MAKE ME NO GRAVE
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)
Make me no grave within that quiet place
Where friends shall sadly view the grassy mound,
Politely solemn for a little space,
As though the spirit slept beneath the ground.
For me no sorrow, nor the hopeless tear;
No chant, no prayer, no tender eulogy:
I may be laughing with the gods—while here
You weep alone. Then make no grave for me
But lay me where the pines, austere and tall,
Sing in the wind that sweeps across the West:
Where night, imperious, sets her coronal
Of silver stars upon the mountain crest.
Where dawn, rejoicing, rises from the deep,
And Life, rejoicing, rises with the dawn:
Mark not the spot upon the sunny steep,
For with the morning light I shall be gone.
Far trails await me; valleys vast and still,
Vistas undreamed of, canyon-guarded streams,
Lowland and range, fair meadow, flower-girt hill,
Forests enchanted, filled with magic dreams.
And I shall find brave comrades on the way:
None shall be lonely in adventuring,
For each a chosen task to round the day,
New glories to amaze, new songs to sing.
Loud swells the wind along the mountain-side,
High burns the sun, unfettered swings the sea,
Clear gleam the trails whereon the vanished ride,
Life calls to life: then make no grave for me!
…Henry Herbert Knibbs
The great troubadour and music historian @Don Edwards has created an outstanding song from this poem. It appears on his “Heaven on Horseback” album and you can listen here on YouTube.
It’s often noted that Henry Herbert Knibbs—known for poems such as “Where the Ponies Come to Drink” and “Boomer Johnson”—was not a cowboy. But Knibbs was not inexperienced with Western life.
Lee Shippey wrote about him in a 1931 article in the Los Angeles Times. He notes that Knibbs was born in the Canadian east, went to Harvard, and had a novel published while he was still a student there. He writes, “…when a man can come out of the East, handicapped by such an un-Western sounding name as Henry Herbert Knibbs, and become a man whose songs and stories are loved by the cow men and prospectors and adventurers of all the Western States, he must have something.”
He continues, “While still a young Canadian he tramped the great Canadian forests and all he asked was a canoe, a pack and a gun and he could supply himself with food and shelter. Later he came down into Maine and had a unwritten contract to supply several lumber camps with fresh meat. He was so successful in that business that a special game warden was assigned the task of catching him in some unlawful act.” He goes on to tell that the warden could never catch Knibbs doing anything wrong, and that Knibbs would sometimes lead him on wild chases. Then one day Knibbs found the warden in medical distress and nursed him back to health. The warden didn’t want to pursue Knibbs after that, and persuaded his superiors to call off the hunt. In fact Knibbs was offered a warden position, but he declined, as he had decided to head for California.
Knibbs headed West, and after some newspaper work, “He built himself a little covered wagon—a spring wagon with a canvas top on it—and set out to see California. For the better part of a year he jogged about, visiting many places where still motor cars cannot go, for good horses and a light wagon could take him to many places where there were no roads.”
It is noted that at the time of the column he had published a number of novels and that five of his stories were made into motion pictures. Shippey writes, “But it is probably that his poems will outlive his prose. For there are many western authors but few poets whose work really appeals to the men of plains and ranges, to cow men and prospectors and those who know life in that vanishing domain which is western in spirit as well as geographically.”
Find more about Knibbs at CowboyPoetry.com.
Thanks to Kathy Edwards and Don Edwards for this photo of Don Edwards.