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Tag: sheep

Donald Hall kept country hours

Monday, 25 June, 2018

The death has taken place of the American poet Donald Hall, who wrote about a handful of themes that included his childhood, baseball, sex, farming, the death of his parents and the loss of his second wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon. They met in 1969, when she was his student at the University of Michigan. By the mid-70s they were married and living at Hall’s beloved home, Eagle Pond Farm, built in 1803 and belonging to his family since the 1860s. But Kenyon was diagnosed with leukaemia and died in 1995, when she was 47. Hall never stopped mourning her and had arranged to be buried next to her. Now, they are united again.

In one obituary today, it said: “He kept country hours for much of his working life, rising at 6am and writing for two hours.” The Black-Faced Sheep is beautiful and honest.

The Black-Faced Sheep

Ruminant pillows! Gregarious soft boulders!

If one of you found a gap in a stone wall,
the rest of you — rams, ewes, bucks, wethers, lambs;
mothers and daughters, old grandfather-father,
cousins and aunts, small bleating sons —
followed onward, stupid
as sheep, wherever
your leader’s sheep-brain wandered to.

My grandfather spent all day searching the valley
and edges of Ragged Mountain,
calling “Ke-day!” as if he brought you salt,
“Ke-day! Ke-day!”

When the shirt wore out, and darns in the woollen
shirt needed darning,
a woman in a white collar
cut the shirt into strips and braided it,
as she braided her hair every morning.

In a hundred years
the knees of her great-granddaughter
crawled on a rug made from the wool of sheep
whose bones were mud,
like the bones of the woman, who stares
from an oval in the parlor.

I forked the brambly hay down to you
in nineteen-fifty. I delved my hands deep
in the winter grass of your hair.

When the shearer cut to your nakedness in April
and you dropped black eyes in shame,
hiding in barnyard corners, unable to hide,
I brought grain to raise your spirits,
and ten thousand years
wound us through pasture and hayfield together,
threads of us woven
together, three hundred generations
from Africa’s hills to New Hampshire’s.

You were not shrewd like the pig.
You were not strong like the horse.
You were not brave like the rooster.

Yet none of the others looked like a lump of granite
that grew hair,
and none of the others
carried white fleece as soft as dandelion seed
around a black face,
and none of them sang such a flat and sociable song.

Now the black-faced sheep have wandered and will not return,
even if I should search the valleys
and call “Ke-day,” as if I brought them salt.
Now the railroad draws
a line of rust through the valley. Birch, pine, and maple
lean from cellarholes
and cover the dead pastures of Ragged Mountain
except where machines make snow
and cables pull money up hill, to slide back down.

At South Danbury Church twelve of us sit —
cousins and aunts, sons —
where the great-grandfathers of the forty-acre farms
filled every pew.
I look out the window at summer places,
at Boston lawyers’ houses
with swimming pools cunningly added to cowsheds,
and we read an old poem aloud, about Israel’s sheep,
old lumps of wool, and we read

that the rich farmer, though he names his farm for himself,
takes nothing into his grave;
that even if people praise us, because we are successful,
we will go under the ground
to meet our ancestors collected there in the darkness;
that we are all of us sheep, and death is our shepherd,
and we die as the animals die

Donald Hall (1928 – 2018)

The black-faced sheep


When A. A. Gill ate mutton in Scotland

Sunday, 28 January, 2018 0 Comments

It was October 2015 and it led to this memorable sentence: “Scotland remains the worst country in Europe to eat in if you’re paying — and one of the finest if you’re a guest.”

Background: A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and he followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television, life and travel. In Scotland, he met Peggy McKenzie, “a retired gamekeeper’s wife who was one of the most naturally in-tune, modestly perfect cooks.” Both discovered a mutual passion for… mutton.

“I, like you, had forgotten mutton. With a great marketing and agri con, it was replaced by lamb. If you look at 19th-century cookbooks, you’ll see very few recipes for lamb and hundreds for mutton. Wool is what made England its first fortune. Fluffy gold, sold to the merchants of Ghent. Sheep weren’t slaughtered until they were four or five years old. The most valued were gelded rams. But today, wool has no value, and farmers want an immediate return on their animals, so the sooner they can slit their throats, the better. And the more they add value to young, tender meat, the better. Except it isn’t better. Lamb is a bland, short, monoglot mouthful compared with mutton’s eloquent, rich euphemistic flavour. We’ve been cheated by agri-expediency to eat an inferior, flannelly, infantilised alternative. In fact, we’re led to believe that younger is better for all meat, when the opposite is the truth. Flavour, richness, intensity and complexity come with age. Mutton is the true, base taste of our national cuisine, and it’s gone.”

This is excellent journalistic writing. Staccato sentences that hit the reader between the eyes: “Wool is what made England its first fortune. Fluffy gold, sold to the merchants of Ghent.” Factual and musical is his description of worthy wool as “Fluffy gold”.

Mutton and child


The Year of the Caprinae

Thursday, 19 February, 2015 0 Comments

Hundreds of millions of Chinese people are celebrating the Lunar New Year holiday with their families. Today, they’re bidding farewell to the Year of the Horse but we’re not quite sure what it is that they’re welcoming. The New Year’s name is defined by the character 羊, which can mean either sheep or goat. Thing is, the goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are members of the subfamily Caprinae. That being the case, we’re going with sheep. For the occasion, then, this is from Songs of Innocence by William Blake.

The Shepherd

How sweet is the shepherd’s sweet lot!
From the morn to the evening he strays;
He shall follow his sheep all the day,
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.

For he hears the lambs’ innocent call,
And he hears the ewes’ tender reply;
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their shepherd is nigh.

William Blake (1757 — 1827)

Year of the Sheep


Smiling stone sheep thinks haik ewe

Sunday, 25 August, 2013 0 Comments

Quantum sheep is the name given to a new form of poetry. The verse is generated randomly by writing words on the backs of sheep, then allowing them to mingle. Observers choose their own words from the resulting flock, without any particular form, to create new poems. The results are similar to the Japanese haiku […]

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