Badger Clark's "A Cowboy's Prayer"
Clark's poem features four riming octets that deliver a ballad of nostalgia while celebrating and offering his gratitude to God for his way of life.
Badger Clark's "A Cowboy's Prayer" offers a prayer that would make any mother proud, as he celebrates his free lifestyle of living on the open range. Each octet stanza features the rime scheme ABABCDCD. This Badger classic was first published in The Pacific Monthly, December 1906.
About this poem/prayer, Katie Lee writes in her classic history of cowboy songs and poems starkly titled Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story, and Verse," "The language is true to his free-roving spirit and gives insight to the code he lived by the things he expected of himself."
First Stanza: Oh Lord, I've never lived where churches grow
The speaker begins his payer by addressing the Lord, telling Him that he has never been one to attend church, because "I've never lived where churches grow." But he admits that he loves creation just as the Lord finished it before mankind began to build things.
The speaker then confides that while others may find the Lord "in the light that is sifted down through tinted window panes," he feels Him near, "In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains." The speaker wants to assure the Divine that despite his absence from houses of worship, he worships without a house while simply stationed out on the open plains created by the Great Creator.
Second Stanza: I thank You, Lord, that I am placed so well
The speaker offers his heartfelt gratitude to the Lord for his blessings, especially that the Lord has made "my freedom so complete." He then catalogues the places where he would not feel so free, places where he would have to heed the call "of whistle, clock or bell."
He asks the Lord to continue blessing him this way: "Just let me live my life as I've begun / And give me work that's open to the sky." He avers that he will not ever be asking "for a life that's soft or high."
Third Stanza: Let me be easy on the man that's down
The speaker then asks for the guidance and wisdom to treat other people with respect and honor. He admits that sometimes he is careless, especially when he is in town. But he asks that he never be mean or small. He wants others to think well of him because he behaves properly.
He asks for three things, honesty, cleanliness, and freedom. Thus, he asks the Lord to make him, "As honest as the hawse between my knees, / Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains, / Free as the hawk that circles down the breeze!"
Fourth Stanza: Forgive me, Lord, if sometimes I forget
Again, he acknowledges that he is not perfect, that at times he forgets proper behavior. He admits that he does not know all that God knows: "You know about the reasons that are hid." And he declares that the Lord knows him "better than my mother did."
So he asks God to guard and guide him by watching over him, and when he misbehaves, he begs the Lord to "right me, sometimes, when I turn aside." He asks God to be with him as he moves "on the long, dim, trail ahead / That stretches up toward the Great Divide". He masterly employs the metaphoric Great Divide to signal the afterworld as well as a great Western geological phenomenon.
Musical version of Clark's "A Cowboy's Prayer" sung by Pete Charles
© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes