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The Path of Man No Calf Would Plan

This entertaining piece of bad verse comes from a little self-published volume entitled Poems by Philpo (1970), "Philpo" being Robert M Shortell (1909-?), a retired teacher and administrator. It is notable for its unpromising subject matter - the freeway system - and its ill-thought-out central image, that of some long-dead calf whose ambling road is supposed to contrast with the horrors of the highway. One assumes he chose a calf over a mature animal in order to be able to contrive the jingling rhyme of his title, rather than for its deeper metaphoric value. Why it should be one that has been dead 300 years is somewhat puzzling.

Whatever the reasons for its place in the poem, it certainly is a wonderful animal, this calf: wisely, it chooses not to drive a car which hasn't been invented yet, and it can bleat - blatently, no less - long after it is dead. Sheep, or at least "bell-wether" ones, are not so smart since it is their behaviour that some drivers emulate, who "plunge straight on in one fell sweep", off the highway into a ditch one assumes, with others following on like "poor dumb animals bereft of mind". Apparently this happens daily: no wonder insurance premiums are so high.

One day, as it was plain he would,

Man transgressed nature (he never should);

He made a death trail, bent askew,

A deadly trail as only man can do.

Since many, many years have fled,

And I infer that man has bled

But still he left behind his trail,

And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail is taken up each day

By senseless men who drive and slay;

And some, like bell-wether sheep,

Plunge straight on in one fell sweep.

Others flock in from behind,

Poor dumb animals bereft of mind.

Daily, on freeways (not so free),

Straight through nature they blast with glee,

The happy fools roar in and out,

And dodge, and turn, and twist about;

They utter words of terrible wrath

'Cause some other fools cross their path.

Still others followed (do not laugh),

This new breed is less than calf.

The calf through nature's woodway stalked;

With vision he digressed and balked.

But now that pathway is not the same;

Man's one-track mind has made that plain.

The path is one of blood and smog

Where faceless men slither and slog.

As man blindly pursues the freeway run,

Three miles become a nebulous one.

Thus, since a century and more,

Man has desecrated nature's lore.

As time passed in swiftness fleet,

The road became a bloody street.

Soon man, bent on swift convergence,

Spawned a cancerous insurgence -

A smogopolis that soon did reek,

A jungle no wise calf would seek.

Oft many thousand men are trapped

On smogways no calf ever mapped.

Men ply the freeways (still not free)

Asphyxiated as no calf would be.

Yes, many thousand men, never led

By a calf three centuries dead.

Man's rape of nature still holds sway,

Losing more from life day after day.

Such blind reverence is apropos,

For good or bad-change the status quo.

A moral lesson this does teach:

Irrational man is hard to reach.

Yes, man is prone to go it blind,

Prudent precedent not for his mind;

Plunging on without time's direction,

Ignorance knows no recollection.

Men still flash along the smogway track,

Cutting in and out (some don't come back);

Deadly, destructive, their course of action,

To glow - not grow - their satisfaction.

But how the wise old wood gods chuckle

As man is rent, 'spite "belt-and-buckle."

Of many things, this tale does teach,

The calf was wiser 'bout nature's reach.

Now, midst the roar of smogway jungle

As man compounds his daily bungle,

I detect a blatant bleat (perhaps a laugh?)

From that three-centuries-old dead calf.