Cowboy poetry originated after the Civil War during the great cattle drives from the western U.S. to the North and East. Long days on ranches and dusty trails meant lots of time for cowboys to ponder their surroundings and circumstances and put them to rhyme. It has since evolved into a narrative art form, with gatherings worldwide. In this week's Poetry Friday segment, KNAU listener and poet Tom Weathers - a longtime regular at Prescott's annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering - brings us an original piece about life on the range. He brought his guitar into the studio and set his poem to music.
TW: This poem was inspired by the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering. One of the activities that they set up for the poets every year is to invite us to write a poem based on the annual poster art that’s part of their advertising. That year, the picture was of a cowboy propped up against his saddle. I like to think that it was at the end of the day. It was a beautiful oil painting by George Molnar. So in that, I could picture this guy, you know, paper was probably scarce. He would either have a tally book in his pocket, or possibly he would have a scrap of paper from his monthly visit to town of the hotel stationery.
And, so I just started thinking about where these poems come from. I’d heard stories from my cowboy friends, but I wanted to give the gentleman in this poster art his own story. And that’s where the poem, Thanks for the Poem, came from.
Thanks for the Poem, by Tom Weathers
He’d been rastl’n a mood, that set him to brood’n
Trying to figure what this life’s trail’s about
But instead of just frettin, to a poem he starts settin’
Some rhymes to help sort it all out.
At the head of the sheet is the name and the street
Where he bathes and beds down when in town
And though the pages were white, when he started to write,
They’re now become, more finger smudged brown.
For the lines, they come slow, and the cowboy don’t know
When the next inspiration might hit
So he carefully pens, even the least unction when
A piece to this wrote puzzle might fit.
It’s a tally he’s takin’ as each new day’s breakin’
That he fashions to rhyme in his head
Then in dusk’s fading light he commences to write
His trails account, which ‘til now’d gone unsaid.
There’s some thoughts that fly by, with but a heartbeat to try
To lass’ it an ddally up with a pen
Into a simply put line, set to meter and rhyme
How he feels when a new day begins.
And some thought plod along, not much flash, but so strong
‘Bout the ties his life holds with the soil
And the hills, and the rain, the grass covered plain
Making pleasure from what others call toil
Now his daily subjection, to this written reflection
In anecdotes current and past
Had in time reached such number
That one night, fighting slumber
He set to reading them all, first to last.
And as the verses unwound, him setting there on the ground
He took to seeing his life, like his rhymes
For if that tales to be told it needs be taken in its whole
To make sense, not just verse at a time.
‘Cause though life’s lived bit by bit to make sense out of it
The trail needs be judged by its whole
There’ll be drought, there’ll be rain,
Maybe glory and some shame
But the end of life’s trail its goal.
Well that thought brought a grin,
‘cause now the blowdown he’s in
Didn’t seem where he’d always need roam
Then, with a glint in his eye he tipped his hat to the sky
And told his maker, “Thanks for the poem.”
Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at Gillian.Ferris@nau.edu.