Henry Herbert Knibbs.

Saddle songs and other verse online

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From futile chase to present need, the distant desert

While he with slow, enduring pace sought for an ancient


Known to the outcasts of his race, where stolen horses

Dawn found him far across the line where homely cabin

windows shine

On acres spread with deepening green . . . the cotton-
woods, the shade,

Beneath the flag he had defamed, his warring soul un
touched, untamed . . .

And Carmen, sleeping, softly named the Gringo rene^



I SAW the midnight shadows twist

Along the warehouse wall;
I smelt the warm, dank river mist,

And I heard the long road call:

I saw the sweating doorways frown,
"Closed for the night," they read.
And, "It s time to beat it out of town,**
The muttering arc-light said.

I heard a night bull bounce his stick,

Slouching along his beat;
I made for the alley shadows quick,

Till he turned to another street;

Then I slung my roll and I hit the trail
That the blanket-stiffs all know;

Switchlight, siding, block and rail,
The boulevard of the Bo.

I breathed the summer fields, and then

I burrowed a stack of hay :
I dreamed that same old dream again,

And I heard the foreman say,

Saddle Songs

"Guilty, your honor!" quick and clear;

I took it, with no appeal,
For the sake of a friend who was there to hear,

And who knew that I would n t squeal.

Old stuff? And never a friendly word
From him as he played the swell;

Married and wealthy, so I heard,
While I sweated his trick in hell.

Twenty years and they set me free,
And I 11 say that they broke me right :

Then Luck she handed the ace to me,
When I met him alone, one night.

Down at the wharf where the schooners lie,
And the dock-hands match for beers,

He took his last look at the sky,
And paid for my twenty years.

I saw the sweating doorways frown,
"Closed for the night," they read.
And, "It s time to beat it out of town,"
The muttering arc-light said.



MEBBY I made the Big Mistake, and mebby I changed my


Hobo, Willie, or Blanket-Stiff, the monaker s all the same:
Moses was high in polities and Aaron at sleight-of-hand,
But both of em had to hit the grit to get to the Promised


If they could have seen the U.S.A. a-stretchin from coast

to coast,
They d a made a couple of plans to stay, and set up a

tradin -post:
But their folks are here and they re gettin rich, just pilin

it up in stacks,
And bowin down to the Golden Calf while dodgin their

income tax.

Now some of the wanderin Wops I ve met, they claim
they could clean the slate,

And set up a brand-new government as if they could run
it straight!

They d maul our laws with their dirty paws and stick em
behind the shelf:

And, honest, I never talked to one that was able to run him


Saddle Songs

Most any man can choose his lay; go crooked or work or

But the guy that s wise will save his breath for bringin*

the bacon home:

Me, I m a Bo that lets me out; but a Hobo ain t a bum:
This country is good enough for me and it s too dam*

good for some.

And where is a guy that can make a law that another guy

can t break?
It s nothin new for Esau s stew to be swiped by his brother

Then Esau moans as he picks the bones and cusses his

birthright blue,
But the guy that s wise just bats his eyes and goes

huntin another stew.

" We buy our beef from the Argentine, and our clothes from

across the pond,
And shoes are so high they are only wore by those in the

Great Beyond";
But the bums I ve met were wearin shoes, and clothes

that was good enough,
And none of em ever starve to death, though mebby their

chow is tough.

You say if I talked to my pals like that, that mebby I d do
some good?


The Blanket-Stiff

What, scatter my pearls before those swine and never

be understood?
Ho Bo is Latin for "honest man" . . . but Latin it ain t my

And mebby I made the Big Mistake, but To-morrow s

another day.

I chucked my bundle of old regrets along with the big word

And my new degree is plain N.G. I m a ramblin


So it s down the iron trail for me, in the early mornin sun,
For the woods are green and the fields are green and the

April rains are done.



RAIMENT? Scant for that windy weather!

Food? They were used to the hunger pinch:
He and his gaunt gray dog, together,

Sharing their luck to the last frayed inch.

Bandy s dog, on its quivering haunches,
Watched the flame of the firelight play:

Whined, because of their empty paunches:
Then, in the dark, he stole away.

Bandy stared: "Well, so-long, old fellow!

Guess we were drawing it pretty fine:
Never figured that you d show yellow,

Yet, heaps of luck to you, pal o mine ! "

Past the fields and the wind-break, hiding,
Shadow of shadows the gray dog crept:

Past a huddle of low roofs gliding,
Past the house where a rancher slept.

