Huntsman and Herdsman
Details11×17″, oil on panel, 2014
by Thomas Dylan
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden,
I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
Derived from “Fernhill,” by Welsh poet Thomas Dylan, which describes an idyllic rural childhood. The farm is a parallel to the Garden of Eden, and childhood, man’s state before the fall. And yet, the farm itself is rife with fallen-world corruption.
This verse makes reference to Cain and Abel, the original huntsman and herdsman, a metaphor for man’s conflicted relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom. On the one hand, man as the caretaker and protector; on the other, the apex predator. Some animals are to be loved and protected. Some are to be exploited and killed. Some are pets for a while before they become our food. For children this is a cruel and heartbreaking hypocrisy. No amount of growing up leads to a non-conflicted understanding of this confusing world of life and death, of which we are the reluctant arbiters. The oak boughs symbolize strength and wisdom, although the leaves are shriveled and falling. Paul is holding a feral kitten that, before its rescue, faced a life of starvation and disease in the wild.