Experiencing a resurgence in popularity, this poem is making appearances in speeches (recited from memory by Judge Roy Moore), books (Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola), and blogs (BuriedTreasureBooks and others). It is not Foss's most well-known, that's The House by the Side of the Road, but it is worthy of sharing because of its commentary on the herd mentality.
Initially, on that first trip home, I suspect the herdsman led the calf directly. The obvious lesson for me then is to find the herdsman and make our paths straight (Prov 3:5-6).
On the civil front, I learned how to keep the path straight from the legislator highlighted on my Xanga page. He would have been 74 yrs old today. And he was no fool.One day thru the primeval wood
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail, all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.
Since then 300 years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.
But still, he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way.
And then, a wise bell -weathered sheep
Pursued the trail, o'er vale and steep,
And drew the flocks behind him too
As good bell-weathers always do.
And from that day, o'er hill and glade
Thru those old woods, a path was made.
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because 'twas such a crooked path,
But still they followed, do not laugh,
The first migrations of that calf.
And thru the winding woods they stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.
This forest path became a lane
That bent, and turned, and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street.
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis.
And men, two centuries and a half
Trod the footsteps of that calf.
Each day a hundred thousand route
Followed the zig-zag calf about,
And o'er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf, near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way
And lost one hundred years per day.
For this such reverence is lent
To well establish precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained, and called to preach.
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out, and in, and forth, and back,
And still their devious course pursue
To keep the paths that others do.
They keep the paths a sacred groove
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood gods laugh
Who saw that first primeval calf.
Ah, many things this tale might teach,
But I am not ordained to preach.
by Sam Walter Foss
American Poet and Librarian
1858 - 1911