Hunger doubled the gray dog s cunning,
Fear was ridged on his shaggy hide:

Flutter of wings and a shape came running
Over the fields to the lone fireside.


Bandy did n t say: "What the dickens!"
But something meatier, far, instead;

As the dog dropped one of the rancher s chickens
And licked his chaps of then- flecks of red.

SnifHed at the swift-plucked feathers burning:
Shivered with hunger and joy and cold:

Watched the fowl on a wood-spit turning
Over the embers of red and gold.

A leg apiece was their first, warm ration,
A wing apiece If a dog could laugh !

And he grinned at his master s hesitation,
As they shared the white meat, half and half!

Yet better than all was the arm around him,
And; "Say, old fellow, I got you wrong:

Your boss is a selfish beast, confound him!
Pals forever and that s our song!"

Bandy dreamed of a hoard of riches,
Golden flagons and forms of grace:

But the gray dog dreamed of fields and ditches,
A fagot fire and his master s face.



THE STALWART fashioned a house,

Framed on a mighty plan;
Set where the tall blown trees carouse

With the cloudy caravan
That hastens across the hill,

Buffeted, tumbled, rolled,
Gypsy clouds with the loot of dawn,

Amethyst, jade, and gold.

Blue was his roof -tree high and wide;

Morning his open door
Fronting a green banked riverside,

And the warm brown earth, his floor:
His pillars were mountain trees,

Sturdy and straight and tall;
His garden ponds were the seven seas,

And the mountains his garden wall.

The meadowlark at morn,

Sang up from her grassy nest:

At dusk the whip-poor-will forlorn,
But he loved the wild wind best:

There sang a man s own song,
Lusty and high and free . . .

Stalwart s House

His garden walk was a river long
That led to the open sea.

For threescore years and ten,

He lived and he loved his home,
Keen for the hunt and the songs of men,

And the ways of men who roam:
The Keeper took the key;

Then the stalwart builder cried:
"May he love it as well who follows me!"

So he laid him down and died.



OH, some day you 11 grow young again and love the little

That hid among the hollyhocks and sunned their golden

When you were boy and whistled gay adown the morning


Nor knew you trod the meadow-bloom, and tiny creeping

So old, so old, and young again? The pasture field is bar

The sedge is yellow in the drift, the naked tree is dumb;
So old? And yet the spring awaits the winging of the heron,
The waking of the willow bud, the forest-murmur,

No wing shall flutter as you pass and none shall know your

The sheep beyond the fallow land, the kine along the


Light, lighter than the silver mist across the hedges blow

Your footfall on the early ways the dreamer and the


The Trysting Tree

The trysting tree whose shadow knew the love you would

be telling,
When all the world was in her eyes and school an hour


Is old, so old; yet in the sun the maple buds are swelling,
And still the name you carved is there, though dull
against the gray.

Your feet shall fall as soft as light along remembered places,
When years have made you young again to seek the

trysting tree;
Then may you find the face you loved among the vanished


As you shall heed the meadow-bloom nor crush the
golden bee.



BLACK thunder rolled along the mountain-height,
The lightning lashed in whips of burning white
Across the towering pines. Keen, biting, cold
The rain, torrential, smote the mountain-hold:
Quick streams danced down the steep, ripped through

the trail,
Loosing the tilted rock and hillside shale.

"We can t turn back," the forest ranger said;

So getting from his horse, he slowly led

The way across a narrow, rocky shelf,

A risk for both yet he went first, himself;

Testing each step to gain the other side,

He heard above the storm the rumbling slide,

Felt the world tremble, dropped the tightened rein,

Then, plunging, rolling, felt a thrust of pain,

Then nothingness.

Awaking to the day,
Half -buried in the rocky slide he lay,
And knew the freshness of a little breeze;
Saw the bright rain drip slowly from the trees,
Watched the long, western shadows softly fall
Across a sunset-canon s gilded wall;
Thought of his horse, and summoned will to rise,
Sank back with hot pain branded in his eyes,

Old Jim

Then, with his white lips twisted tense and grim:
"I wonder where the landslide left Old Jim?"

As though in answer to his murmured thought,

He heard the tinkle of a rein-chain; caught

The sound of slipping shale and plodding feet,

Nor ever heard a melody more sweet.

"Jim!" he called hoarsely. "Can you make it, Jim?"

Then, like a dream, his horse limped down to him.

Gashed by the rock and streaked with darkening red

The old horse stood and slowly moved his head,

Nuzzling the limp hand lifted tremblingly,

His great eyes glowing deep with sympathy.

