairie has not always been conducive to observing and celebrating Christmas. He has felt that his mind and heart had been spiritually dry for a long time, but then something happened to change his heart.

During one Christmas season, the speaker was out on the prairie rounding up some stray "doggies," drinking "rot gut whiskey," which helped him forget his hard life. He found himself alone, many miles from the "line cabin." It was cold with snow whipping about his face.

Second Movement: A Mystical Being Appears

Night came of a-suddin' so's I bedded down to rest,
A tin can full o' hot coffee a-restin' crost my chest.
Of a-suddin' I heard somthin' a-flutterin' down from the skies.
I taken a closer look an I couldn't believe my eyes.

It looked to be some kind o' Christmas Angel from the first I did suspect,
What with all the sugar plums a-hangin' 'round 'er neck.
Holly laced 'er halo an' lustrous pearls adorned 'er wings,
An' 'er sweet little silver bell voice was a-trillin' little ting-a-ling-a-lings.

The speaker has bedded down for the night with a tin of hot coffee placed on his chest to help drive out some of the cold. With the night's seemingly sudden arrival, he sees a celestial being approaching from the sky.

The cowboy describes the being in typical cowboy fashion, mentioning "sugar plums," decorating the form of what appears to be an angel with "lustrous pearls" on her wings. He even heard her voice that sounded like a "sweet little silver bell."

Third Movement: Sent by the "Great Trail Boss"

"Cast away your fears, cowboy," she says, "I'm an Angel sent from on High,
And I'm here to do the bidding of the Great Trail Boss in the Sky."
Dadgumit she talked! She's a bonafide Angel fer shore!
Was I'a-goin' feral or was it that bad hooch I drank the night afore?

"It isn't the whiskey," she says, a-readin' my mind.
"You don't even know it cowboy, but it's Christmas time."
She had me dead to rights on that one, an' it caused me much chagrin,
Causin' the last time I partook a Christmas was back in ... heck, I don't know when.

The being does not keep the cowboy guessing who she is; she identifies herself as an "Angel," and she informs him that she is being sent by the Divine or in cowboy talk that "Great Trail Boss in the Sky." Furthermore, she instructs him not to fear.

Of course, the speaker is wonderstruck at first that this Angel sent from"on High" would be visiting him. He suspects he is hallucinating from the bad whiskey or that he is just going wild in the brain.

The Angel tells him that her appearance has nothing to do with the whiskey. He knows then he is in the presence of something divine because she is reading his mind. She then informs him that it is Christmas time, insisting that he did not even know that season was upon him.

The cowboy has to admit that she has him "dead to rights"—he had not been aware of Christmas for so long that he had actually forgotten the last time he had thought about that season.

Fourth Movement: Too Busy to Celebrate

"Why, thar ain't no time fer Christmas out 'ere Angel," I says. "It's absolut' absurd.
I've got fences to mend an' orn'ry doggies to git back to the herd!"
She says, "You've sunk lower than the wild beasts, lower than a longhorn steer,
For even the furry animals keep Christmas once a year."

"Critters a-keepin' Christmas?" I says. "Now this I gotta see!"
"Very well, cowboy," she says. "Come fly the night sky with me."
Well my eyes got as big as poker chips when flyin' she did suggest.
"Just take hold of my arm, cowboy," she says, "and I'll do the rest."

Then the speaker protests that there is no opportunity for observing Christmas out here on the prairie with "orn'ry doggies" and "fences to mend." But to his excuses, the Angel counters that he has allowed himself to sink lower than the animals, adding that at this time of year even the animals celebrate the spirit of Christmas.

The cowboy protests that "critters a-keepin' Christmas" is something he would have to see to believe. And so the Angel tells him to take hold of her arm, and they will "fly the night sky" to a place where she will prove the truth of her statement. With eyes as big as "poker chips," the cowboy obeys the Angel, and they fly off.

Fifth Movement: An Astral Meadow

To a quiet faraway meadow we flew, to a lonely stand o' pines,
An' when I looked down a'neath them trees I was in fer a big surprise.
Fer a-layin' thar a'neath them trees all cuddled up on the ground,
Was ever' kind o' furry critter anywhere to be found.

Rabbits, squirrels, birds and deer all a-layin' in one spot,
With a coyote, wolf and mountain lion a-standin' guard over the entire lot.
She says, "They're huddled together because the spirit of Christmas fills the air."
"Mebbe so," I says, "But them smaller critters should be a-scampin' outa thar!"

The Angel brings him to an astral meadow that looks very much like a place the cowboy would recognize with a "lonely stand o' pines." But when he looks down, he can see "rabbits, squirrels, birds and deer," and "a coyote, wolf and mountain lion" are guarding them all as they rest peacefully in one area.

This inspiring scene is an allusion to Isaiah 11:6 (KJV), predicting the peace that will reign with the coming of Christ-consciousness:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

The Angel explains that the animals had all huddled together because the spirit of Christmas is filling the atmosphere But the cowboy, practical man that he is, remarks that those little critters ought be scampering away from those bigger, dangerous ones.

