The Calf Path

The Calf Path is a poem that was written by S.W. Foss. I first encountered it in my junior year of high school, when my Chemistry teacher recited it to the class. He then gave copies to those students (including myself) that wanted them. Since then it has been a favorite poem of mine, but I had no idea just how popular it was. I'd always wanted to put it on my web page, but I didn't want to go dig up the sheet of paper my Chemistry teacher gave me. I decided to search for it on the WWW, to see if anyone had a copy posted online. Much to my surprise, a rather large number of people had it posted online. And even more to my surprise, they weren't all the same. Some had lines that I had never seen before, and some were much shorter than the version I had originally seen. It was then that I decided to create a web page dedicated to The Calf Path in all of its many forms. I don't know which is the "correct" form, and I'm not sure how it came to exist in so many different forms. I'm sure I'll find out someday, at which point I will certainly put the information here. For now I will simply have some links to different versions of the poem, and on this page I will include the most complete version I can find. Please e-mail me if you have some knowledge about The Calf Path or S.W. Foss that you'd care to tell me.

And now for the poem itself, in (essentially) the fullest version I could track down.

The Calf Path
by S.W. Foss

One day, through 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 three hundred 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-wether sheep,
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep;

And drew the flock behind him too,
As good bell-wethers always do.

And from that day, o'er hill and glade.
Through 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 through this winding wood-way 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 in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout,
Followed the zigzag 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 a day;

For thus such reverence is lent,
To well established 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 path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred grove,
Along which all their lives they move.

But how the wise old wood gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!

Ah! many things this tale might teach -
But I am not ordained to preach.

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