Happy National Dairy Month, milkmaids and dairymen!
Every day brings a new adventure and new knowledge here at No Water River, and the search for this month’s classic poem set me on a trail to dairy country. I actually had a different poem planned, but then my location scouts came across this obliging field.
As with my sunflower poem last year, I knew I had to act fast before those big round bails of hay were hauled off and chewed up. So I put the scouts to work to prepare the site for taping. Here they are checking the quality of the hay and flirting with the film crew (me).
So I had a lovely location, but no poem to go with it.
Enter Clayton Rye, a farmer from Hanlontown, Iowa, population 200. I will call him Farmer Rye because — well, need I explain why? A quick Internet search for classic children’s poems about farms brought up Farmer Rye’s delightful article in The Farmer’s Exchange in which he reminisces about his amusing first encounter with today’s poem, “The Moo-Cow-Moo,” written by Edmund Vance Cooke in 1903.
At the end of the article, which also talks a bit about the difficulty of dairy farming, Farmer Rye asks readers to share this poem with a child during National Dairy Month. And I said, “What the hay? I’ll do it!”
I found Farmer Rye’s writing so udderly engaging that I sent him an email to thank him for the inspiration, to ask for a picture of him with a cow, and to ask what those big round bales of hay are called. (I grew up in dairy country in Salem, New York, but never learned the particular name for those big round bales of hay!)
Then I learned even more stuff. Turns out that Farmer Rye is a big fan of cowboy poetry. Did you know there was such a thing as cowboy poetry? I did not, but it seems those cowboy poets are quite the moo-vers and shakers.
Farmer Rye is also a writer in his own right, both as a columnist for various online farm publications and as a writer of what he cleverly calls plowboy poetry, which you can (and should) read on his website. Here he is with cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, and that’s his granddaughter Emma with the cow, who also has “an artist’s heart” (Emma, not the cow).
Oh, and those big round bales of hay? They’re called “big round bales of hay.” So says Farmer Rye, and I’m willing to take his word for it.
So, my cheese-eating friends, I give you “The Moo-Cow-Moo,” with a hat tip to Farmer Rye. I had to channel my inner five-year-old for this one, and I might have milked it a bit…but nevertheless, please share it with a young friend over a nice bowl of ice cream. And stick around after to find out about Edmund Vance Cooke, the guy who wrote it.
My pa held me up to the moo-cow-moo
So close I could almost touch,
En I fed him a time or two,
En I wasn’t a ‘fraid-cat, much.
But if my papa goes into the house,
En mamma, she goes in, too,
I jest keep still, like a little mouse
For the moo-cow-moo might moo.
The moo-cow’s tail is a piece of rope
All raveled out where it grows;
En it’s just like feeling a piece of soap
All over the moo-cow’s nose.
En the moo-cow-moo has lots of fun
Just switching his tail about,
But if he opens his mouth, why, then I run,
For that’s where the moo comes out.
The moo-cow-moo has deers on his head,
En his eyes stick out of their place,
En the nose of the moo-cow-moo is spread
All over the moo-cow’s face.
En his feet are nothing but fingernails,
En his ma don’t keep them cut,
En he gives folks milk in water pails,
When he don’t keep his handles shut.
But if you or I pull his handles, why
The moo-cow-moo says it hurts,
But the hired man sets down close by
En squirts, en squirts, en squirts!
–Edmund Vance Cooke
first published in the Saturday Evening Post, November 21, 1903
What’s Up with Edmund Vance Cooke
Edmund Vance Cooke was born on June 5, 1866 in Port Denver, Ontario, Canada. His first poem was published in a Cleveland paper when he was twelve years old. In 1893, he left his job in a sewing machine factory to seek his fortune as a poet, writer, and public speaker.
His first book of poems, A Patch of Pansies, was published in 1894, to be followed by another fifteen books of verse and several books for children.
In 1898, he married Lilith Castleberry, with whom he had five children.
During his career, he crisscrossed the country a dozen times on lecture tours and eventually became a broadcaster on station WWJ in Detroit, for whom he broadcast his poems live to thousands of listeners. Some of his most quoted poems were “How Did You Die?” and “Don’t Take Your Troubles to Bed.” Here he is on a school visit in Chicago in 1917 – and just look at those rapt faces!
By 1918, Cooke had established himself as America’s foremost living poet. At that time, he joined the staff of the Muskegon Chronicle, where he was charged with the task of providing readers with a poem each day.
Cooke died in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 18, 1932, at the age of 66.
- The complete text of Impertinent Poems (1903) is available on Project Gutenberg
- All of Cooke’s works are available at Amazon.com
- Many of Cooke’s works are available as free Nook books on BarnesandNoble.com
- A selection of poems at AllPoetry.com
- Popular titles for children:
- A Patch of Pansies
- Impertinent Poems
- Chronicles of the Little Tot
- Told to the Little Tot
- I Rule the House
- Rimes to be Read
- Little Songs for Two
Extension Activities for “The Moo-Cow-Moo”
- Have students choose an animal to describe, just as the child does in “The Moo-Cow-Moo.” Make a list of all the ways to describe the animal, and then use those descriptions to create a poem. Students can then illustrate their poems. This exercise would work well both as a class activity and an individual writing assignment.
- Learn about dairy farming and animal care at DiscoverDairy.com. The site provides interactive, cross-curricular lesson plans for upper elementary and middle school grades. Plans include video motivators, reading guides, and assessment-based worksheets. DairySpot.com has several more lessons for grades 1-3.
- Preschool and kindergarten dairy and farm units at Bright Hub Education, First School, and Preschool Plan It.
- Take a field trip to a working dairy farm, or take this wonderful virtual tour at DairyFarmingToday.org.
- Cow crafts and games, of course! Plenty of art projects at ArtistsHelpingChildren.org, plus free file folder games and farm animal sorting activities at FileFolderHeaven.com and FileFolderFun.com.
- In the kitchen: easy recipes for butter, cow pies, cow cake, cow cookies, brown cow cookies.
Video Location: In the shadow of moo-cow hay (and, in spirit, in Hanlontown, Iowa).See more poems in my poetry video library. To the best of my knowledge, “The Moo-Cow-Moo” by Edmund Vance Cooke is in the public domain.