Sixth Movement: The Peaceful Night

"They've nothing of which to worry," she says. "Peace fill their hearts upon this night."
"Whatever ya thank," I says, " but they'd best make dust afore first light."
Yet, as I beheld this miracle, I recollect I shed some tears,
A-rememberin' all the wasted Christmases of my long-gone yesteryears.

I vowed I'd do thangs different, that I'd make another start,
That ever' day I had left I'd keep Christmas merry in my heart.
Then I gave thanks to this 'ere Angel fer a-savin' me from my demise.
She just smiled an angelic smile then she a-fluttered back up to the skies.

The Angel insists that it is only peace that reigns upon this night; yet the cowboy still insists that those little critter better be making "dust" before dawn. Yet, even in his practical, worldly stance, the cowboy finds himself moved to tears, remembering all of his many past "wasted Christmases." And he then finds that his heart is changed.

The cowboy vows to keep Christmas in his heart from now on. He knows his life has been saved from his "demise" by this Angel of God, who after smiling at the cowboy's gratitude "a-fluttered back up" from whence she came.

Seventh Movement: Thankful for Being a Cowboy

A-many a year has passed since I beheld that angelic sight,
An' I've tried to keep the promise I made to her upon that night.
Now I'm proud to herd these doggies, an watch over 'em with all I know—
Like extry hay fer the runt calves, when it's a-freezin' an' a-blowin' snow.

And now I'm thankful that I'm a cowboy, a-roamin' the trails a-wild an' free,
A-watchin' over these orn'ry doggies like the Great Trail Boss a-watches over me.

The cowboy’s story demonstrates a change of heart, from one who had focused too much on the material world to one who would henceforth keep the spiritual world in his consciousness. Although he had always been a good man, because of the mystical experience of being reminded to keep Christ-Consciousness in his heart, mind, and soul, he becomes even better.

From the moment of that experience on, the speaker becomes thankful for his life. He becomes more aware that, "the Great Trail Boss" watches over him the way he watches over the cattle. That mystical experience places God's essence in the cowboy's awareness, allowing the cowboy to realize his love for the Divine every day of his life.

Badger Clark

Badger Clark

Badger Clark's "The Christmas Trail"

Clark's "The Christmas Trail" has become a classic in cowboy poetry, dramatizing the cowboy's exploits through each season, while enjoying his journey home for Christmas.

Introduction and Text of "The Christmas Trail"

Badger Clark's poem, "The Christmas Trail," consists of five stanzas, each with the rime-scheme ABABCDDED. It employs the cowboy dialect of losing the final "g" on present participles and uses "hawse" for horse and "mebbe" for maybe. The cowboy charm that infuses all cowboy poetry is lushly on display in this Christmas poem.

(Please note: The incorrect spelling, "rhyme," was erroneously introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson. For my explanation for using only the correct form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Christmas Trail

The wind is blowin' cold down the mountain tips of snow
And 'cross the ranges layin' brown and dead;
It's cryin' through the valley trees that wear the mistletoe
And mournin' with the gray clouds overhead.
Yes it's sweet with the beat of my little hawse's feet
And I whistle like the air was warm and blue
For I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

Oh, mebbe it was good when the whinny of the Spring
Had weedled me to hoppin' of the bars.
And livin' in the shadow of a sailin' buzzard's wing
And sleepin' underneath a roof of stars.
But the bright campfire light only dances for a night,
While the home-fire burns forever clear and true,
So 'round the year I circle back to you,
Old folks,
'Round the rovin' year I circle back to you.

Oh, mebbe it was good when the reckless Summer sun
Had shot a charge of fire through my veins,
And I milled around the whiskey and the fightin' and fun
'Mong the mav'ricks drifted from the plains.
Ay, the pot bubbled hot, while you reckoned I'd forgot,
And the devil smacked the young blood in his stew,
Yet I'm lovin' every mile that's nearer you,
Good folks,
Lovin' every blessed mile that's nearer you.

Oh, mebbe it was good at the roundup in the Fall,
When the clouds of bawlin' dust before us ran,
And the pride of rope and saddle was a-drivin' of us all
To stretch of nerve and muscle, man and man.
But the pride sort of died when the man got weary eyed;
'Twas a sleepy boy that rode the nightguard through,
And he dreamed himself along a trail to you,
Old folks,
Dreamed himself along a happy trail to you.

The coyote's Winter howl cuts the dusk behind the hill,
But the ranch's shinin' window I kin see,
And though I don't deserve it and, I reckon, never will,
There'll be room beside the fire kep' for me.
Skimp my plate 'cause I'm late. Let me hit the old kid gait,
For tonight I'm stumblin' tired of the new
And I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

Commentary

Badger Clark's poem has become a classic in cowboy poetry, dramatizing the cowboy's exploits through each season, while enjoying his journey home for Christmas.

First Stanza: Happy, Going Home for Christmas

The wind is blowin' cold down the mountain tips of snow
And 'cross the ranges layin' brown and dead;
It's cryin' through the valley trees that wear the mistletoe
And mournin' with the gray clouds overhead.
Yes it's sweet with the beat of my little hawse's feet
And I whistle like the air was warm and blue
For I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

The speaker describes the sights he encounters as he is "ridin' up the Christmas trail to you, / Old folks, / I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you." He first mentions the wind that is "blowin' cold," and he sees the tops of the mountain are snow-capped.

