The Old Timer

Original Text: 
Robert T. Anderson, The Old Timer and Other Poems (Edmonton: Edmonton Printing and Publishing, 1909): 11. Internet Archive
1Far, far across the rolling swale,
2    I've watched the bison pass;
3I've seen the lonely prairie trail
4    Wind thro' the rustling grass;
5I've felt the cool winds sweep the plain
6    Where Nature's hand is free;
7But now they break o'er leagues of grain,
8    Like ripples o'er the sea.
9I've seen full many a summer come,
10    And many a winter go,
11'Till my step is weak and my hand is numb,
12    And my hair like the driven snow.
13I live in the past with the years that were,
14    My joys are those I've known,
15There's too much stir in the Western air;
16    I wish you'd leave me alone.
18    In loud, discordant tones,
19The shy coyote stirred apart
20    The dried-out buffalo bones
22    The wolf had made her lair.
23But the fields of wheat are waving wide,
24    And I see just things that were.
25Never mind if I live in the past;
26    'Twas a life worth while to see
28    And the red man riding free,
29I've felt the breath of life on my cheek
30    In the days of the long ago,
31And God! what it is to be old and weak,
32    There none but the aged know.
33Too much life for the old man now,
34    When the trains go whizzing by,
35When the land all' round is broke by the plow,
36    And there's nothing meets the eye
37But the everlasting fields of grain
38    And fences made of wire,
39And furrows broke across the plain
40    To stop the prairie fire.
42    With white tops glittering far,
43Bold adventurers seeking a home,
44    Where now your wheatfields are.
45But then was only the grassy waste
46    As far as the eye could see,
47Yet sunbrowned men to the westward faced,
48    And one of those men was me.
49I don't know but what we were happy too,
50    When there weren't the towns so near,
51But times have changed since the roads were new,
52    And so has the pioneer.
53And maybe when I have the call to go
55The Lord will try and arrange it so
56    I can prospect the other side.
57Far, far, I see against the skies
58    The herds of bison pass.
59The trail to far-off outposts lies
60    Across the waste of grass.
61I feel the cool wind on my cheek
62    As I ride far from men--
63But God! I am so old and weak
64    I'll never ride again.

Notes

17] "a sturdy two-wheeled wooden cart pulled by oxen or horses, used for transportation on the Canadian prairies" (OED, "Red River," 1). The Red River flows through Winnipeg from North Dakota to Lake Winnipeg. Back to Line
21] coulee: "deep ravine or gulch scooped out by heavy rain or melting snow, but dry in summer" (OED). Back to Line
27] By the 1880's, the great herds of bison had been hunted nearly to extinction. Back to Line
41] prairie schooners: covered wagons. Back to Line
54] The Rocky Mountains, the continental divide from which rivers flow west into the Pacific, and river flow eastward towards the Atlantic: a metaphor for life and death. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
2011
Rhyme: 
Form: