The Goatherd and the Wild Goats

A Poem By Caleb // 9/23/2018

"[T]hen considering that a poet, if he is really to be a poet or maker, should not only put words together but make stories, and as I have no invention, I took some fables of Aesop, which I had ready at hand and knew, and turned them into verse."
~Socrates, in Plato's Phaedo

It seems that while in prison, Socrates took up poetry, and after working on a hymn to Apollo he turned to Aesop's fables.

When I gave my poetry class, one of the assignments was to turn an Aesop's fable into verse, and my younger brother let me know me that putting Aesop into verse had such a venerable history -- going back all the way to Socarates!

For the assignment, I versified one of my favourite of Aesop's Fables:

The Goatherd and the Wild Goats

(note: if you prefer to read poems single-spaced, I have put this poem single-spaced in the comments.)

No cloak, no fleece upon that day sufficed;
The penetrating wind through every coat
Blew rain straight to the skin, as cold as ice.
It fiercely flogged a goatherd and his goats
Exposed upon the open mountain side.
But, oh! their joy to see a deep, dark gash
Cleft in the rock— “Come on!” the goatherd cried
“It’s snug and dry — I’ll feed you oats and mash
In comfort while it rains.” The soaking goats
Pursued their master through the cloven stone,
And huddled, dripping, eager for the oats,
But soon they sensed that they were not alone.
A herd of wild goats had come before
To shelter in the cave from that same rain,
And when the goatherd saw these many more
He made a different plan about his grain.
With hopes his flock to double on that day
He called to them “Fresh Oats! All you can eat!”
But for his faithful flock a stalk of hay
As sustenance for each he reckoned meet.
Yet when the sheets of rain had ceased to fall,
The stranger goats all scampered from the cave;
“You false ingrates!” the outraged goatherd called
Is this your thanks for all the food I gave?”
“Why should we join your flock?” the goats then bleated,
“We’ve seen quite clearly how we would be treated.”

Comments

Thoughts

I love how in this story the wild goats are able to see themselves in someone else. When might you see yourself in someone else?

Gossip.

Every time someone gossips to me about someone not present, I wonder: do you talk about me that way when I'm not present? It certainly gives me the template to imagine it happening -- to see myself as "the someone else" who is being talked about. Oftentimes there is a confidential, flattering tone in that moment when one co-worker talks to you about another, but what I love about these wild-goats is that they are able to not be fooled by the flattery of their treatment in the present moment. They see that were they in the same position as the tame goats, this unkind Goatherd would, with that same unkind heart, treat them the same way he just treated his flock.

How people behave is a surer guide to how they will behave than how they say or promise they will behave. In the story of King Lear, the king wants to know which of his daughters loves him the best. His two eldest make great protestations of their love to him when he is in his kingly position, but after he gives them power and retires from being king, they treat him with loveless disdain. Instead of asking them how much they loved him, he would have been wiser to have watched how they treated those who were less powerful than themselves. That would have given a good idea of how he was going to be treated when he became weak and powerless.

What about romantic relationships? Ladies, if you see your boyfriend punch/hit anyone, (except for in rare scenarios) break it off. Don't say "Well, he didn't hit *me* -- just his friend, his brother, and his ex-wife. " If he treats his family members with contempt, and you're his special favourite at the moment, do you think that will last when you become part of his family?

~

Still, the goats don't quite rise to a higher kind of compassion that humans can rise to. Their ability to imagine their future by putting themselves in the place of another is a step which can help one toward something higher which is: having compassion when you think you will never be in the position of the other.

Someone who was not a Jew during the Holocaust could easily have said: "I will never be a Jew, so I don't have to see myself in them." The same sort of sentiment could have been held by those who were not Tutsis in Rwanda, "Kulaks" in the Soviet Union or Negroes in an American Slave state; You can harden your heart against them for, surely their lot will never be yours -- a white man will never be auctioned off in Savannah, Georgia.

Even wilder in terms of lack of ruth is how people harden their hearts against babies in the womb. They talk lightly of "women's healthcare" because they know that they will never be a baby in the womb again, and their life will never be in peril from a Sopher clamp or a vacuum. But shouldn't the fact that you once were a baby in the womb be enough to make you see yourself in the baby. Shouldn't your heart be soft toward those whose lot *was* yours even if it can never be yours again? It's like the Chief Butler who forgot his dungeon-mate Joseph as soon as Pharaoh sprung him from prison.

God help us not be that way. Instead let's have a no exceptions, no asterisks love that seeks to help the poor and the oppressed even if we think we're in no danger of sharing their tribulation. (No danger until we start helping the targeted group, that is.)

Still, if you find yourself struggling to rise altruistically (it's only by God's help) to this higher kind of compassion, you should still speak out against 'threats to justice anywhere.' Say something when they come for the communists and trade-unionists, even if you are not one of them. Remember that a disregard for human life cannot contain itself to just one target. You may not be today's "enemy of the people" but you may be tomorrow's.

Do you think that denying the intrinsic worth of humans in the case of Jews would not affect how one viewed the worth of all humans, even one's friends? Do you think that Stalin stopped with the Kulaks? Didn't he "purge" the party itself?

If a cat kills a mouse but doesn't kill me I shouldn't deceive myself into thinking that that cat has real love for me. If I were mouse-small the cat would kill me. If someone is mean to one group of people, circumstances very well could arise in which they would be mean to me. If someone has conditions and exceptions in their love, I could be excluded someday. And even if I never were, it's kind of icky to be on the inside of that kind of exclusive "love."

Caleb | Mon, 11/26/2018

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse

Single Spaced

The Goatherd and the Wild Goats

No cloak, no fleece upon that day sufficed;
The penetrating wind through every coat
Blew rain straight to the skin, as cold as ice.
It fiercely flogged a goatherd and his goats
Exposed upon the open mountain side.
But, oh! their joy to see a deep, dark gash
Cleft in the rock— “Come on!” the goatherd cried
“It’s snug and dry — I’ll feed you oats and mash
In comfort while it rains.” The soaking goats
Pursued their master through the cloven stone,
And huddled, dripping, eager for the oats,
But soon they sensed that they were not alone.
A herd of wild goats had come before
To shelter in the cave from that same rain,
And when the goatherd saw these many more
He made a different plan about his grain.
With hopes his flock to double on that day
He called to them “Fresh Oats! All you can eat!”
But for his faithful flock a stalk of hay
As sustenance for each he reckoned meet.
Yet when the sheets of rain had ceased to fall,
The stranger goats all scampered from the cave;
“You false ingrates!” the outraged goatherd called
Is this your thanks for all the food I gave?”
“Why should we join your flock?” the goats then bleated,
“We’ve seen quite clearly how we would be treated.”

Caleb | Sun, 09/23/2018

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse

This is pretty good, Caleb!

This is pretty good, Caleb! Nice, thanks for sharing! : )

Jill Levine Tyler | Mon, 10/01/2018

Jill L. Tyler

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

I really enjoyed this! I like

I really enjoyed this! I like the idea of writing poems based on literature like this. The poem itself is very good, and your thoughts are so true. I definitely don't like being around people who make a habit of gossiping. Of course they're complaining about me too when I'm not there.

It's interesting how you tied this fable to the Christian concept of love. "Love your neighbor as yourself" is certainly easier when you see yourself in others. But there can be a dark side to this, too - only empathizing, or empathizing most, with people you most see yourself in. The Christian challenge is to show this love everyone, not just those we most relate to (whether we see ourselves in them more for similar faith, political leaning, common experiences, or something else).

Thanks for posting your thought-provoking poem!

Hannah D. | Sat, 10/13/2018

"Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." - G. K. Chesterton

Thanks! What first comes to

Thanks! What first comes to my mind is that there is a motivation to limit the circle of people that we see ourselves in because there is an incentive to limit the people we want to feel the duty to love because --- love is essentially sacrifice and service; Not wanting to feel the weight or pain of sympathy we steer our thoughts away from our obvious shared humanity and focus on smaller aspects of ourselves and the other person.

Then we love our neighbour as ourselves, but we have made of ourselves a dehumanized caricature.

Still, even if we don't want to serve them it's not like we don't find other people interesting.

In a way the person in your life whom you don't quite see or treat as a fellow soul-bearer becomes like an actor in a movie, or a character in a novel to you. You see shared exterior humanity in them to the extent that they can entertain you, but you won’t see it enough to acknowledge your duty to serve. (A big part of mean gossip is using someone for entertainment.)

We find other people interesting on some level but if we don't look at them as people to serve (love) we fall into a mindset in which they are for our consumption. So people become not humans to be served, but characters to be observed -- One will play the clown, one the good-guy, one the bad guy, in your life.

I'm not saying it's wrong to find other people entertaining (except for in some ways) but it's wrong to not love them as a whole person like yourself.

Maybe you *have* to see "yourself" in someone to truly love him, because it's only in being yourself that you know what it is to be a soul and not just something outward.

Thanks for the thought provoking comment!

Caleb | Mon, 10/29/2018

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse

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