Ox-Cart Man – 11/23/11

by Tilly Thyme on November 23, 2011

Ox-Cart Man

By Donald Hall

Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Ox Cart Man was first published as a poem by Donald Hall in The New Yorker magazine on October 3rd, 1977.

Ox Cart Man

In October of the year,

he counts potatoes dug from the brown field,

counting the seed, counting

the cellar’s portion out,

and bags the rest on the cart’s floor.

He packs wool sheared in April, honey

in combs, linen, leather

tanned from deerhide,

and vinegar in a barrel

hooped by hand at the forge’s fire.

He walks by his ox’s head, ten days

to Portsmouth Market, and sells potatoes,

and the bag that carried potatoes,

flaxseed, birch brooms, maple sugar, goose

feathers, yarn.

When the cart is empty he sells the cart.

When the cart is sold he sells the ox,

harness and yoke, and walks

home, his pockets heavy

with the year’s coin for salt and taxes,

and at home by fire’s light in November cold

stitches new harness

for next year’s ox in the barn,

and carves the yoke, and saws planks

building the cart again.

Hall later lengthened the poem in a children’s book illustrated by the talented Barbara Cooney (author and/or illustrator of two of my children’s favorite books: Miss Rumphius and Roxaboxen).  Together Hall and Cooney won the Caldecott Medal in 1980.  The story, now in prose, centers around rural life in 19th century New England, but it maintains the cadence of the original poem.  As we follow a family through all four seasons, we witness their willingness to pitch in for the greater good.  Success is measured in self-sufficiency in the home and on the farm.  The illustrations are simplistic, in keeping with the content, but lack nothing in detail or accuracy.  The muted earth tones appeal to the eyes and evoke a feeling of calm.

Ox-Cart Man was also represented in an episode of Reading Rainbow with LeVar Burton.

This is a story I return to frequently with my children, particularly as we enter the frantic, excessive consumerism of the holiday season.  It is a steady reminder of what truly matters in life, the ethic of hard work, and the bounty that comes from the simpler things in life.

Perhaps this Thanksgiving, before you sit down to table with those you love, you might take a moment to share this story with your family.

Wishing you all a blessed and peaceful Thanksgiving.


Catherine Huxford November 25, 2011 at 11:32 pm

I heard this read on the radio yesterday while I was baking my rolls and pies for our family Thanksgiving dinner. What a treasure!

Tilly Thyme November 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm

It is a wonderful book. Have you seen the illustrations yet?

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