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The Calf-Path


One day through the primeval wood

A calf walked home, as good calves should;

But made a trail all bent askew,

A crooked trail as all calves do.



Since then three hundred years have fled,

And I infer the calf is dead.

But still he left behind his trail,

And thereby hangs my moral tale:



The trail was taken up next day

By a lone dog that passed that way;

And then a wise bellwether sheep

Pursued the trail o'er hill and glade

Through those old woods a path was made.



And many men wound in and out

And dodged and turned and bent about

And uttered words of righteous wrath

Because 'twas such a crooked path;

But still they followed -- do not laugh --

The first migrations of that calf,

And through this winding wood-way stalked

Because he wobbled when he walked.



This forest path became a lane

That bent and turned and turned again;

This crooked lane became a road,

Where many a horse with his load

Toiled on beneath the burning sun,

And traveled some three miles in one.

And thus a century and a half

They trod the footsteps of that calf.



The years passed on in swiftness fleet,

The road became a village street;

And thus, before men were aware,

A city's crowded thoroughfare.

And soon the central street was this

Of a renowned metropolis;

And men two centuries and a half

Trod in the footsteps of that calf.



Each day a hundred thousand rout

Followed this zigzag calf about

And o'er his crooked journey went

The traffic of a continent.



A hundred thousand men were led

By one calf near three centuries dead.

They followed still his crooked way,

And lost one hundred years a day;

For thus such reverence is lent

To well-established precedent.



For men are prone to go it blind,

Along the calf-paths of the mind;

And work away from sun to sun,

To do what other men have done.



They follow in the beaten track,

And out and in, and forth and back,

And still their devious course pursue,

To keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred groove,

Along which all their lives they move.

But how the wise old wood gods laugh,

Who saw that first primeval calf!



Edited from a poem by Sam Walter Foss, 1895



Quoted in The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing: How to Trigger Exponential Sales Through Runaway Word of Mouth By George Silverman, AMACOM. This book will keep you off the crooked road of conventional marketing and set you on the straight and narrow path to greatly increased sales with less marketing expenditure.

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