Updated date:

Badger Clark's "A Cowboy's Prayer"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Badger Clark

Badger Clark

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.

Badger Clark reading "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

© 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!