The flat land looks winter-brown with the dead plants, but the trees in the valley wear the mistletoe, and he is in a good mood "whistl[ing]" a tune as if it were spring weather.

The rider is happy to be going home for Christmas to his family, which he calls "Old folks" in the refrain of each stanza. The trail he usually takes to reach home he has named the Christmas trail because it is a special ride heralding a happy reunion.

Second Stanza: Reminiscing on the Ride

Oh, mebbe it was good when the whinny of the Spring
Had weedled me to hoppin' of the bars.
And livin' in the shadow of a sailin' buzzard's wing
And sleepin' underneath a roof of stars.
But the bright campfire light only dances for a night,
While the home-fire burns forever clear and true,
So 'round the year I circle back to you,
Old folks,
'Round the rovin' year I circle back to you.

The speaker then reminisces as he rides, thinking back to what he did in spring: bar-hopping and camping outdoors under a roof of stars. But his journey home reminds him that his campfire light only dances for a night.

The home-fires are kept burning always, and always welcoming the adventurer back to their love and stability.

The cowboy/speaker therefore repeats his slightly varied refrain: "So 'round the year I circle back to you, / Old folks, / 'Round the rovin' year I circle back to you."

Third Stanza: Thinking Back on Summer

Oh, mebbe it was good when the reckless Summer sun
Had shot a charge of fire through my veins,
And I milled around the whiskey and the fightin' and fun
'Mong the mav'ricks drifted from the plains.
Ay, the pot bubbled hot, while you reckoned I'd forgot,
And the devil smacked the young blood in his stew,
Yet I'm lovin' every mile that's nearer you,
Good folks,
Lovin' every blessed mile that's nearer you.

The speaker then recalls his summer exploits of "fightin' and fun" among the wild horse that drifted from the plains, He again enjoyed his time around the campfires, eating hot stew cooked out of doors.

But again the cowboy comes back to the present journey back home, and this time he avers that he is "lovin' every mile" that brings him back to the "Good folks," who wait for him at home.

Fourth Stanza: Good Times During Autumn

Oh, mebbe it was good at the roundup in the Fall,
When the clouds of bawlin' dust before us ran,
And the pride of rope and saddle was a-drivin' of us all
To stretch of nerve and muscle, man and man.
But the pride sort of died when the man got weary eyed;
'Twas a sleepy boy that rode the nightguard through,
And he dreamed himself along a trail to you,
Old folks,
Dreamed himself along a happy trail to you.

The cowboy/speaker then describes the good times he had at the roundup in the Fall. He felt a burst of pride to be able to participate in such a physically challenging event, but he later realized after becoming weary eyed that he would be glad to get back home to rest from such hard physical labor.

Thus, the speaker dreamed himself along "a trail to you, / Old folks, / Dreamed himself along a happy trail to you."

Fifth Stanza: Finally, a Grateful for the Warm Home

The coyote's Winter howl cuts the dusk behind the hill,
But the ranch's shinin' window I kin see,
And though I don't deserve it and, I reckon, never will,
There'll be room beside the fire kep' for me.
Skimp my plate 'cause I'm late. Let me hit the old kid gait,
For tonight I'm stumblin' tired of the new
And I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

Now it is winter and he approaching his family home. The cowboy colorfully describes the scene: "the coyote's Winter howl cuts the dusk behind the hill, / But the ranch's shinin' window I kin see."

The returning cowboy then humbly claims that he does not deserve the warmth that awaits him, but he will be very grateful to receive it.

Having grown tired of new adventures, at least for a while, he is happy to be "ridin' up the Christmas trail to you, / Old folks, / I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you."

Reading of Badger Clark's "The Christmas Trail"

David Althouse’s "How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas"

The legendary hero, Pecos Bill, gargling with nitroglycerin and chewing on habanero peppers, saved Christmas one year. Accompanied by his horse, Widow Maker, Pecos Bill performs his extreme acts throughout cowboy folklore.

Introduction and Text of "How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas"

The legend of Pecos Bill first appeared in 1917 when Edward O’Reilly published a collection of the tales about Bill in The Century Magazine. In 1923, the stories were reprinted in a book titled The Saga of Pecos Bill. Like other characters from the genre "folklore" such as Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill remains a figure of controversy. According to F. E. Abernethy, "Pecos Bill seems to have been more the product of journalism than folklore."

Journalist Edward O’Reilly had claimed that the stories of Pecos Bill were told by cowboys who handed them down in the oral tradition as they expanded westward settling Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. But then O’Reilly filed a lawsuit against a plagiarizer of one of his articles featuring Pecos Bill. O’Reilly then admitted that he had invented Pecos Bill. J. Frank Dobie of the Texas Folklore Society has affirmed that Pecos Bill had not been heard of until O’Reilly’s stories began appearing in 1917.

Whether Pecos Bill is genuine "folklore" or "fakelore," his character has stolen the heart of readers since he first appeared. A widely known version of the Pecos Bill legend is James Cloyd Bowman’s Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time, first published in 1937, winning the Newbery Honor in 1938. After remaining out of print since 1970, the book was republished in 2007 with added illustrations by Laura Bannon.

