THE PEARL OF THEM ALL
William Henry “Will” Ogilvie (1869-1963)
Gaily in front of the stockwhip
The horses come galloping home,
Leaping and bucking and playing
With sides all a lather of foam;
But painfully, slowly behind them,
With head to the crack of the fall,
And trying so gamely to follow
Comes limping the pearl of them all.
He is stumbling and stiff in the shoulder,
And splints from the hoof to the knee,
But never a horse on the station
Has half such a spirit as he;
Give these all the boast of their breeding
These pets of the paddock and stall,
But ten years ago not their proudest
Could live with the pearl of them all.
No journey has ever yet beat him,
No day was too heavy or hard,
He was king of the camp and the muster
And pride of the wings of the yard;
But Time is relentless to follow;
The best of us bow to his thrall;
And death, with his scythe on his shoulder,
Is dogging the pearl of them all.
I watch him go whinnying past me,
And memories come with a whirl
Of reckless, wild rides with a comrade
And laughing, gay rides with a girl –
How she decked him with lilies and love-knots
And plaited his mane at my side,
And once in the grief of a parting
She threw her arms round him and cried.
And I promised – I gave her my promise
The night that we parted in tears,
To keep and be kind to the old horse
Till Time made a burden of years;
And then for his sake and one woman’s…
So, fetch me my gun from the wall!
I have only this kindness to offer
As gift to the pearl of them all.
Here! hold him out there by the yard wing,
And don’t let him know by a sign:
Turn his head to you – ever so little!
I can’t bear his eyes to meet mine.
Then – stand still, old boy! for a moment …
These tears, how they blind as they fall!
Now, God help my hand to be steady …
Good-bye! – to the pearl of them all!
…by William Henry Ogilvie
Few poems are held in such high regard as this heart-breaking piece by William Henry “Will” Ogilvie. When told by a talented reciter, such as Randy Rieman, Jerry Brooks, Joel Nelson, or the late Milton Taylor, it can evoke tears.
Scotsman Will Ogilvie lived in Australia for a dozen years, where he became a top station hand, drover, and horse breaker. His poems “Hooves of the Horses” and “The Pearl of Them All” are his works heard most often at gatherings in North America. (Wylie Gustafson of Wylie and the Wild West set “Hooves of the Horses to music.) Ogilvie was a popular writer who contributed to the Bulletin—the paper that published poets and writers including Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, Harry “Breaker” Morant (Ogilvie’s close friend), and others—even after his return to Scotland.
Find more about Ogilvie at CowboyPoetry.com.
This photo detail is from a 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) titled “Cowboy petting his horse. Cattle ranch near Spur, Texas.” It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.
(This poem and photograph are in the public domain.)