LAST night a January wind was ripping at the shingles
over our house and whistling a wolf song under the
I sat in a leather rocker and read to a six-year-old girl
the Browning poem, Childe Roland to the Dark
And her eyes had the haze of autumn hills and it was
beautiful to her and she could not understand.
A man is crossing a big prairie, says the poem, and
nothing happens--and he goes on and on--and it's
all lonesome and empty and nobody home.
And he goes on and on--and nothing happens--and he
comes on a horse's skull, dry bones of a dead horse--
and you know more than ever it's all lonesome and
empty and nobody home.
And the man raises a horn to his lips and blows--he
fixes a proud neck and forehead toward the empty
sky and the empty land--and blows one last wonder-
And as the shuttling automatic memory of man clicks
off its results willy-nilly and inevitable as the snick
of a mouse-trap or the trajectory of a 42-centimetre
I flash to the form of a man to his hips in snow drifts
of Manitoba and Minnesota--in the sled derby run
from Winnipeg to Minneapolis.
He is beaten in the race the first day out of Winnipeg--
the lead dog is eaten by four team mates--and the
man goes on and on--running while the other racers
ride, running while the other racers sleep--
Lost in a blizzard twenty-four hours, repeating a circle
of travel hour after hour--fighting the dogs who
dig holes in the snow and whimper for sleep--
pushing on--running and walking five hundred
miles to the end of the race--almost a winner--one
toe frozen, feet blistered and frost-bitten.
And I know why a thousand young men of the North-
west meet him in the finishing miles and yell cheers
--I know why judges of the race call him a winner
and give him a special prize even though he is a
I know he kept under his shirt and around his thudding
heart amid the blizzards of five hundred miles that
one last wonder-cry of Childe Roland--and I told
the six year old girl about it.
And while the January wind was ripping at the shingles
and whistling a wolf song under the eaves, her eyes
had the haze of autumn hills and it was beautiful
to her and she could not understand.