Pecos Bill and Christmas

Cowboy poet David Althouse, in his hilarious drama titled "How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas," features this controversial but still fascinating character from cowboy lore, who performs extraordinary acts and boasts a bizarre history. For example, Pecos Bill was supposedly bounced off a wagon heading west as a newborn infant, was left behind by his unwitting parents and then raised by coyotes. That auspicious (or perhaps inauspicious) beginning sets the stage for the many fantastic events in the adventures of Pecos Bill.

Narrated in 16 riming couplets, "How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas" represents one of those bizarre, outrageous events that readers have come to expect from this unlikely hero.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas

You’ve heard the tales of Pecos Bill, a western hero bold and true—
Like his paintin’ deserts, ridin’ twisters, and marryin’ up with Slue-Foot Sue.

Atop Widow Maker, his cantankerous steed, live rattlesnake whip in tow,
Pecos swung a mighty wide loop, ‘twas a one-man Wild West show.

So it would’ve come to no surprise to those who knew him best,
Pecos once saved Christmas when it was almost cancelled way out west.

Pecos was winterin’ in Colorado at his cabin two miles high,
When he stood up to look southwesterly to the Arizona sky.

His eagle eyes could take in country most normal eyes couldn’t see,
And he spotted somethin’ white where the Grand Canyon was supposed to be.

The worst winter storm in history had filled the great chasm up with snow,
And soon he spotted reindeer antlers stickin’ up from down below.

Well, Pecos knew no such reindeer lived out in Arizona land,
So he knew St. Nick was trapped with his sleigh and reindeer band.

Great times call for great men, and such was true upon this night;
Christmas hung in the balance, and Pecos aimed to set it right.

Pecos whistled for Widow Maker, and the ornery hoss was there post haste,
And they took off like a lightening bolt with little time to waste.

In just a couple of minutes they were at the canyon rim;
Pecos looks at Widow Maker and then he says to him,

"I’m gonna gargle some nitroglycerin mixed with habaneros don’t you know,
And I’m gonna blow it through the canyon and melt down all that snow!"

Now, Pecos was a known spitter, and could prove it with his deeds,
Having practiced with tobacco juice and watermelon seeds.

He chews on the habaneros and swishes the nitroglycerin all around,
Plants his feet, pulls in some air, and then—he unwound!

This fireball of a concoction blast through the canyon—end-to-end—
Allowin’ the Christmas sleigh to elevate and fly off in the wind.

Now if you doubt this story, and think it doesn’t make much sense,
Next time you’re at the canyon just look at the evidence.

Great fire-burnt canyon rocks were left behind from Bill’s fiery spray,
Which is why they’re reddish orange even to this day.

© 2009, David Althouse
"How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas" is reprinted here with kind permission from cowboy poet, David Althouse.

Commentary

Why are the rocks in the Grand Canyon a burnt-orange color? Find out what saving Christmas has to to with the color of canyon rocks.

First Movement: Following Tradition

You’ve heard the tales of Pecos Bill, a western hero bold and true—
Like his paintin’ deserts, ridin’ twisters, and marryin’ up with Slue-Foot Sue.

Atop Widow Maker, his cantankerous steed, live rattlesnake whip in tow,
Pecos swung a mighty wide loop, ‘twas a one-man Wild West show.

So it would’ve come to no surprise to those who knew him best,
Pecos once saved Christmas when it was almost cancelled way out west.

Pecos was winterin’ in Colorado at his cabin two miles high,
When he stood up to look southwesterly to the Arizona sky.

The first movement treats readers to some of the traditional accoutrements of Pecos Bill: he painted desserts, rode tornadoes (was said to have lassoed one), rode a horse named Widow Maker, used a live rattlesnake as whip, and married an equally outlandish character named "Slue-Foot Sue."

This movement also introduces the first element that will result in Pecos Bill’s saving Christmas. He was spending his winter in Colorado in his "two mile high" cabin, and he happened to look toward the southwest observing the "Arizona sky."

Second Movement: Farsighted

His eagle eyes could take in country most normal eyes couldn’t see,
And he spotted somethin’ white where the Grand Canyon was supposed to be.

The worst winter storm in history had filled the great chasm up with snow,
And soon he spotted reindeer antlers stickin’ up from down below.

Well, Pecos knew no such reindeer lived out in Arizona land,
So he knew St. Nick was trapped with his sleigh and reindeer band.

Great times call for great men, and such was true upon this night;
Christmas hung in the balance, and Pecos aimed to set it right.

Pecos Bill was able to see Arizona from Colorado because of his "eagle eyes," and he saw that the Grand Canyon was filled with snow from "the worst winter storm in history." But he also saw "antlers stickin’ up" through that snow, and he knew there were no deer like that in Arizona. He figured immediately that Santa Claus had gotten trapped during that worst blizzard in history.

Third Movement: Spewing Nitro

Pecos whistled for Widow Maker, and the ornery hoss was there post haste,
And they took off like a lightening bolt with little time to waste.

