"The Belated Traveler" by Frederic Remington




"The Belated Traveler"
by Frederic Remington


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See the Art Spur introductory page here

It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words...we know many that are worthy of a poem or a song.  In Art Spur, we invite poets and songwriters to let selections of Western art inspire their poetry and songs.

Our forty-second piece offered to "spur" the imagination—a special Winter/Christmas Art Spur—is "The Belated Traveler," a painting by the great artist of the American West, Frederic Remington (1861-1909).

Remington wrote something about art that can be applied to poetry, "Big art is a process of elimination. Cut down and outdo your hardest work outside the picture, and let your audience take away something to think aboutto imagine."

Remington created a great range of art, in both medium and subject. Starting around 1900, he began to paint a series of paintings about the "darkness," which included "The Belated Traveler." The National Gallery of Art has an engaging presentation, "The Color of Night." They comment, "Before his premature death in 1909 at age forty-eight, Remington completed more than seventy paintings in which he explored the technical and aesthetic difficulties of painting darkness."

In 1998, "The Belated Traveler" sold for $2,477,500
"The Belated Traveler" is on loan to the Amon Carter Museum for its "Tales from the American West: The Rees-Jones Collection" exhibit.

See our feature on Owen Wister's "Evolution of the Cow-Puncher" for one of Remington's best-known paintings.

Find more about Remington at fredericremington.org.

Submissions were welcome from all through Sunday, December 20, 2015. They are now closed. Poems will be posted here before Christmas.


"The Belated Traveler" by Frederic Remington



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"The Belated Traveler" by Frederic Remington



The selected poems:

A Feast of Memories by Marleen Bussma of Utah
The Prodigal Christmas Gift by Jim Cathey of Texas
The Visit by Michael Henley of Arkansas
The Christmas Stranger by Michelle Turner of Iowa
The Visit by Tom Swearingen of Oregon
Gifts by Jeff Campbell of Texas
An Angel Unaware? by Jean Mathisen Haugen of Wyoming
Belated Traveler by Floyd Traynor of Texas


A Feast of Memories

The saddle squeaks in rhythm to the hoof beats of the horse.
The moon looks brittle spreading its cold glow upon the snow.
His bones feel tired and heavy, riding since the morning dawn.
Uneasy thoughts swoop like barn swallows with their frantic flow.

He should be riding south to spend his winter warm and dry.
Instead his obligations to the family interfere.
He hasn’t stayed in one place long enough to wear out socks.
The summons from his sister sounded desp’rate and it’s clear

they need his help to run the ranch while Jack is on the mend.
The hunting accident has left his wife and child alone
to manage countless cattle in the biting, chilling cold.
Now Cooper will be tied by feeble roots and must postpone

his life where he can throw a rope and not hit fence or man.
Resentment grabs like hobbles as he fumes about his lot.
Then conscience contradicts with pricks of shame for what he thinks.
His insides do a somersault then lie in one big knot.

Besides all this it’s Christmas, not that he would take much note.
Elizabeth and Jenny surely plan to celebrate
with candles, songs and Bible readings just like days of old.
He’d left behind traditions that his mother helped create.

His horse’s breath hangs in the air. The night is calm and still.
Familiar landmarks greet him like old friends not seen in years.
A feast of mem’ries tempts and treats the craving in his mind
as he looks at the ranch house and a lump in his throat clears.

He didn’t think it mattered, this connection to his kin.
He’d gotten by just fine with odd jobs drifting with the wind,
but deep inside he feels an unfamiliar kind of pull.
His heart is changing shape as thoughts of living free have thinned.

Bright light shines from a window like a Christmas greeting card.
Sweet voices inside proclaim Silent Night, soft as they sing.
He’s grateful for this moment and the time he’ll have to share.
Don’t ever sell your saddle. You don’t know what life may bring.

© 2015, Marleen Bussma
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



The Prodigal Christmas Gift

A mantle of snow, like a blanket of white,
smother the hills and the far reaching trails.
Christmas had come with its joyous delight,
to ease suffering and distressing travails.

A trail worn traveler rode through the night,
as starlit darkness covered the plains.
But he held to that trail by dim starlight,
sick at heart and weary of life’s strains.

A heaven of diamonds twinkled above
this rough, rugged snow covered land.
A memory brought back his Mother's love,
and how she would always understand.

Mindful of this thought, he rode toward the west,
to the hills where he’d find the homestead.
This long hard journey put him to the test,
as the memories fought in his head.

The years had seen him drift from place to place,
he was not one to settle down.
But, then he had grown weary of life’s race,
and his troubles creased his face in a frown.

Cow work and that war of Northern aggression,
had took up seven years of his life.
Seems driftin’ had become an obsession,
and it cut at his heart like a knife!

