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Our Rural Divinity
by [?]

I wonder that Wilson Flagg did not include the cow among his “Picturesque Animals,” for that is where she belongs. She has not the classic beauty of the horse, but in picture-making qualities she is far ahead of him. Her shaggy, loose-jointed body; her irregular, sketchy outlines, like those of the landscape,–the hollows and ridges, the slopes and prominences; her tossing horns, her bushy tail, tier swinging gait, her tranquil, ruminating habits,–all tend to make her an object upon which the artist eye loves to dwell. The artists are forever putting her into pictures, too. In rural landscape scenes she is an important feature. Behold her grazing in the pastures and on the hillsides, or along banks of streams, or ruminating under wide-spreading trees, or standing belly-deep in the creek or pond, or lying upon the smooth places in the quiet summer afternoon, the day’s grazing done, and waiting to be summoned home to be milked; and again in the twilight lying upon the level summit of the hill, or where the sward is thickest and softest; or in winter a herd of them filing along toward the spring to drink, or being “foddered” from the stack in the field upon the new snow,–surely the cow is a picturesque animal, and all her goings and comings are pleasant to behold.

I looked into Hamerton’s clever book on the domestic animals also, expecting to find my divinity duly celebrated, but he passes her by and contemplates the bovine qualities only as they appear in the ox and the bull.

Neither have the poets made much of the cow, but have rather dwelt upon the steer, or the ox yoked to the plow. I recall this touch from Emerson:–

“The heifer that lows in the upland farm,
Far heard, lows not thine ear to charm.”

But the ear is charmed, nevertheless, especially if it be not too near, and the air be still and dense, or hollow, as the farmer says. And again, if it be springtime and she task that powerful bellows of hers to its utmost capacity, how round the sound is, and how far it goes over the hills!

The cow has at least four tones or lows. First, there is her alarmed or distressed low when deprived of her calf, or when separated from her mates,–her low of affection. Then there is her call of hunger, a petition for food, sometimes full of impatience, or her answer to the farmer’s call, full of eagerness. Then there is that peculiar frenzied bawl she utters on smelling blood, which causes every member of the herd to lift its head and hasten to the spot,–the native cry of the clan. When she is gored or in great danger she bawls also, but that is different. And lastly, there is the long, sonorous volley she lets off on the hills or in the yard, or along the highway, and which seems to be expressive of a kind of unrest and vague longing,–the longing of the imprisoned Io for her lost identity. She sends her voice forth so that every god on Mount Olympus can hear her plaint. She makes this sound in the morning, especially in the spring, as she goes forth to graze.

One of our rural poets, Myron Benton, whose verse often has the flavor of sweet cream, has written some lines called “Rumination,” in which the cow is the principal figure, and with which I am permitted to adorn my theme. The poet first gives his attention to a little brook that “breaks its shallow gossip” at his feet and “drowns the oriole’s voice:”–

“But moveth not that wise and ancient cow,
Who chews her juicy cud so languid now
Beneath her favorite elm, whose drooping bough
Lulls all but inward vision fast asleep:
But still, her tireless tail a pendulum sweep
Mysterious clock-work guides, and some hid pulley
Her drowsy cud, each moment, raises duly.