The Goat Paths
by James Stephens
Poem with Questions and Answers for the Poem included in the CHSE +2 Alternative English book ‘Approaches to English – II’.
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The crooked paths go every way
Upon the hill – they wind about
Through the heather in and out
Of the quiet sunniness.
And there the goats, day after day,
Stray in sunny quietness,
Cropping here and cropping there,
As they pause and turn and pass,
Now a bit of heather spray,
Now a mouthful of the grass.
In the deeper sunniness,
In the place where nothing stirs,
Quietly in quietness,
In the quiet of the furze,
For a time they come and lie
Staring on the roving sky.
If you approach they run away,
They leap and stare, away they bound,
With a sudden angry sound,
To the sunny quietude;
Crouching down where nothing stirs
In the silence of the furze,
Couching down again to brood
In the sunny solitude.
If I were as wise as they
I would stray apart and brood,
I would beat a hidden way
Through the quiet heather spray
To a sunny solitude;
And should you come I’d run away,
I would make an angry sound,
I would stare and turn and bound
To the deeper quietude,
To the place where nothing stirs
In the silence of the furze.
In that airy quietness
I would think as long as they;
Through the quiet sunniness
I would stray away to brood
By a hidden beaten way
In a sunny solitude.
I would think until I found
Something I can never find,
Something lying on the ground,
In the bottom of my mind.
Questions for discussion
1. Where are the straying goats found?
Answer – The goats are found in the upper reaches of hills, where the heather bushes grow abundantly.
2. Why do the goats go grass field?
Answer – The goats have no one to fear there—no humans, no predators. It’s a quiet and safe place to graze.
3. Are these goats different from the others of their kind?
Answer – They are not different from other goats of similar species.
4. How many times are the words relating to ‘quiet’ used in this poem? And to what effect?
Answer – The word ‘quiet’ has been used in its other forms in a total of eight times. The author has used it so often to highlight the tranquility of the hills where the goats graze.
5. How does the poet relate “quietly in quietness” (line 13) to “the roving sky” (line 16)? If you were to make two sections of the poem, how would you divide it?
Answer – The word ‘quietly’ refers to the way the silent way the goats move around the furze bushes. These bushes don’t make any sound. The word ‘quietness’ refers to the way the furze bushes stand. Just as the roving sky makes no sound even if clouds keep moving over it, the goats move and the furze bushes stand making no sound at all. The poem can be split into two parts, from line 25 till the end making the second part.
6. How would you react if someone called the first section “obervation” and the second, “reflections”?
Answer – I will agree with the classification.
7. What do you notice in the voice of the poet? urgency, defiance, arrogance, envy, frustration, expectation, or a sense of oneness with God’s creations?
Answer – A sense of oneness with God’s creations.
8. What does the poet say he would do when his ‘sunny solitude’ is disturbed?
Answer – He would stray apart and brood, beat a hidden way through the quiet heather spray.
9. Why does the poet call the goats ‘wise’?
Answer – The goats know the skill of evading a predator by straying into patches to make them invisible.
10. The words, “If I were” conveys a wish. What is the poet’s wish?
Answer – The poet assumes the goats are wise. He wants to be as wise as they are.
11. “I would think until I found/something I can never find.” How would you comment on the complexity of thought implicit in these lines?
Answer – Obviously, the poet has a deeply contemplative mind. He loves solitude, and likes to be left alone so that he can delve deep into his self to re-discover himself, and his relation with God.
12. Can you write a simple paraphrase of the stanza?
Answer – I will think intensely to discover something that I have not known so far. I will lie on the ground, and think with no one to interrupt me.
13. Point out some of the striking images in the poem.
a. The winding ways through the heather bushes,
b. In the quiet of the furze
c. staring on the roving sky
d. in the sunny solitude
e. hidden beaten way