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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Old Words for a New Year

Henry Herbert Knibbs 1874-1945

Today, while I continue the final edit of the novel, I'd thought I'd cop out of actually writing a blog, and introduce you to a favorite poem of mine by Henry Herbert Knibbs, the cowboy poet that never really was a cowboy. He was more traveling writer and philosopher than anything else and what better way to begin a new year, than by remembering something beautiful from an old one?

The Sheep and the Goats by Henry Herbert Knibbs

    I don't mind working to earn my bread,
         And I'd just as soon keep straight;
    I've listened to what the preacher said
         About rams and sheep at the gate;
    I like to sleep in an easy bed,
         But I tell you this, old mate:

    A man like me, what you call a Bo,
         Can blister and sweat and save
    All his life, and earn just enough of dough
         To prove that he is a slave,
    And have, when it comes his time to go,
         Well, enough to line his grave.
    Say, mate, have you ever seen the mills
         Where the kids at the looms spit blood?
    Have you been in the mines when the fire-damp blew?
         Have you shipped as a hand with a freighter's crew
    Or worked in a levee flood?
    Have you rotted wet in a grading-camp,
         Or scorched on a desert line?
    Or done your night stunt with your lamp,
         Watching the timbers drip with damp
    And hearing the oil-rig whine?
    Have you seen the grinders fade and die,
         As the steel-dust cut them down?
    Have you heard the tunnel-driller's cry
         When the shale caved in? Have you stood by
    When his wife came up from town?
    Have you had your pay held back for tools
         That you never saw or could use?
    Have you gone like a fool with the other fools
         To the boss's saloon, where the strong-arm rules,
    And cashed your time for booze?
    Well, those are the games—I've played 'em all—
         That a man like me can play.
    And this lovely world is a hard old ball;
         And so at the last I took a fall
    To the right and proper way;
    And that is to see all the sights you can
         Without the admission price.
    That's why I've changed to a traveling man,
         With a quilt and a rope and a kind of plan
    Of hitting no one place twice.

    I do no kicking at God or Fate;
         I keep my shoes for the road.
    A long gray road-and I love it, mate;
         Hay-foot, straw-foot, that's my gait!
    And I carry no other man's load.

    For I'm free! Oh, the lowlands by the sea
         To the mountains clear across
    On the other side, they belong to me;
         A man owns nothing unless he's free,
    And I am my own good boss.
    I don't mind working to earn my bread,
         And I'd just as soon keep straight,
    But according to what the preacher said,
         I'm a ram—and I've missed the gate;
    But I'm jogging along, and jogging ahead,
         And perhaps I'll find it, mate.

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