Much to the amazement of many people, my husband included, I bought a couple of Shetland sheep and brought them home last week. Mind you, it was after cleaning out the barn, putting up fencing, and learning about hay vs. straw. Not that that’s the only thing I need to learn about sheep. Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep, purchased after the sheep were, has so many details about predators and diseases, it’s enough to scare anyone into never owning an animal of any sort. But the twin ewes, Ruby and Tess, are mine now, and they are as cute as sheep can be, which I happen to think is pretty darn cute. (Ruby even wags her short little tail when petted!).
Shetland sheep are a primitive breed; their “roots go back over a thousand years, probably to sheep brought to the Shetland Islands by Viking settlers” (NASSA – see below). They are hardy, good grazers, easy lambers, and perhaps best of all, like the other more famous island animal, Shetland Ponies, are small. Ruby and Tess are small enough for me to pick them up easily (well, Ruby is a little easier to lift than porker Tess). Having been born in April, they will only grow another inch or two. Soon they will be shorn and I’ll have their wool processed into the beautiful earth-toned yarn that Shetland sheep are known for. Until then, and surely afterwards, I will enjoy them for their company, music, and inspiration.
First Load of Hay
I drove up to Enosburg in a borrowed truck
for my first load of hay, second cut
and green. The farmer I met, lean,
seventyish, with a believable
smile, an easy gait, and a Red
Sox cap, scrambled up to the top
of his hay wagon, seven or eight bales
high, and tossed the first one down
to me standing in the bed of the truck.
I was instantly in love, and he must
have seen the shock on my face when I
realized I’d only be able to fit
six out of the twenty bales I needed
to winter my two Shetland sheep.
“Turn it on its side,” he said and I did
and pushed it neatly in the corner of the bed
then straightened up and moved out of the way
as he tossed a few more bales that landed
with thumps in the back of the truck.
“Used to be quite a ball player,”
he offered, taking careful aim
to land the next bale in the last
slot with the precision of a baseball pitcher.
“Stack the next layer flat. That’ll
lock it in.” I did as directed,
opening the tailgate for more space
and we piled the layers higher and higher,
he reassuring me that I’d make
it back the fifteen miles without
a spill. He tied a rope underneath
the back bumper and up and over
the mountain of hay to the cab window.
After we counted and recounted and did
the math on the back of my checks, I paid
him for twenty-six bales. Then I drove
out slowly, the sun shining in my eyes,
and picked up speed down the state highway,
the windows open, and my grandfather, dead
these fifty years, checking the load
before settling down beside me.
It was the second load – the straw
for bedding on which the sheep would piss
and shit that the farmer’s wife either
told a bad joke or insulted me –
I was too ignorant to know which –
and the farmer scrambled to the top
of another stack, nearly as high
as the pole barn ceiling itself,
but this time he put his hand in a hidden
hive and a dozen tiny bees
swarmed, stinging him, twice somehow
under his wedding band, and once
up in his shirt by his armpit.
He jumped from the high bales, landing
at my feet in a heap, and swore like
my father used to cuss when our car broke
down. I kind of picked the farmer up
and brushed a bug off his forehead.
“They don’t need tying,” he said, about
the bales in the back of the truck, and he
read my name wrong when I
handed him my check. At least
the rain had stopped. I rode home
alone. But the first load, the load
of clover and sweet timothy,
was, and shall remain, perfect.
And as long as I’m getting silly, check out this video that my friend Christy sent along:
Experiencing the beauty of nature from afar or experiencing something at a superficial level can lead us to romanticize a situation, that is, ignore the underlying facts and experience the world through our emotions. I didn’t mean to do it, but that’s what I did in the the poem above when I thought it was finished at the end of the first stanza. I have to admit, the day I went up to get the first load of hay was a great day and everything seemed wonderful. I didn’t even mind waiting in construction on the way to Enosburg (and as you can see, the construction work, among other obstacles I faced that day, didn’t make it in to the poem). As I was driving somewhere else a week or so later, after I had gotten the load of straw, I realized that the first load was a starry-eyed story and if I wanted a believable poem, I had better put in a dose of reality somewhere. But I didn’t want to change the memory or more precisely, the feeling of the memory. After all, it had been a great day. Then I remembered the second trip to the farmer and laughed out loud in my car and knew it was the perfect antidotal anecdote to that romantic first load.
“Romanticism” is now attributed, more or less, to a movement in art and literature considered to have taken place from the end of the 18th century to the mid-to-late 19th. I say “more or less” because a piece of writing or art, no matter the time period, can be considered romantic, not in the love sense, but because it possesses characteristics for which the Romanticism period was known. During this time, writers were reacting to The Enlightenment, the new domination of science, and the industrialization of cities. Their reaction included emphasizing intuition over reason, focusing on individualism over society, and including feelings over facts. Additionally, artists emphasized “the ideals of nature and reverence for the natural world, idealism, physical and emotional passion, and an interest in the mystic and supernatural” (See link below at Poets.org). Included in the reaction to the new rules of science and society (and as a reaction to classical poetry) poets began loosening the rules of poetry to allow less structure with meter and rhyme, an increased variety of content and subject, and ordinary language.
English poets such as William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Gordon Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats are known as the “Big Six” of Romanticism, but many women were well-publsihed during this time and include Mary Shelley, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Charlotte Turner Smith, Mary Robinson, Hannah More, and Joanna Baillie. In the United States, Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe are known as the poets of the Romanticism period and were influenced by Longfellow, Emerson, and Thoreau. In France, Victor Hugo, and in Germany, Fredrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe were the main poets of the Romanticism era.
How can Whitman and Poe – who stylistically are so different with Whitman’s sweeping lines and encompassing concepts and Poe’s strict meter and specificity – both be considered Romantics? This is explained if we look at Colin Holcombe’s succinct list of some of the elements of Romanticism, found on his website Textetc. Holcombe acknowledges that this is a simplification of Romantisim, yet the list he offers is helpful in understanding how poets of such polar styles are considered to belong to the same literary movement. His list includes:
1. emotion over reason
2. sensory experience before intellect
3. imagination as the road to transcendental experience and spiritual truth
4. the human personality, in all its inexplicable moods and depths
5. genius, hero, or exceptional figure
6. ethnic, folk, and national cultures
7. the occult, exotic, dieased or satanic
8. the remote in time and space
Holcombe also asks, “Can the world be understood by imagination? Can poetry discover realms of significance beyond the conscious and rational?” In order to be a poet, you must believe the answers to these questions are both, Yes. So, yes, we are all romantics; it’s just a matter of degree.
RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):
The Island Rule – why Shetland Island horses and sheep are so small
A Brief Guide to Romanticism at Poets.org
Romanticism at The Literature Network
NASSA – North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association – what everyone needs to know about Shetland sheep