Literary Yard

Search for meaning

Poem: A Mother’s Tale by James Agee

By: Ruth Z. Deming


This story was originally published in Harper’s Bazaar, 1952

“A Mother’s Tale” is open to
interpretation by the
critics and professors
Let me fill you in.
We’re talking cows here
the slow comely soft-eyed
darlings the English love to
paint, but under Agee,
their contentment ends
when one comes home from
the pasture to warn the
others of what awaits.

They shake their heads
when hearing of trains
and stockyards
they had no idea
their paradise smashed,
their only hope to
disbelieve, to deny.

Mother encourages this
she too fools herself and
banishes the images that
legend holds are true. Something
called Meat. Her tail swats some
flies and she whirls around to see
her soft flanks that have traveled
with her when she and her boys
roam the meadows to graze.

In a vision, she tries to banish,
her boys are herded by
men on horseback, she follows them
down the green pasture, as they get
smaller and smaller, until,
No! she’s sure this is a dream.

What I want to know, Mr Agee,
he of the Library of Congress “best books”
a farm boy himself,
who loved nothing better than the smell
of the manure and hay and straw on his
Daddy’s farm, how did you turn yourself
into a mother cow, with a moo that would
melt in your mouth?


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