by Buck Ramsey (1938-1998)
And in the morning I was riding
Out through the breaks of that long plain,
And leather creaking on the quieting
Would sound with trot and trot again.
I lived in time with horse hoof falling;
I listened well and heard the calling
The earth, my mother, bade to me,
Though I would still ride wild and free.
And as I flew out in the morning,
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I was the poem, I was the song.
My heart would beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen now rode all with me,
And we were good, and we were free.
We were not told, but ours the knowing
We were the native strangers there
Among the things the land was growing—
To know this gave us more the care
To let the grass keep at its growing
And let the streams keep at their flowing.
We knew the land would not be ours,
That no one has the awful pow’rs
To claim the vast and common nesting,
To own the life that gave him birth,
Much less to rape his mother earth
And ask her for a mother’s blessing
And ever live in peace with her,
And, dying, come to rest with her.
Oh, we would ride and we would listen
And hear the message on the wind.
The grass in morning dew would glisten
Until the sun would dry and blend
The grass to ground and air to skying.
We’d know by bird or insect flying
Or by their mood or by their song
If time and moon were right or wrong
For fitting works and rounds to weather.
The critter coats and leaves of trees
Might flash some signal with a breeze—
Or wind and sun on flow’r or feather.
We knew our way from dawn to dawn,
And far beyond, and far beyond.
It was the old ones with me riding
Out through the fog fall of the dawn,
And they would press me to deciding
If we were right or we were wrong.
For time came we were punching cattle
For men who knew not spur nor saddle,
Who came with locusts in their purse
To scatter loose upon the earth.
The savage had not found this prairie
Till some who hired us came this way
To make the grasses pay and pay
For some raw greed no wise or wary
Regard for grass could satisfy.
The old ones wept and so did I.
Do you remember? We’d come jogging
To town with jingle in our jeans,
And in the wild night we’d be bogging
Up to our hats in last month’s dreams.
It seemed the night could barely hold us
With all those spirits to embold’ us
While, horses waiting on three legs,
We’d drain the night down to the dregs.
And just before beyond redemption
We’d gather back to what we were.
We’d leave the money left us there
And head our horses for the wagon.
But in the ruckus, in the whirl,
We were the wolves of all the world.
The grass was growing scarce for grazing,
Would soon turn sod or soon turn bare.
The money men set to replacing
The good and true in spirit there.
We could not say, there was no knowing,
How ill the future winds were blowing.
Some cowboys even shunned the ways
Of cowboys in the trail herd days
(But where’s the gift not turned for plunder?),
Forgot that we are what we do
And not the stuff we lay claim to.
I dream the spell that we were under;
I throw in with a cowboy band
And go out horseback through the land.
So mornings now I’ll go out riding
Through pastures of my solemn plain,
And leather creaking in the quieting
Will sound with trot and trot again.
I’ll live in time with horse hoof falling;
I’ll listen well and hear the calling
The earth, my mother, bids to me,
Though I will still ride wild and free.
And as I ride out on the morning
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I’ll be this poem, I’ll be this song.
My heart will beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen will ride all with me,
And we’ll be good, and we’ll be free.
© 1993, Buck Ramsey, used with permission
Called cowboy poetry’s “spiritual leader,” Buck Ramsey was a cowboy, poet, songwriter, musician, National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Wrangler Award recipient. His work continues to inspire cowboy poets and songwriters.
This is the day affectionately known as “Buck Day,” an annual celebration of his birth. Buck Ramsey would have been 81 this year.
“Anthem” is the prologue to Buck Ramsey’s book-length poem, Grass. A book of the entire poem was published by Texas Tech University Press in 2005. It also includes photos, friends’ recollections, Buck Ramsey’s original short story on which he based the poem, and a CD of the original 1990 recording of Buck Ramsey performing Grass in John Hartford’s home studio in Nashville, introduced by Andy Wilkinson.
Top poets and reciters Joel Nelson, Jerry Brooks, and Andy Hedges recite Buck Ramsey’s “Anthem” in an impressive film interpretation, Between Grass and Sky, which begins with Buck Ramsey’s voice.
The Western Folklife Center, home of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, recently posted a great video of Buck Ramsey from 1994. In it, he comments on the oral tradition and recites his poem, “Bad Job.” Watch it on Facebook.
Find “Anthem,” more poetry, and more about Buck Ramsey in our features at CowboyPoetry.com.
Visit the Buck Ramsey Memorial Page on Facebook, which is maintained by Buck Ramsey’s daughter, Amanda Robin Ramsey.
These photographs of Buck Ramsey are by Kent Reeves, Cowboy Conservationist, from a landmark book that Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West, by Anne Heath Widmark, with photographs by Kent Reeves. The photographs were made in the spring of 1993. One shows Buck Ramsey visiting the one-room school house he attended. In the other, the fiddler with Buck Ramsey is Rooster Morris.
Kent told us about his experiences in photographing Buck Ramsey, “One of the more enjoyable times working on the book was getting to visit with Buck Ramsey and his family, Bette and Amanda. We traveled through the Texas Panhandle where Buck had worked and grew up. I got to drive the van and I was forgiven for bumping his neighbor’s car when we pulled out of Amarillo. We visited the one-room school house where he attended grade school where he talked about daydreaming during class and looking out across the great Texas panhandle. There was an impromptu concert along with more of Buck’s stories. Always stories.
“He talked about listening to baseball games on the radio in bunkhouses with other cowboys gathered around and that they were all St. Louis Cardinals fans. At the time there weren’t any teams as far west as the Cardinals and no Texas cowboy was gonna cheer for some team from a big city in the east. Over the years I have talked to other punchers, buckaroos and cowboys of that era and yep, Cardinals were a cowboy’s favorite. It was a grand day and the best way I can simply end this short tale is with what Buck wrote in my personal copy of ‘Between Earth and Sky,’ ‘…Thanks and keep out of the wire –'”
See a gallery of photos from the book on Facebook.
Find more about Kent Reeves at CowboyPoetry.com and at his site, cowboyconservation.com.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but please seek permission for any other uses.)