In just a couple of minutes they were at the canyon rim;
Pecos looks at Widow Maker and then he says to him,

"I’m gonna gargle some nitroglycerin mixed with habaneros don’t you know,
And I’m gonna blow it through the canyon and melt down all that snow!"

Now, Pecos was a known spitter, and could prove it with his deeds,
Having practiced with tobacco juice and watermelon seeds.

So Bill whistles for Widow Maker, and they are off "like a lightning bolt." In only two minutes, they arrive on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Bill announces to Widow Maker that he is going to mix up a batch of nitroglycerin and habanero peppers in his throat and them spew that mixture through the canyon to melt the snow.

Pecos Bill had practiced spitting using "tobacco juice and watermelon seeds," and he had become quite expert in that practice. Thus, he could spew the nitro and habanero juice through the canyon to melt the snow to release Santa Claus and his hapless reindeer.

Fourth Movement: Evidence That It Happened

He chews on the habaneros and swishes the nitroglycerin all around,
Plants his feet, pulls in some air, and then—he unwound!

This fireball of a concoction blast through the canyon—end-to-end—
Allowin’ the Christmas sleigh to elevate and fly off in the wind.

Now if you doubt this story, and think it doesn’t make much sense,
Next time you’re at the canyon just look at the evidence.

Great fire-burnt canyon rocks were left behind from Bill’s fiery spray,
Which is why they’re reddish orange even to this day.

So Bill does as he said he would. He chews up some habanero peppers, the hottest of the peppers, along with some nitroglycerin. He then stands and spits it through the canyon. The combination of nitro and hot peppers raises a "fireball of a concoction" which flashes through the canyon melting the snow and then Santa and his sleigh pulled by the reindeer could rise out of the canyon, catch the wind, and fly off to complete their task of delivering gifts to the world’s children.

The narrator then remarks that even though his readers/listeners might think the story sounds too fantastic to be true, he points out the the evidence of its veracity is the color of the canyon rocks which have remained even to the present day a color he calls "great fire-burnt" or "reddish orange."

Most important of all, however, is that Pecos Bill saved Christmas that year, and everyone can be grateful for that.

Sources

Buck Ramsey's "Christmas Waltz"

Buck Ramsey's "Christmas Waltz" dramatizes a holiday celebration on the ranch.

Introduction and Text of "Christmas Waltz"

Buck Ramsey's "Christmas Waltz" stages a cowboy Christmas with a tree from the big ranch that was selected way back in summer. The ranch hands then experience a rambunctious good time as they celebrate the birth of a "baby boy born in a cow shed."

Christmas Waltz

The winter is here and the old year is passing,
The sun in its circle winds far in the south.
It's time to bring cheer to a cold, snowbound cow camp,
It's Christmas tree time of the year for the house.

Go ride to the cedar break rim of a canyon,
Down by where the river takes creek water clear,
And saddle-sleigh home us a fine shapely evergreen
Picked out while prowling the pasture this year.

While Fair strings the berries and popcorn and whatnots
And Ty braids the wreaths out of leather and vines,
Old Dunder, he whittles and whistles old carols
And fills them with stories of fine olden times.

He talks of a baby boy born in a cow shed,
All swaddled in tatters and laid in a trough,
Who, growing up, gave away all he could gather
And taught us that what is not given is lost.

It's morning of Christmas and long before dawning
The camp hands are risen to ready the feast.
But with the fires glowing they don warm apparel
And go out to gaze on the Star of the East.

They cobbler the plums they put up back in summer,
They bake a wild turkey and roast backstrap deer,
They dollop the sourdough for rising and baking,
And pass each to each now the brown jug of cheer.

The dinner is done and they pass out the presents,
Their three each they open with handshakes and hugs,
Then Ty gets his guitar and Fred gets his fiddle
While Dunder and Fair laugh and roll back the rugs.

The tunes that they play melt the chill from the winter
As Dunder and Fair waltz and two-step along.
They play, sing and dance till the next morning's dawning
Then all of the their slumbers are filled with this song.

Commentary

A cowboy Christmas filled with family, friends, and good times allows the narrator to colorfully describe even scientific facts.

First Stanza: It’s Winter Time

The winter is here and the old year is passing,
The sun in its circle winds far in the south.
It's time to bring cheer to a cold, snowbound cow camp,
It's Christmas tree time of the year for the house.

The cowboy/speaker starts off his celebration of the Christmas season by reporting, "winter is here"; he continues to offer a description of the time of year by averring that the old year is almost over, and the sun has moved "far to the south. "

Around Christmas time, the sun is in the Topic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere; thus the speaker colorfully reports that scientific fact, "sun in its circle winds far in the south." He then states "[i]t's Christmas tree time of the year for the house." A big Christmas tree will soon stand tall in the ranch house.

Second Stanza: The Big Christmas Tree

Go ride to the cedar break rim of a canyon,
Down by where the river takes creek water clear,
And saddle-sleigh home us a fine shapely evergreen
Picked out while prowling the pasture this year.

The cowboy/speaker then reports to his audience where that big Christmas tree comes from: during the summer, while looking over the pasture, the speaker had spotted the perfect tree that stood down along the river where the water was clear as crystal.

The speaker had made a mental note to remember exactly where it stood so he could send another cowboy to fetch it as Christmas time was on its way.

