Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Cowboy poetry

This announces the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at the end of this month in Elko, Nevada. I don’t know anything about it, but it sounds as though it might be good. What is cowboy poetry? I don’t know, but I was recently reminded of a line from a San Peckinpah film, Ride the High Country, that I think is fine. Two old lawmen, whose time is past, are hired to take gold from a mine to the town. One of them is tempted to forget about the old morality, and tries to persuade the other to steal the loot (The actors are Joel McRae and Randolph Scott). They would become rich and live out their last days in luxury. Randolph Scott tries to persuade McRae to steel, and says: "What’s on the back of a poor man when he dies? The clothes of pride. And they’re not any warmer to him than when he was alive. Is that all you want, Steve?" Joel McRae replies: "All I want is to enter my house justified."

A nice by essay by John Marini entitled, "Western Justice: John Ford and Sam Peckinpah on the Defense of the Heroic," reminded me of this great scene. It is to be found in the just published book, The California Republic, edited by Brian P. Janiskee and Ken Masugi. There are other fine essays in the volume; very much worth a look.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Peter, thanks for noticing our book. Spencer Warren, whose wonderful film reviews can be found on Claremont.org, argues that the actual line is "Enter my FATHER’S house justified." I don’t know whether that is the case, but that would be even better.

I am not religious but am a great fan of Peckinpah’s "Ride the High Country" -- the first film of his career and the one he could never top. No wonder he drank!

That "enter my house justified" line made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end when I first heard it. It summed up so succinctly the code of honor that has always been threatened by materialism -- as much in the days of the Wild West as now.

And in Biblical times, too. The original text from the Old Testament is "enter my father’s house justified," where "my father’s house" is the Temple, and "justified" is blessed.

Peckinpah nicely secularized the phrase by leaving out the "my father" part. (He said he learned the line from HIS father just before he died.)

I have no desire to enter a temple in a "blessed" state, but a great yearning be self-sufficient through honorable endeavors, and that is what I think Peckinpah was alluding to in that phrase.

The context bears this out, I believe.

I watched Ride the High Country yesterday for the first time in forty-some years because I wanted to hear Joel McCrae say that line again: "I just want to enter my house justified." I figured it must be from the Bible. Now that I know the actual quote is about "my Father's house" I suppose I can find exactly where from a concordance. I agree Peckinpah secularized it nicely. He delivered it through his dramatic skills in such a way that it strikes home and stays in the mind without one's having to be a person of faith. The moral and self-sufficient man's way of meeting death.

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