He knew his rider helpless, so he stood,

A duty taught by toil and hardihood,

The motto of the Service Loyalty!

"It s up to you to go get help for me":

So spake the ranger. Old Jim seemed to know,

Yet waited for direct command to go.

Down the rude steep, slow plodding through the night

He found his way. He saw the cabin light:

Sniffed at the gate with nostrils round and tense,

Struck with his forefoot at the Station fence,

Then neighed his challenge, loud and high and shrilL

Light-blinded for an instant stiff and still

He stood.

"Ed s horse!" The valley ranger said:
And then: "The storm the old cliff-trail and Ed?"


Saddle Songs

Without command the old horse led the way
Back through the night to where his rider lay
Pinned by the rock and shale. Thirst-ridden, weak,
Ed heard his name, but had no strength to speak.
"Jim, are you there?" he whispered to the night,
Following with feverish glance the lantern-light,
The shadowy figure laboring at the rock . . .
The clink of steel and then the sudden shock
Of movement. Oh, the merciful release
Of stupor and an endless dream of peace!

Out of the dream he drifted to the light
Of noonday in the cabin. Swathed in white
He lay, a sorry jest for blithe Romance,
Yet every bit as good a sport as Chance.

He saw the sunlight through the open door,

Saw the far green across the valley floor:

Heard voices in the yard: "The fracture . . . shock . . .

Then murmured to himself: "You said it, Doc!"

"And he can thank his stars . . ." the voice was grim:
"He s way off," murmured Ed. "I m thankin Jim."



DOWN along the dark street I heard a stroller sing,

And well I knew the gypsy hand that thrummed the silver


An old song, a sweet song that came across the sea:
44 In Romany the nightingale, and far my love from me."

Eulalia stood beside me and touched the window-bar;
Eulalia s eyes were deep with dreams, and yonder shone a


She sighed to hear the old song, a song of wizardry:
"Oh, moonlight in Zamora, and far my love from me."

"The nightingale is singing, a thorn against her breast,
The leaves lie on the long road and empty is the nest:
The wind is in the poplars Zingara folk are free !
Oh, firelight in the hollow, and far my love from me."

Then empty was the dark street and hushed the gypsy tune,
On sea trail and shore trail there burned a summer moon :
Eulalia beside me was singing wistfully:
"Oh, roses of Zamora, and far my love from me."

A tear was on her dusky cheek, yet love was in her eyes,
The memory of a lost love, the love that never dies :
"Oh, nevermore the long road that leads to Romany!"
Eulalia was singing yet far my love from me.



DE river swash from bank to bank;

Shine on, my soul.
De Natchez Belle she bus a plank;

Shine on, my soul.

De lightnin zip an de thunder roar;

Shine on, my soul.
De Natchez Belle she run ashore;

Shine on, my soul.

De Cap n cuss and de deck-han s moan;

Shine on, my soul.
But I got some business of my own;

Shtne on, my souL

De wind talk big and de night am dark;

Shine on, my soul.
I ain t got time to buiF no ark;

Shine on, my soul.

Fust come de roof ob de Jedge s stoop;

Shine on, my soul.
Den floatin along come a chicken-coop;

Shine on, my souL

Roll On, Ole River

I jes reach out and I step on boa d;

Shine on, my soul.
I hang on fas an I praise de Lohd;

Shine on, my soul.

She waller aroun an we bump dat tree;

Shine on, my soul.
An I climb to de top, whah I wan to be;

Shine on, my soul.

Dat chicken-coop she sure is wreck ;

Shine on, my soul.
But I got dat rooster by de neck;

Shine on, my soul.

Den de Lohd says: "Pray an* you ll see Ian ;"

Shine on, my soul.
But I can t pray wif jes one hand;

Shine on, my soul.

So I hang on fas till de sun it shine;

Shine on, my soul.
Dat rooster he daid, but he sure am mine;

Shine on, my soul.

Roll on, ole river,
Mighty river, roll:
Shine on forever,
Shine on, my soul.


A LAD with longing in his eyes, yet neither sad nor gay,
Came shyly to my hermitage and said he d journeyed


To find me: that one favor he would like to ask that day.
I said, "My boy, just take one chair accept just one

He blushed and I was glad to see the goodly color run
From youthful throat to honest brow, a wholesome,

hearty flush.
"I didn t think" he thus began "that you cared

much for fun,
Your poetry is often sad." Then / began to blush.

