Cartoon of cow and calf. [From an old issue of the Michigan Gargoyle, the University of Michigan student magazine]
There have been some great farmer poets over the years. Oh, not always famous, such as Scotland’s Robbie Burns, who was often called the “Ploughman Poet” and who once plowed up a mouse nest and wrote of the woes of the “Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,” that scurried, panic stricken, down the furrow ahead of the plow—anyone who has done much plowing has seen the same thing.
No, I mean a working farmer who might see or experiences something and feels moved to versify about that particular event. Some of these farmer rhymes are not particularly good or well written, but most are heartfelt and often funny.
To give some examples, here is one that I think I may have published in the past. In the July 27, 1893, issue of The Farm Implement News was the following unaccredited plaint that gives a glimpse of what the “Good Old Days” were like for some farm boys.
WOULD I WERE A BOY AGAIN
I’d like to be a boy again, without a woe or care,
with freckles scattered on my face, and hayseed in my hair.
I’d like to rise at 4 o’clock and do a hundred chores,
like saw the wood and feed the hogs and lock the stable doors.
And herd the hens and watch the bees and take the mules to drink,
and teach the turkeys how to swim so that they would not sink.
And milk about a hundred cows and bring in wood to burn,
and stand out in the sun all day and churn and churn and churn.
And wear my brother’s cast-off clothes and walk four miles to school,
and get a licking every day for breaking some old rule,
and then go home again at night and do the chores once more,
and milk the cows and slop the hogs and feed the mules galore.
And then crawl wearily up the stairs to seek my little bed,
and hear Dad say, “That worthless boy! He doesn’t earn his bread!”
I’d like to be a boy again; a boy has so much fun,
his life is just one round of mirth, from rise to set of sun.
I guess there’s nothing pleasanter than closing stable doors,
and herding hens and chasing bees and doing evening chores.
There’s much controversy today about Daylight Savings Time, which was instituted during World War One. Farmers have never liked it because the cows, chickens, and other critters aren’t exactly clock watchers.
When, for the first time, the clock was set ahead one hour on April 1, 1918, the following poem was written by Alan L. Strang who was just ten years old. Alan was born in Spokane, Washington, August 18, 1908. The family moved to California in 1913 and settled in Redwood City. A description of the boy reads, “He had a gentle, loving disposition, was always frail and delicate and possessed a mental development far in advance of his years. He was taken to the Great Beyond January 29, 1919. The poems contained in this book were written prior to his tenth birthday. Considering the age of the author we feel that the work contains real merit, while the sentiment expressed betokens that patriotic spirit which never fails or hesitates when our country calls for men.”
How can we Fool the Rooster?
Our Rooster wakes at half-past five and crows with all his might,
He tries to wake the people up before the day is light.
When Daddy hears the rooster crow he knows he should awake
And light the kitchen fire, so Ma Can cook the Johnny cake.
Now, maybe we can fool my Dad that it’s half-past five when it’s half-past four,
And maybe the system’s the best we have had to fool some thousands of people or more;
But, how can we fool that rooster?
I have always thought our rooster had a clock inside of his head,
And I don’t know how we can fix it so we can set the clock ahead.
I asked my Dad, and he said to me, “Why, son, you surely know
A rooster’s instinct wakens him and tells him when to crow.”
Now the hands of the clock we can turn ahead, we can fool the people and feel content;
But the thing that worries me night and day, and on which my entire thought is bent
Is, how can we fool that rooster?
And finally this anonymous and slightly risque look at the life of a cow. It came from an old magazine called Die Veteraan Boer in the Afrikaans language, or The Veteran Farmer in English, which is dedicated to “Keeping alive memories of bygone farming days in South Africa.” It just goes to show that cows are cows anywhere in the world.
PITY THE POOR COW
I have just given birth to a heifer, If what I have heard is the truth sir,
Of pride and of milk I am full, Unnatural though it may seem;
But it’s sad to relate that my lacteal state A cow’s female passion is right out of fashion,
Was not brought about by a bull. And a bull is just a wonderful dream.
I have never been naughty I swear it, I know that the farm is a business,
In spite of the calf that I’ve borne, In which we must all pull our weight,
Like Farmer Brown’s tractor. Well, I’d pull and I’d pull
I’m “Virgo Intacta.” For a strongly-built bull,
My regard for the bull is forlorn. For this phony business I hate.
How drab is the cowyard and meadow, It mustn’t be thought that I’m jealous,
The cowshed seems empty and gray. There are things that a cow shouldn’t say,
The small bit of fun in the year’s dreary run, But I’ll bet if I could, I most certainly would,
Science has taken away. Return to the old-fashioned way!