Yan, Tan, Tethera by Peter Ainscough
Yan, Tan, Tethera… the shepherd counts his sheep;
I wonder does it ever help him to fall asleep?
The woolly flock, in rank and file a military disgrace,
Flee from the friendly shepherd in a crazy, ram-led, race.
I wonder does the shepherd ever wonder of his flock
If they really understand that they’re an edible kind of stock.
Or do they graze unwitting of their butcher’s destination:
Their legs will soon be dinner for a hungry human nation.
They’re the dumbest kind of creature and yet they have their charm
As they move in some vast movement across the hilly farm.
The wonder is the pasture on the slopes will turn to meat
(Or some creamy dairy product: milk or cheese) for us to eat.
Life for the sheep is simple though it has its share of threats:
The winter’s bite at lambing, or the fox or wolf that sets
Its hungry sights on lambs and sheep that, heedless, carry on
Leaving safety to the shepherd or to the farmer’s gun.
I sit and think on these things as the dish comes to the table,
The mint sauce on the sideboard – that’s not too execrable.
For th’ambition of the farmer with the lonely shepherd’s aid
Is to fatten them for slaughter – that names the spade as spade!
Peter Ainscough introduces his latest work with the ancient rhyming sheep-counting system Yan, Tan, Tethera… and adds pace and rhythm to the poem; makes you want to say it out loud in sing-song style!
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