Third Stanza: Fair Decorating

While Fair strings the berries and popcorn and whatnots
And Ty braids the wreaths out of leather and vines,
Old Dunder, he whittles and whistles old carols
And fills them with stories of fine olden times.

A gal named "Fair" will help decorate the grand tree with berries and popcorn on a string. Another cow-hand named "Ty" will put up wreaths fashioned out of vines and leather.

While each ranch hand attends to his part in the decorating, the old cowboy they call "Old Dunder" will be whittling while he whistles old Christmas carols, and he will be telling stories of the olden days.

Fourth Stanza: Testimony

He talks of a baby boy born in a cow shed,
All swaddled in tatters and laid in a trough,
Who, growing up, gave away all he could gather
And taught us that what is not given is lost.

Old Dunder will be the one who will offer testimony regarding the reason for the season, "a baby boy born in a cow shed." He will mention how Jesus "gave away all he could gather" and how he taught humanity the importance of giving.

Fifth Stanza: Christmas Morning

It's morning of Christmas and long before dawning
The camp hands are risen to ready the feast.
But with the fires glowing they don warm apparel
And go out to gaze on the Star of the East.

Finally, Christmas day has arrived. Even well before the light of day, the camp hands are up and wide awake, getting ready to start blazing up fires for cooking. Before they commence their chores for the big celebration, they go outside, "to gaze on the Star of the East." This annual ritual is the heart of their cowboy prayer that they gratefully offer as part of their celebration.

Sixth Stanza: Time to Cook

They cobbler the plums they put up back in summer,
They bake a wild turkey and roast backstrap deer,
They dollop the sourdough for rising and baking,
And pass each to each now the brown jug of cheer

Finally, the cooking begins. They whip up plum cobbler using the plums they had stored up back in summer. The revelers bake wild turkey and roast backstrap deer; they also bake sourdough bread, as they continue to pass around "the brown jug of cheer."

Seventh Stanza: A Big Dinner

The dinner is done and they pass out the presents,
Their three each they open with handshakes and hugs,
Then Ty gets his guitar and Fred gets his fiddle
While Dunder and Fair laugh and roll back the rugs.

They all enjoy their big dinner, and then they all gather around the beautiful Christmas tree to exchange their gifts. Each partier receives at least three presents for which they are very grateful. They hug and shake hands to show gratitude for their bounty. After the gift exchange, they are now ready for music and dancing. Old Dunder and Fair roll back the rugs for the dancing. Fred starts his fiddle-playing, while Ty warms up his guitar.

Eighth Stanza: Music and Fun Times

The tunes that they play melt the chill from the winter
As Dunder and Fair waltz and two-step along.
They play, sing and dance till the next morning's dawning
Then all of the their slumbers are filled with this song.

The music is rollicking and lively, and everyone has a great time. It seems the robust celebration takes the chill off the bitter winter weather. The dancing continues way past dawn; every one sings and dances until morning. After the partiers finally say good-night and drift off to sleep, the music and singing will keep on playing in their dreams.

Musical Version Buck Ramsey's "Christmas Waltz"

S. Omar Barker

S. Omar Barker

S. Omar Barker's "Three Wise Men"

Barker's Christmas poem dramatizes a tale about three lonesome cowboys camped far out on the prairie. Because they are so far from home, they hanker to be celebrating Christmas in the tradition way.

Introduction and Text of "Three Wise Men"

S. Omar Barker's "Three Wise Men" narrates a story of the Magi in an American Southwest setting with cowboys performing the roles of the three wise men. The story, of course, seeks to parallel that of the story of the first Christmas.

Barker's poem dramatizes a tale about three lonesome cowboys camped far out on the prairie. Because they are so far from home, they hanker after a celebration of Christmas in the good old-fashioned, traditional way.

The story features the cowboy dialect and plays out in riming couplets. (Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Three Wise Men

Back in the days when cattle range was prairies wide and lone,
Three Bar Z hands was winter-camped upon the Cimarrón.
Their callin' names was Booger Bill and Pinto Pete and Tug,
And though their little dugout camp was plenty warm and snug,
They got plumb discontented, for with Christmas drawin' near,
They couldn't see no prospects of no kind of Christmas cheer.

Pete spoke about the bailes he'd be missin' up at Taos.
Tug said he'd give his gizzard just to see a human house
Alight with Christmas candles; and ol' Booger Bill avowed
He's shoot the next galoot who spoke of Christmas cheer out loud.
They sure did have the lonesomes, but the the first of Christmas week,
A wagonload of immigrants made camp off down the creek.

They'd come out from Missouri and was headin' farther west,
But had to stop a little while and give their team a rest.
They seemed to be pore nester folks, with maybe six or eight
As hungry lookin', barefoot kids as ever licked a plate.
"We've just got beans to offer you," the wagon woman smiled,
"But if you boys will join us, I will have a big pot b'iled
On Christmas day for dinner, and we'll do the best we kin
To make it seem like Christmas time, although our plates are tin!"

