THE OLD PROSPECTOR by Charles Badger Clark, Jr. (1883-1957)

pros

 

THE OLD PROSPECTOR
by Charles Badger Clark, Jr. (1883-1957)

There’s a song in the canyon below me
And a song in the pines overhead,
As the sunlight crawls down from the snowline
And rustles the deer from his bed.
With mountains of green all around me
And mountains of white up above
And mountains of blue down the sky-line,
I follow the trail that I love.

My hands they are hard from the shovel,
My leg is rheumatic by streaks
And my face it is wrinkled from squintin’
At the glint of the sun on the peaks.
You pity the prospector sometimes
As if he was out of your grade.
Why, you are all prospectors, bless you!
I’m only a branch of the trade.
You prospect for wealth and for wisdom,
You prospect for love and for fame;
Our work don’t just match as to details,
But the principle’s mostly the same.

While I swing a pick in the mountains
You slave in the dust and the heat
And scratch with your pens for a color
And assay the float of the street.

You wail that your wisdom is salted,
That fame never pays for the mill,
That wealth hasn’t half enough value
To pay you for climbin’ the hill.
You even say love’s El Dorado,
A pipe dream that never endures—
Well, my luck ain’t all that I want it,
But I never envied you yours.
You’re welcome to what the town gives you,
To prizes of laurel and rose,
But leave me the song in the pine tops,
The breath of a wind from the snows.
With mountains of green all around me
And mountains of white up above
And mountains of blue down the sky-line,
I’ll follow the trail that I love.

by Charles Badger Clark, Jr. from Sun and Saddle Leather
Charles Badger Clark Jr.’s book, Sun and Saddle Leather, has been in print for over 100 years.

Clark got his cowboying experience in Arizona. He became the Poet Laureate of South Dakota, where he was born and lived for most of his life. He wrote many lasting poems, and others also found their way into song (including “Spanish is a Loving Tongue” and “To Her”). Find poetry and more in our features about Badger Clark.

The South Dakota Historical Society Foundation now holds Badger Clark’s papers and offers his books for sale. See more at the SDHSF web site.

Top reciter Jerry Brooks recorded “The Old Prospector” for her recent Shoulder to Shoulder CD, and that recording is also included on The BAR-R Roundup: Volume Six.

You can listen to her perform the poem ten years ago at the Western Folklife Center’s 2006 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, where it is introduced, “A master reciter of classic verse, Jerry Brooks worked underground in the coal mines of Utah for 26 years before taking to the cowboy poetry stage.” She returns to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2017. Find more about Jerry Brooks at CowboyPoetry.com.

This c. 1903 photograph is by C.D. Nichols, from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.

(This poem and photograph are in the public domain.)