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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Joaquin (Cincinnatus Hiner) Miller (1837–1913)

That Faithful Wife of Idaho

From “Complete Poetical Works”

HUGE silver snow-peaks, white as wool,

Huge, sleek, fat steers knee-deep in grass,

And belly-deep, and belly full,

Their flower beds one fragrant mass

Of flowers, grass tall-born and grand,

Where flowers chase the flying snow!

Oh, high held land in God’s right hand,

Delicious, dreamful Idaho!

We rode the rolling cow-sown hills,

That bearded cattleman and I;

Below us laughed the blossomed rills,

Above, the dappled clouds blew by.

We talked. The topic? Guess. Why, sir,

Three-fourths of all men’s time they keep

To talk, to think, to be of HER;

The other fourth they give to sleep.

To learn what he might know, or how,

I laughed all constancy to scorn.

“Behold yon happy, changeful cow!

Behold this day, all storm at morn,

Yet now ’tis changed by cloud and sun;

Yea, all things change—the heart, the head;

Behold on earth there is not one

That changeth not in love,” I said.

He drew a glass, as if to scan

The steeps for steers; raised it and sighed.

He craned his neck, this cattleman,

Then drove the cork home, and replied:

“For twenty years (forgive these tears)—

For twenty years no word of strife,

I have not known for twenty years

One folly from my faithful wife.”

I looked that tarn man in the face—

That dark-browed, bearded cattleman.

He pulled his beard, then dropped in place

A broad right hand, all scarred and tan,

And toyed with something shining there

Above his holster, bright and small.

I was convinced. I did not care

To agitate his mind at all.

But rest I could not. Know I must

The story of my stalwart guide;

His dauntless love, enduring trust;

His blessed and most wondrous bride.

I wondered, marveled, marveled much;

Was she of Western growth? Was she

Of Saxon blood, that wife with such

Eternal truth and constancy?

I could not rest until I knew.

“Now, twenty years, my man,” I said,

“Is a long time.” He turned, he drew

A pistol forth, also a sigh.

“’Tis twenty years or more,” sighed he.

“Nay, nay, my honest man, I vow

I do not doubt that this may be;

But tell, oh, tell me truly how?

“’Twould make a poem pure and grand;

All time should note it near and far;

And thy fair, virgin, gold-sown land

Should stand out like some winter star.

America should heed. And then

The doubtful French beyond the sea—

’Twould make them truer, nobler men

To know how this might truly be.”

“’Tis twenty years or more,” urged he;

“Nay, that I know, good guide of mine;

But lead me where this wife may be,

And I a pilgrim at a shrine,

And kneeling as a pilgrim true—”

He, leaning, shouted loud and clear:

“I cannot show my wife to you;

She’s dead this more than twenty year.”