11-8-12 Sheep May Safely Graze









A witty off the cuff remark by by the superb pianist Leon Fleisher prior to playing Bach’s joyful “Sheep May Safely Graze”, that the cantata is a vegetarian’s anthem, was a perfect way to begin the day after a, maybe, victorious election. “That’s for for us, Wolly,” I exulted before remembering while the smell of searing flesh ignites a reflexive action in me, forced smile, averted gaze, Wolly’s ears lift expectantly, tail gently swaying to and fro.  Wolly eats hamburger, or, steak when she can get it. I console myself knowing I am a little less Darwin’s prisoner than she. I wondered if there was anything in the cantata lyrics, which I could never remember hearing, that might help Wolly along the path to enlightenment and checked it out.

What I found surprised me.  First, “Sheep May Safely Graze” is a secular cantata, not a religious hymn.  Second, it is the third movement in the expanded Hunter’s Cantata (that didn’t make me happy) composed for some long forgotten member of Germany’s 1% on his birthday.

Sheep may safely graze on pasture
When the shepherd guards them well.
Where rulers govern well
we may feel peace and rest
and what makes countries happy

It is a temporal lord to whom Bach dedicated his cheerful and loving music. We have no Bach to turn to for rousing cries, so we are left on our own to make a joyful noise. After a year of lies and evasions, we, too, celebrate a secular liege who promises to guard us well. As a precaution against further unpleasant surprises arising, such as the untrammeled right to kill wild creatures to protect one’s passive charges, I have a short list of questions for the Ruler of the Known World.

  • Why are the citizens of Rockaway freezing while Wall Street is humming?
  • Why are we killing innocent people with unmanned Drone strikes?
  • Why are we trying to export democracy to the Middle East when, as Daniel Boorstin pointed out forty years ago, democracy is a process.  It isn’t a product.
  • Why do we ignore the the century of American Indian misery after we forced them off their tribal lands? While we’re at it, what about the Palestinians?
  • Why do the poorest of the shivering poor find it necessary to exalt American values while the richest of the rich shrug them off as so much window dressing?


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