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Badger Clark's "The Christmas Trail"

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

Introduction and Excerpt from "The Christmas Trail"

Badger Clark's poem, "The Christmas Trail," consists of five stanzas, each with a catchy, complex rime-scheme, explained further below in the section titled "Complex Rime-Scheme."

The poem also employs the cowboy dialect of losing the final "g" on present participles and pronounces "hawse" for "horse" and "mebbe" for "maybe."

The speaker is describing the sights he encounters as he is journeying along the way, leading back to his home and his family. He delivers a chant-like refrain that includes the message of returning back home to the "Old folks," an endearment term by which he refers to the family members and his home.

Each stanza contains a slightly altered version of this refrain’s sentiment. The sentiment of returning home to his family is so important in this poem that it well deserves its prominence as a chant-like refrain.

The cowboy charm that infuses all cowboy poetry is lushly on display in this Christmas poem, making it a perfect candidate for becoming an often read and explored cowboy classic poem.

(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.")

Excerpt from "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 . . .

To read the entire poem, please visit AllPoetry’s Badger Clark’s "The Christmas Trail."

Reading of "The Christmas Trail"

Commentary

The speaker of Badger Clark's cowboy, Christmas classic, "The Christmas Trail," is describing the sights he is viewing as he travels with a happy heart home for Christmas.

First Stanza: Happy, Going Home for Christmas

The speaker begins by first describing the wind that is quite cold as it is blowing down from snow-capped mountains. That wind continues to blow through the flat land which now yields its winter-brown-hued plants that are in their winter-sleepy mode.

The trees in the alley, however, are wearing "mistletoe," a sign of Christmas that causes the cowboy to starting whistling as though the weather were as clear and warm as spring.

The journeying cowboy riding home for Christmas to his family exudes cheerfulness, and after acknowledging the cold wind he is encountering as it blows down the winter landscape, he offers the cheery refrain. He labels the pathway home, "The Christmas Trail" because it is likely that his yearly trek home is the only time he gets to travel this particular path.

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Second Stanza: Reminiscing on the Ride

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 the light of his campfire "dances" only for one night, while the fires at home are kept in a continuous glow.

This ever-burning home-fire serves metaphorically to report that those people keeping those fires going are always welcoming the adventurer back to their love and stability. This sentiment serves as the perfect segue to the refrain of returning back home to his "Old folks."

Third Stanza: Thinking Back on Summer

The speaker then recalls his summer exploits of "fightin' and fun" with his cowboy partners, the other wild cowboys, with whom he works and plays during cattle-moving season. He implies that those exploits were influenced by the "reckless Summer sun." He makes it clear that has enjoyed every minute of being outdoors, eating hot stew around the campfires.

But again the cowboy comes back to the present journey back home, and this time in his refrain, 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

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 realizes after becoming physically exhausted that he would be glad to get back home to rest from such hard physical labor.

Thus, the speaker dreamed that he was already riding the Christmas trail back to the "Old folks" and his comforting surroundings. As much as he loves driving cattle and the cowboy life in general, he makes it clear that he also holds great affection for his family home and the people who wait there for him to return for the holidays.

Fifth Stanza: Finally, Grateful for the Warm Home

The cowboy has now circled back to the present season of winter, in which he began his journey and his poem. He is rapidly approaching his family home. He hears off in the distance the cry of a coyote that has a come slicing through the "dusk behind the hill." And now comes into view his first sight of home. He then catches a glimpse of the glowing light from the ranch house window.

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. He has grown tired from his adventures and knows he can well use the rest and comfort of familial love and affection. Thus, he offers his final refrain of "a-ridin’ up the Christmas trail" to the "Old folks."

Complex Rime-Scheme

Each stanza in this ballad-like lyric has a tightly woven, complex rime-scheme of ABAB(CCC)DDED, divided into a quatrain and a cinquain. The quatrain remains traditional in its ABAB scheme, but the first line of the cinquain contains two internal rimes, represented by CCC. The final "C" represents the end rime, while the first and second "C" represent the internal rimes: "Yes it's sweet with the beat of my little hawse's feet."

The remaining four lines of each cinquain then behave almost as would a quatrain. However, the poet has opted to emphasize the importance of "Old folks," by placing the phrase on a line by itself; thus, the quatrain becomes a cinquain. The poet further complicates matters by replacing "Old folks" with "Good folks" in the third stanza but then returns to "Old folks" for the final two stanzas.

The rime-scheme featuring the internal riming in the fifth line of each stanza offers a pleasant sound to the ear; it gives the poem a comforting rhythm that remains a staple in the cowboy poetry genre. Rime and rhythm play an important role in cowboy poetry, and this poem exemplifies the mastercraftsman’s brilliant use of rime as well as the innovative splitting of the cinquain to emphasize the poem’s most important phrase, "Old folks," further emphasized by its alternate, "Good folks."

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

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