Them cowboys sort of stammered, but they promised her they'd come,
Then loped back to their dugout camp, and things begun to hum.
They whittled with their pocketknives, they sewed with rawhide threads,
They hammered and they braided and they raveled rope to shreds.
They butchered out a yearlin', and they baked a big ol' roast.
They scratched their heads to figger out what kids would like the most,
Till when they went on Christmas day to share the nesters' chuck,
They had a packhorse loaded with their homemade Christmas truck:

Bandanna dolls for little gals, with raveled rope for hair;
Some whittled wooden guns for boys, and for each kind a pair
Of rough-made rawhide moccasins. You should have seen the look
Upon that nester woman's face when from their pack they took
A batch of pies plumb full of prunes, some taffy made of lick,
And a pan of sourdough biscuits right around four inches thick.

That ain't the total tally, but it sort of gives a view
Of what three lonesome cowboys figgered out to try and do
To cure the Christmas lonesomes on the Cimarrón, amid
The wild coyotes and cattle--and they found it sure 'nough did.

Commentary

Barker's Christmas poem dramatizes a tale about three lonesome cowboys camped far out on the prairie. Because they are so far from home, they hanker to be celebrating Christmas in the tradition way.

First Stanza: No Christmas Cheer This Year

Back in the days when cattle range was prairies wide and lone,
Three Bar Z hands was winter-camped upon the Cimarrón.
Their callin' names was Booger Bill and Pinto Pete and Tug,
And though their little dugout camp was plenty warm and snug,
They got plumb discontented, for with Christmas drawin' near,
They couldn't see no prospects of no kind of Christmas cheer.

The narrator begins by reporting that three cowhands from the Bar Z ranch are winter-camped upon the Cimarrn. Their names, that is, their nicknames are Booger Bill, Pinto Pete, and Tug.

Even though their dugout camp was comfortable enough, the trio started to lament that they could see "no prospects of no kind of Christmas cheer." With Christmas nearing, they were becoming melancholy about being so far from civilization and home.

Second Stanza: Three Cowpokes Deep in Christmas Blues

Pete spoke about the bailes he'd be missin' up at Taos.
Tug said he'd give his gizzard just to see a human house
Alight with Christmas candles; and ol' Booger Bill avowed
He's shoot the next galoot who spoke of Christmas cheer out loud.
They sure did have the lonesomes, but the the first of Christmas week,
A wagonload of immigrants made camp off down the creek.

Pete complained that he would miss out on the dances (bailes) up at Taos. Tug missed seeing a human house, saying colorfully, he'd give his gizzard just to see just one. Bill was so morose that he threatened "to shoot the next galoot who spoke of Christmas cheer out loud."

All three cowpokes were deep in the Christmas blues, missing civilization all decked out in Christmas attire and the social events that accompany the season. Then a wagonload of travelers made camp off down the creek.

Third Stanza: Folks Moving West

They'd come out from Missouri and was headin' farther west,
But had to stop a little while and give their team a rest.
They seemed to be pore nester folks, with maybe six or eight
As hungry lookin', barefoot kids as ever licked a plate.
"We've just got beans to offer you," the wagon woman smiled,
"But if you boys will join us, I will have a big pot b'iled
On Christmas day for dinner, and we'll do the best we kin
To make it seem like Christmas time, although our plates are tin!"

This load of immigrants is traveling from Missouri and "headin farther west." They had to stop to let their animals revive themselves before pressing on. These travelers are very poor with "hungry lookin, barefoot kids." There must have been six or eight people in the party "all pore nester folks."

The woman of the group smiled pleasantly and invited the cowboy trio to join them for Christmas. Even though they have only beans to offer them, she promises to make it seem like Christmas time despite their impoverished lot and their plates being tin.

Fourth Stanza: Homemade Christmas Stuff

Them cowboys sort of stammered, but they promised her they'd come,
Then loped back to their dugout camp, and things begun to hum.
They whittled with their pocketknives, they sewed with rawhide threads,
They hammered and they braided and they raveled rope to shreds.
They butchered out a yearlin', and they baked a big ol' roast.
They scratched their heads to figger out what kids would like the most,
Till when they went on Christmas day to share the nesters' chuck,
They had a packhorse loaded with their homemade Christmas truck:

The cowboys feel somewhat dubious at first but promise to return on Christmas. Then after the three have returned to their camp, they begin creating all sorts of gifts for the travelers with whom they would celebrate Christmas.

They whittled with pocketknives, they sewed with rawhide threads making toys for the children. They hammered and they braided to make dolls for the girls. They whittled toy guns for the boys. They butchered a yearling and made a roast to take to the party. When Christmas day arrived, they loaded up their packhorse and headed off to the celebration.

Fifth Stanza: Wise Men Bearing Gifts

Bandanna dolls for little gals, with raveled rope for hair;
Some whittled wooden guns for boys, and for each kind a pair
Of rough-made rawhide moccasins. You should have seen the look
Upon that nester woman's face when from their pack they took
A batch of pies plumb full of prunes, some taffy made of lick,
And a pan of sourdough biscuits right around four inches thick.

The wise men came bearing gifts for the children including rawhide moccasins. The wagon woman looked astonished as they produced from the packhorse a batch of pies "plumb full of prunes, taffy, and sourdough biscuits."

