Fiber Folklore – Baa, baa, Black Sheep

Baa, baa, black sheep,

Have you any wool?

Yes marry, have I,

Three bags full;

One for my master,

One for my dame,

But none for the little boy

Who cries in the lane.

This nursery rhyme probably dates to the Middle Ages, when England was the major player in the international wool trade. A tax had been placed upon wool, with 1/3 going to the”master” (local lord), 1/3 to the “dame” (the church), and the rest to the “little boy” in the lane (local farmer). In recent years it has become a subject of controversy, with early childhood teachers converted black sheep to rainbow sheep to avoid any hint of racism.

The color of the sheep in the rhyme must also be of some significance. Black wool is difficult to dye and would therefore seem to have little use in making textiles. However many shepherds prized black fleece and kept one dark sheep in a flock of white ones. When the fiber was carded for spinning a little of the black was mixed in with the white to produce a light-grey wool. The cloth made from ‘grey’ wool was believed to be warmer and more weather proof than that made from only white fleece. Unlike the pure black wool it could be easily dyed.

On the other hand, a single black ram could contaminate the whiteness of a flock’s fleece. This is probably the source of the unflattering phrase, “black sheep of the family.” The first record in print is from Charles Macklin’s The man of the world, a comedy, 1786:

“O, ye villain! you – you – you are a black sheep; and I’ll mark you.”

I’m not sure that a breed of sheep with pure black wool actually exists.  In days of yore, a “black” sheep was any sheep that wasn’t white. Most  dark fleeces have at least a tinge of noticeable brown or gray in their fleece. If anyone knows of a pure black, I’d like to see a picture and know the breed.

Monday Morning Poem: Starlings in Winter

by Mary Oliver (1935 –   )

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Poem for the New Year: Time

by Justin Good, 2014


There once Was

Or rather still Is

And Forever will Be

A Moment Before

Time seemed To Be.


Like the River which

Can’t be stepped in Twice

The Present can Hardly be said

To Come and Go

Or  Bear a Price.


Everything that Seems

To Change and Leave

The Flow of this Dream

Has Already Returned

Gently Down the Stream.


You know you Know this Already

That Time is a Learning Device

Disappearing at Dawn

When we finally Learn we’re still Here

Even after we’re Gone.


Rediscovering Ourselves

As Timeless Beings of Light

The We inside of Me

The Moment Before

Time Seemed to Be.

Monday Morning Poem: The Pumpkin

excerpt from The Pumpkin, by John  Greenleaf Whittier

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest;
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored;
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before;
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye,
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

Monday Morning Poem: Autumn Song

by Katherine Mansfield

Now’s the time when children’s noses
All become as red as roses
And the colour of their faces
Makes me think of orchard places
Where the juicy apples grow,
And tomatoes in a row.

And to-day the hardened sinner
Never could be late for dinner,
But will jump up to the table
Just as soon as he is able,
Ask for three times hot roast mutton–
Oh! the shocking little glutton.

Come then, find your ball and racket,
Pop into your winter jacket,
With the lovely bear-skin lining.
While the sun is brightly shining,
Let us run and play together
And just love the autumn weather.

Monday Morning Poem: November

by Thomas Hood

No sun–no moon!
No morn–no noon!
No dawn–no dusk–no proper time of day–
No sky–no earthly view–
No distance looking blue–

No road–no street–
No “t’other side the way”–
No end to any Row–
No indications where the Crescents go–

No top to any steeple–
No recognitions of familiar people–
No courtesies for showing ’em–
No knowing ’em!

No mail–no post–
No news from any foreign coast–
No park–no ring–no afternoon gentility–
No company–no nobility–

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

Photo by Linda. View of Loire river, November, 2002.

Monday Morning Poem: The Old Stone House

by Walter de la Mare

Nothing on the grey roof, nothing on the brown

Only a little greening where the rain drips down;

Nobody at the window, nobody at the door,

Only a little hollow which a foot once wore;

But still I tread on tiptoe, still tiptoe on I go,

Past nettles, porch, and weedy well, for oh, I know

A friendless face is peering, and a still clear eye

Peeps closely through the casement

as my step goes by.