"The question that s the point," I said. He hesitated,


"Well, sir, I want to learn to write I m taking Eng
lish now,
I m reading Keats, and Metchnikoff and Shaw and Oscai


I thought, perhaps, that if that is if you would tell
me how.

"When does real inspiration come? And do you work at


The Answer

For instance, I have read your songs of wandering

they re great !

And did you ever shoot a man or mix up in a fight?
And have you been a cowboy; or a Hobo on a freight?

" You write about Sonora girls, and horses, dogs, and men
I d like to meet; and Southern seas where coral atolls

Now, are they real? And have you sailed and tramped and

starved, and when
Did you find time to do it all? To me it s like a dream.

"How should a poet end a song and how should he begin?

Of course it s easy, once one gets a start of that I m

And should a hero only smile, or should he sometimes grin?

And should a villain always die, and heroines be pure?

" If you would tell me how it s done the formula, you

The scheme, that subtle something that s behind the

writer s art

I m certain all I need is time; I ve read a lot, and so
I think I understand a bit, if I could get a start. 1

"You re going to get one now," I said, "but not the kind

you mean.

My answer will be simple and it comprehends the whole.


Saddle Songs

Forgive me if I seem abrupt; I ll put it straight and clean:
I could n t tell you how to write to save my blessed soul.

" Poverty, Romance, Love and War, Disease and Durance

These stock conditions often help to fire, inspire, or

break em,

The writer-men; and all aside from how or why or style,
Money and skill may advertise, but only God can make



I KNOW a home built round a lordly tree

Where silver fountains glimmer in the moon;
A spacious hall of wit and minstrelsy,

Of stately saraband and rigadoon:
Where wisdom wears the garments of delight,

Where ballad, lyric, Andalusian grace
Enchant the portals of the summer night . . .

So reigns Don Carlos in his dwelling-place.

A gracious monarch, who, provoking mirth,

Knows the pure joy of unsought recompense,
For he is of the sun, the sea, the earth,

Vigor and warmth and friendly common sense:
Nor is there angle, buttress, vega, stone,

Corbal or archway, tile or bartizan,
An alien to his creed does not intone

The heart-song of the builder, and the man.

Youth loves him, that his years, forever young,
Outwing the flight of his own Argosies,

Deep-laden with bright treasures, there among
Historic jewels, tomes, and golden keys

Saddle Songs

Unlocking secrets of forgotten things,

Love-songs and war-songs of an ancient race,

Lone desert graves and carven tombs of kings . . .
So reigns Don Carlos in his dwelling-place.

May never years conspire to dispossess

Don Carlos of his goodly heritage,
And may he never know the loneliness

So often writ upon the final page,
But find his work knowing no pause between

This star and those that round the mighty plan,
Singing forever in that blue demesne,

The heart-song of the builder, and the man.



AN Indian purse, a beadwork ornament;

And bright upon the buckskin s tawny gold,
In color-magic, boldly eloquent,

A song is wrought and legends manifold.

A touch of azure for the western sky;

Wine-red of sunset, yellow mesa-bloom;
Purple of ancient rites, ensombered by

The black of questioning silence, and the tomb.

Pale amethyst of dawn in desert-land;

Crimson of conquest, gray of temple stone;
Hue of the sage and dun of drifting sand,

Encircled by the white of the unknown.

Barbaric song empatterned clear and free,
Each measure cadenced by the color change;

And all symbolic of the Mystery

Forever old, forever new and strange.

Contrast, harmonious blending, savage grace,

Tradition reincarnate, ages mute,
Triumph, despair, enduring pride of race,

A treasure purse the beadwork of the Ute.

Saddle Songs

Chief, from your gift, historic in its theme,

The thong is loosed that this my song may wend

Out from the desert tipi where I dream,

Across the snow-locked plain to you, my friend.



MY last song shall be Rob s song, the last that I shall sing;
Rob, kin to a fighting clan, Rob, who is son of a king:
Oh, Rob s hand it smote me, and Rob s hand it gave,
And Rob s heart I 11 take it down with me to the grave.

For Rob shall stand on the hillside, and he shall see the sun,
And he shall smell the tang of pine when the day has just

And he shall dream of the long trail, and at the last shall

"Old friend and true friend, where do you ride, to-day?"

And never a pine shall answer and never a rock shall speak,
Yet Rob shall feel the hot tear that burns along his cheek;
And Rob shall curse like a stalwart because of a foolish

Curse for the sake of an old friend who is not there to hear.

