I came upon this haunting poem again, and though it seems I must have posted it here many times before, the evidence shows that I have restrained myself. Today, I indulge myself instead. I’m sharing the photo and thoughts from a previous post, because nothing has changed, except my readership.
I continue to wonder about layers of meaning in the poem… “printless as eyelight” is a phrase appropriately elusive to me. Are they “beautiful flocks of the mind” only because their image stays with us as memory, or because they represent some of our own less dull thoughts?
Shy in their herding dwell the fallow deer.
They are spirits of wild sense. Nobody near
Comes upon their pastures. There a life they live,
Of sufficient beauty, phantom, fugitive,
Treading as in jungles free leopards do,
Printless as eyelight, instant as dew.
The great kine are patient, and homecoming sheep
Know our bidding. The fallow deer keep
Delicate and far their counsel wild,
Never to be folded reconciled
To the spoiling hand as the poor flocks are;
Lightfoot, and swift and unfamiliar,
These you may not hinder, unconfined
Beautiful flocks of the mind.
When my grandson asks what is my favorite animal, I have to say it is the deer. To watch one bound away after it is startled in the forest is a captivating sight, none the less that it is normally quite a brief glimpse, of great strength and speed combined with grace.
[In 2009] we visited a farm where white-tailed deer are kept as livestock, and viewed the corrals where the lovely animals are kept but evidently not tamed (“never to be folded reconciled”). The deer in the pen closest to us seemed to be frightened at our presence. The farmer was not there at the time and I don’t know if his presence is any less disturbing. I couldn’t take my eyes off the deer zigzagging nonstop in its cage; to watch that beauty without it disappearing into the trees was very odd. We weren’t there long enough for me to get used to the vision that is usually so rare. Nor did I begin to feel reconciled myself to coming near upon their pastures.
The photo of deer above was taken while walking down the street in an Oregon neighborhood. Perhaps those deer are calm because they are still “keeping their counsel wild.” No one is threatening them. If I’d had my camera that day at the corral, I might have taken a sad video of a wild animal from whom I was at that moment stealing something. In that moment I wasn’t thinking about these things; I didn’t think there was anything wrong with breeding wild deer. But since I came home and read Drinkwater’s poem again -– I have treasured it and worked at memorizing it for decades -– I am reconsidering.