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The Ram's Skull -- Ann Drysdale

Guest poem submitted by Jann LaValley:
(Poem #1625) The Ram's Skull
 There it sits on the table.
 An exercise in metaphor.
 Eyeholes vacant;
 Overstated horns akimbo.
 Ridiculous in death.
 The tutor speaks:
 "Forget reality. See shapes. See thoughts.
 See half-formed visions of a greater consciousness.
 Just look and see and, having seen, say."

 They look. I look. We look,
 And one by one they speak,
 Saying they see landscapes, caverns and waterfalls,
 Great rocks and oceans and the homes of eagles.

 Now comes my turn: "Ann, tell us what you see."
 I see a ram's skull; heft it at arm's length,
 Ponder in pantomime,
 Then to the word-befuddled class declare
 "Alas, poor Herdwick!" - and they roar
 Till all that carefully constructed metaphor
 Falls like a clown's trousers round the tutor's feet.

 I feel myself dismissed -- his tight lips telegraph:
 "Trust you to settle for a cheap and easy laugh..."
 Later, alone, I beg to contradict,
 Such laughs are easy but they don't come cheap.

 Who wants to be a poet anyway?
 Sometimes I hate poets. Hate them for not knowing
 The ram beneath the skull.

 A Swaledale tup.
 He'd have got bonny gimmers, this old chap -
 For old he was; some of his teeth are gone.
 See how the horns curl round and round again
 Finishing in the comic little lift
 Left over from his lambhood. Close and tight
 They sat upon his cheeks, trapping his head
 Till someone cut a slice from each of them
 To ease the workings of his mighty jaw.
 Somebody did a nifty hacksaw job;
 Somebody else sweated to hold him still,
 Digging their fingers into the greasy elf-locks,
 Pinning his ear back with a grubby thumb.

 Somebody cared. He'd not have lived so long
 Without a good master. All of seven-shear.
 Keen, too. See in one horn the drilled hole
 Where they close-coupled him to a companion.
 Ramshackled, lest they tupped the ewes too soon.

 Seven times a fleece fell, damp and rank-smelling,
 Stained with the old musk, bedewed on the skin side
 With his essential oils. Oh, the rare stink of him
 In the height of the season.

 And once, on a latefrost morning, he was new.
 Licked into life by an old blackfaced ewe.
 Perhaps a child fed him and knew the touch
 Of whiskery lips, the thrust of his blunt head.

 How could they look at a ram's skull and not see
 That once that skull would have been small enough
 To fit roundly, slick as a cricket ball,
 Into the cupped palm of a shepherd's hand.
-- Ann Drysdale
I found the poem above while looking for information on the poet, who is
also an author of a book I am reading currently.  Ann Drysdale wrote 'Faint
Heart Never Kissed a Pig' while she was living at Hagg House Farm in
Yorkshire. It tells of her experiences as a novice farmer while also
bringing up her children as a single mother.  I think that some of her
difficulties arose because she tended to think of some of the livestock with
human thoughts and motives.

This way of thinking seems to come into play in the poem above. If I
understand correctly she gets the inspiration for the poem in a poetry
writing class situation, where the instructor has provided a ram's skull as
an exercise in metaphor.  She seems offended by the use of the skull in the
abstract and pricks the pomposity of the tutor.  She cares more to think of
the living, breathing creature who provided it and what his life had been.

I enjoy the mood created by her words and what comes through to me is the
respect I think she felt for provider of the skull. She made that ram live
again for me.


PS. The URL for the webpage where I found  'The Ram's Skull' by Ann Drysdale
is below, as well as the text:

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