My first song was Rob s song, the red of his lusty heart,

And my trail is Rob s trail, though we dwell the world

Oh, the real hills are ghost hills from the sea to the desert-

And the ghost hills are real hills that I have sung for him.

Saddle Songs

And I am but a wastrel and want nor fame nor gold,
For out of the millions journeying the heart of a man I


A great heart, a strong heart; and hardly have I known
When Rob s song was my song, and my song was his own.

You boast of faith in a high priest, a woman, or a creed:
But count the human hearts you hold and the human

hearts you need!

And sad will be the reckoning, if you do but stop to look
At best the half of a woman s heart, or the word of a musty


Count them off on your fingers; one for the son and heir,
One for the daughter, a woman grown, lissome and sweet

and fair;

Count them off on your fingers; daughter and son and wife,
And each is living a life alone and yours is a lonely life.

Rob shall stand on the hillside and feel the chill of Night,
Then shall he turn to The Highway and read the stars


For my first song was Rob s song, the red of his lusty heart,
And my last song shall be Rob s song, though we dwell the

world apart.



ONE cords his roll and hits the trail, another hauls the

bending sail,

Another rides the Fly ing Mail but nearest to my know

Of all the Hoboes high and low, who journey swift or jour
ney slow,
Is he who hears the grasses grow and sings upon his going.

When dots of silver velvet climb the pussy-willow tree,
And blackbirds shuttle through the sedge before the
sedge is green,

I sniff the spring in bud and marsh and then I long to be,
The other side of anywhere to view another scene.

The morning hills are misty blue and glimmering in the sun,
And sunlight glints along the rail a highway that I

But what about the hills beyond where summer has begun,
The other side of over there a thousand miles or so?

One season calls another on that seems to be the plan;

The crocus and anemone have whispered to the grass,
Till leaves invisible grow brave then what about a man,
Should he stuff cotton in his ears and watch the seasons


Saddle Songs

I have a book, a little book smooth-bound in leather stout,
Yet stoutest leather never bound Ulysses to his chair,

And Homer never kept his house but wandered round about,
So what s to keep the book and me from journeying any

I have a dog, a smallish dog whose pedigree and tail

Are short nor ever made to flaunt with pride upon
the breeze;

He loves the shadow that I cast on road or field or trail;
Should we be less adventurous than all his many fleas?

I have a stick, a gnarly stick that fits a fellow s hand,
Not overlight for argument, or heavy to a stride;

Economy to utilize and sloth to let it stand,

So why not tap the road again and view the countryside?

There s money had along the way in wallet, safe and till,
And work for any handy man whose eye is never down;

To swing an axe or mow a lawn is not against my will
A town s a dire essential, but there s road beyond the

And then, on every stretch of road some cottage window


The shaded lamp behind the pane is not the only light;
Most folk who live afar from men are friendly, so it seems,
And welcome news with bread-and-milk, and lodging for
the night.


A Thousand Miles or So

To importune the hesitant with piteous complaint,

May serve a most immediate need to oil the rusty wheels,

But why, for luckless venturing, condemn an absent saint?
Not only Homer struck the lyre when hunger dogged his

I ll out and follow summer past the melons and the corn,
Or if need be, take the present, if the fence is builded

With book and dog and stick, and bless the day that I was

To delight in such companions for a thousand miles or so.



WHERE the rattler coils in the yucca shade and the lizard s

hue is bright,
Where the riven sandstone holds the heat through the

hours of the desert night,

South and South of the Hopi line South of the Navajo,
The shattered walls of a ruin stand a village of long ago.

A puncher seeking a water-hole that his thirsty horse might

Reined to the edge of the salt-white glare on the rim of a

desert sink,
Gazed at the ruins banked with sand as he topped a

rounded rise,
And a vision of ancient Hopi Land grew clear in his steady


The arrowhead, the painted shard, and the ash of a van
ished flame;

Roofs long fallen that choked the rooms a village with
out a name . . .

He thought of the hopes and joys and fears that this pa
tient people knew,

Lost in the vagrant sweep of years, believing their gods
were true.


Rain -Makers

"They prayed for rain, " the puncher said, "and I reckon if

I knew how,
I d rustle a little prayer myself, for we sure need rain right

And here are the deer and turkey bones which shows that

they liked their meat,
And here are some busted grinding-stones for the corn they

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Online LibraryHenry Herbert KnibbsSaddle songs and other verse → online text (page 3 of 4)