But now, as he rode to the land of big sky,
he thought of his mother and home.
And the fear clutching his heart seemed to imply,
that he’d been foolhardy to roam.

No, he had wrote no letters; mail was slow,
and he always moved on up that trail.
Many times with no thought of where to go,
wanderlust would often prevail.

He topped the ridge and the ranch came to his view,
he shivered from the wind and the cold…
or was it the unknown fears that he knew,
that filled his mind with thoughts uncontrolled.

Once more these thoughts turned to his mother’s love,
and how she would rejoice at his return.
He quietly thanked the Good Lord above,
for to see her once more he yearned.

Yet his fears came back, would she still be here,
to welcome him with sweet loving arms?
She might not be here! He struggled with fear,
as the unknown triggered alarms.

So he sat there while he wrangled his thoughts,
filled with a fear that said he must leave.
But he would stay to find what he sought
on this cold wintry Christmas Eve.

Slowly he made his way to the ranch yard,
as mortal fear hit him like a rock
but then, he dismounted, tho it was hard,
and poised there… almost afraid to knock.

© 2015, Ol' Jim Cathey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



The Visit

Aching cold accelerates the way a man and horse can tire.
Spirit lifted when the moonlight showed smoke rising from his fire.
It was 8 more miles to my line shack tucked away on Kimball Creek.
I’d been riding line so long that I had forgotten how to speak.

I’d never met the man that wintered in that lonely cabin there,
But Captain Brewster said he was an odd old coot, with shoulder length white hair.
Once he rode for Lawrey’s Ranch and was a top hand, so they said,
But now stay up here and traps wolves for us and Bar Z spread.

I’m not sure what will happen when I start knocking on that door,
But its 10 below and me and my poor mount can’t take much more.
It’s early and he’s still awake, I hear him moving ‘round inside
He didn’t hesitate a bit, just opened that door wide.

“What brings a man a callin on such a bitter winter night?”
“just ran short of daylight”, I says, “and this was a welcome sight.”
Come in here from that bitter cold and pour yourself a cup.
Warm yourself there by the fire while I put your old plug up”

The little place was neat and clean, and that fire was feeling good.
He came back through door with a log or two and added to the wood.
He sat down at the table and gave me a long and careful look
And put on his reading glasses and opened up his Holy Book.

“One more day to Christmas”, he says, as his fingers traced the lines.
“doubt they’ll be much celebration for those of us up in the pines.”
“Maybe, since you’re here, I might just read this little story,
Of how the King of Kings was born one night, to show us the way to Glory.”

I was raised in Church and I’d read that story, time and time again.
But it seemed richer coming from the soft and gentle voice of him.
I stared into the fire and hung on every single Holy word.
And an old story became the sweetest sounding thing I’d ever heard.

He handed me an extra blanket and he turned down the coal oil light
And waddle over to his corn shucks and then he said, “good night.”
He was waving from the doorway, next day as I rode off.
It seemed a whole lot warmer and the snow was falling soft.

I relived the evening over as I rode that long last mile.
The simple goodness of it made me break out in a smile.
I hung my tack, and poured some grain and forked a bit of hay
And knew I’d felt the hand of God on me this Christmas Day.

© 2015, Michael Henley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.




The Christmas Stranger

They swept in one night, the wind at their back
An hour past sunset, ahead of the black
Two shadowed figures, a man and a horse
Too far from nowhere to be on the right course

From inside the cabin (more a run-down old shack)
A lonely old cowhand opened the door (just a crack)
The tall stranger nodded, his thin lips looked grim
But his eyes gave a twinkle as the man let him in

A pot belly stove took the chill from the air
The old man then motioned and pulled out a chair
With a sigh of relief, the stranger sat down
He took off his hat, and a glanced all around

He saw a small table, place setting for two
With a pair of deep bowls, full of piping hot stew
The old man just shrugged, and smiled his best
“I’m always prepared for a wayward lost guest”

They ate in near silence, just pleasantries spoke
Then kicked back their chairs and rolled a few smokes
Soon both were asleep, dozing right where they sat
‘Til morning’s first light interrupted the nap

The stranger got up and made for the door,
His host still asleep, from the sound of his snore
So he brought in more wood, and stoked up the fire
Then he noticed a cross, made of rusted barb’ wire

It hung from a nail, all alone on the wall
The stranger just paused… then made for his stall
He saddled his mount and rode westward bound
But a whispering thought made him turn right around

The cabin was empty, the door hanging loose
No smoke from the chimney, no friendly recluse
The stranger rejoiced in his role as a witness
His first-hand account of a miracle… Christmas!

© 2015, Michelle Turner
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



The Visit

He knew his knock would someday not be answered
The day would come there'd be no stir within.
No creak of steps on aged wooden floor boards
No lifting of the latch, no "come on in.”