Sixth Stanza: Cure for the Christmas Blues

That ain't the total tally, but it sort of gives a view
Of what three lonesome cowboys figgered out to try and do
To cure the Christmas lonesomes on the Cimarrón, amid
The wild coyotes and cattle--and they found it sure 'nough did.

The narrator makes it clear that those wise men also brought many other items that helped the little traveling party and the lonely cowboys celebrate Christmas. The Christmas blues was "cure[d]," and among the wild coyotes and cattle, the little group of wise cowboys resurrected the spirit of Christmas with their big hearts and generous giving.

Reading of "Clancy at the Overflow"

Banjo Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow"

A city-dweller, painting a picture of dirt, noise, and hustling about in the city, imagines what his life would be like if he could trade places with a drover (cowboy) in the outback, where life would be grounded in nature with many pleasurable sights and sound.

Introduction and Text of "Clancy of the Overflow"

The speaker in A. B. "Banjo" Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow" is a city-dweller, who thinks he would like to change his life and become a cowboy in the outback. The speaker was prompted to dramatize and romanticize that life after he met a chap named Clancy.

The poem features eight ballad-form quatrains, each with the basic end-rime scheme, ABCB. The second and third lines of each quatrain feature an internal rime, in addition to the end-rimes. The following uses the first stanza to exemplify the internal and end-rime schemes:

A . . . A letter . . . better
. . . . . B . . . . . . . . ago
C . . . C knew him . . . to him
. . . . . B . . . . . . . . overflow

The lines are long with a jaunty rhythm, making the poem ripe for turning into a song.

Clancy of the Overflow

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just "on spec", addressed as follows: "Clancy, of The Overflow".

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written in a thumbnail dipped in tar)
'Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
"Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are."

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving "down the Cooper" where the western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

And I somehow fancy that I'd like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal -
But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of "The Overflow".

Commentary

People who reside in large cities from time to time muse on the idea of being or becoming a country dweller. Country folk do the same, but it seems less often than the city-dweller, who likes to romanticize the life of their rustic fellows.

First Stanza: A Letter to Clancy

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just "on spec", addressed as follows: "Clancy, of The Overflow".

The first quatrain remains very simple, offering a mere tease regarding the drama that will be unfolding. The speaker reports that he wrote a letter to Clancy with simple address, "Clancy, of the Overflow." The speaker had met Clancy while the latter was shearing sheep.

Second Stanza: Receives a Response

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written in a thumbnail dipped in tar)
'Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
"Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are."

The speaker receives a response to his letter that revealed no one knew where Clancy was at present, although he had gone to Queensland droving. The speaker adds the colorful detail that the letter appeared to have been "written with thumb-nail dipped in tar."

Third Stanza: Wild Imaginings

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving "down the Cooper" where the western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

The speaker then begins his wild erratic fancy, envisioning Clancy driving his herd singing and enjoying kind of peaceful "pleasures" that city-dwellers, such as the speaker himself, never experience. The speaker is now off to musing on those supposed pleasures of living a rustic life.

Fourth Stanza: Natural Beauties

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

The speaker imagines Clancy with his friends who greet him with their kindly voices. He hears the murmur of the breezes. He sees a beautiful river and observes the splendor of the sunlit plain extending for miles. And, of course, Clancy enjoys seeing "the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars." All of these natural beauties elude the city-dweller.

Fifth Stanza: Bemoaning City Life

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.

The city-dwelling speaker then plainly bemoans his own lot as he sits in his dingy little office where only a sliver of sunlight is able to penetrate. The air is polluted and floats into the office through the window, "spread[ing] its foulness over all."

Sixth Stanza: Enduring City Noise

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

Instead of Clancy's pleasant sounds of lowing cattle, the poor speaker's ears are accosted by the metallic, screeching noise of "tramways and the buses." He also must endure hearing the foul language of children fighting in the streets. And there is "the ceaseless tramp of feet." Hearing so many people rushing hither and yon also annoys the speaker as he continues to endure city life.

Seventh Stanza: Stuffed in a Small Place

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

So many people hurrying here and there, their "pallid faces haunt" the speaker. They seem to be stuffed into the small space of the city as they shoulder one another in the rush and nervous haste. He decries that the fact that city dwellers in their hurry to get to work have not time for other endeavors. The speaker feels that such a rushing madness stunts the growth of the people who have no time for leisure; to them leisure would be considered a waste of time.

Eighth Stanza: The Grass Is Always Greener

And I somehow fancy that I'd like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal -
But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of "The Overflow".

Finally, the speaker admits that he prefers to believe that he would like to change places with Clancy. The speaker would like to be out there herding those animals in the outback "where the seasons come and go." He would like to let Clancy do his "cashbook" work, but he figures that job would probably not be well suited to the outback cowboy.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on December 25, 2015:

So glad you appreciated my piece. I love cowboy poetry, especially the truly spiritual ones, like this poem by Badger Clark. Thanks for the kind words. Hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New New!

Surabhi Kaura on December 24, 2015:

Hi Dear Linda,

I haven't heard about him. Thank you for introducing him. He seems to be a spiritual poet. It was nice to read "A Cowboy's Prayer" and your analysis on it. Wise use of words and interpretation. Praise be!

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