Off the clock this month I’ve been reading poems, and, for the first time in four years, writing some of my own. July will include an annual conference in Georgia and free time revising the poems I wrote this month.
Among the art I rediscovered during June was the verse of Sam Walter Foss, an American folk poet who wrote about country life and patriotism in disarming a-b-a-b rhyme. His legacy includes these two pieces on creativity disrupted and tradition unchallenged.
He had a startling genius, but somehow it didn’t emerge;
Always on the evolution of things that wouldn’t evolve;
Always verging toward some climax, but he never reached the verge;
Always nearing the solution of some theme he could not solve.
And he found perpetual motion, but a cog wheel set awry
Burst his complex apparatus and he could not get it fixed;
And he made a life elixir—if you drank you’d never die—
But the druggist spoilt the compound when the medicine was mixed.
And he made a flying vessel that would navigate the air,
A gorgeous steamer of the heavens, a grand aerial boat,
A matchless paragon of skill, a think beyond compare,
And the only trouble with it—he could never make it float.
And he found a potent acid that would change red dirt to gold;
but the tube from which he poured it had some trouble with its squirt,
The gold held in solution and would not let go its hold,
And the dirt, in dogged stubbornness, it still continued dirt.
And he made a great catholicon to cure all disease,
A general panacea for every ache and pain,
But first he tried it on himself, his stomach ache to ease,
And it killed him very quickly—and he did not try again.
The Calf Path
One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o’er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ’twas such a crooked path.
But still they followed—do not laugh—
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.
This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare;
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! Many things this tale might teach—
But I am not ordained to preach.