No giving ear again to his grand stories
Of bad ones rode, and following the creed.
His mem'ries of a life well-lived and cherished
No "wish I had", regret, or unmet need.

No sitting in the flicker light of candles
Him hearing of old times, new hopes, new fears.
A future that's now lonelier and harder
With each new sunrise, morning that appears.

Each winter 'bout this time he paid a visit
To sit and listen, look in on his friend.
The last few years both knowing, but not saying
Each visit brought them closer to the end.

This year he knows his knock will bring no answer
He knew that when he came around the bend.
No chimney smoke, no window light, no footprints
There would be no more visits with his friend.

The stillness of the cabin's what first struck him
And then, the note there for him on the wall
Said, "I'm so glad you've come again to see me
So sorry that I've missed your final call.

"But knowing one day soon I will not waken,
I write this note to greet you if I've passed.
I'm thankful for your friendship, always have been.
I knew you'd be here for me 'til the last.”

© 2015, Tom Swearingen
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



The leaves have fallen
They lay dead and brown
Crunchin’ under hoof
On the trail I ride down

Under bare oak limbs
With nothin’ to show
Their only decoration
The green mistletoe

I head toward the house
High up on a hill
Where the fireplace warms
A candle in the sill

The stock pond reflects
The December moon
A winter breeze says
A storm’s coming soon

A few bright snowflakes
They dance in the night
By morning the ground
Will be covered with white

The Barred Owl hoots
“Who Cooks For You?”
Smoke in the distance means
My rides almost through

The quiet of the trail
Sets my mind at ease
My worries fall away
Like leaves on the trees

It gives time to think
‘Bout gifts I’m grateful for
All the good fortune
That’s been laid at my door

Food in the cupboard
A roof over our head
No trouble in mind
When I head off to bed

A good cup of coffee
The cool morning air
After a hard day’s work
A good sittin’ chair

Old Hands who showed me
The tricks of the trade
They made my path easy
By dues that they paid

A good Mom and Dad
By luck of the draw
Celebrate my wins
Pick me up when I fall

A Wife and Partner
To travel through life
Dance through the good times
Hold hands through the strife

A bark and a woof
Breaks my mental state
Goldie wags her tail
Runnin’ up to the gate

As I reach the house
Through frosty glass I see
All the pretty gifts
Wrapped under the tree

But I’ll treasure gifts
Without ribbons and bows
Ones that keep giving
And never grow old

© 2015, Jeff Campbell
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



An Angel Unaware?

The night was dark with gray snow clouds,
when the man came riding up.
No lights were on in the cabin there
and all he heard was a barking pup.

It was late and he well knew it,
he'd been riding for many hours
to try and find shelter for the night
and some supper if it was within his power.

And so he hopefully knocked on the door,
but no answer came through the night.
He turned and was just about to leave
when he saw someone sparking a light.

He also heard some grumbling too
and he figured the fellow had been asleep.
An old rancher came in his red underwear,
opened up and said why couldn't he keep

from bothering tired working folks,
but as he mumbled he invited him in.
The rancher saw the rider was weary
and shut the door and turned with a grin.

"Come in, sit down and have some food.
I don't have much for chairs,
but take a seat upon the bench.
Heck, you might be an angel unawares!

My Ma, she always told me,
that far out in the range country,
to quit griping, dig some coffee out,
whoever a traveler might be.

Myself, my name is plain old Pete,
and you, my friend, are welcome here.
We'll get you some beans warmed up
and come on over where the fire is near."

The stranger thanked him quietly
and ate the beans as if he were starving.
Said he'd lost his job last fall,
and by the way, just call him Martin.

Then Pete settled him on an old cot
and the stranger was soon asleep—
but Pete whispered, "Merry Christmas, Mr."
and then settled down without a peep.

When Pete woke up next morning,
the stranger was no longer there,
but on the table was a feather and a bag of coins—
and maybe, just maybe, he'd entertained an angel—unaware.

© 2015, Jean Mathisen Haugen
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



Belated Traveler

Fall works were long since over and December locked the land
The line camp man was overdue for Christmas with the hands

The boss had known that he was old and not the best around
But needed winter wages to pay his debts in town

But Christmas came and passed on by without a word or track
Now the boss knocked anxiously on the cold door of the shack

No smoke came from the pipe and solid ice there in the trough
Were signs the old man in the camp was sick or shirkin’ off

He knocked again and called aloud, “Are you in there, Potts?”
But howlin’ wind and silence was the answer that he got

He swallered hard and shoved the door into the darkened shack
Saw the note stuck by the stove with a bent nail for a tack

“Sorry, but I just got word from my daughter, Janie Sue,
I’d rather have my Christmas grub with her and Jack than you.”

© 2015, Floyd Traynor
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



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