Let me begin by making one general point. In talking about my poems, I don’t want to preclude anybody else’s interpretation. I think its absolutely essential that everyone should have his own interpretation of my poems, or anybody’s poems. I have been asked on this occasion, though, what my poems are supposed to be about from my standpoint, and what I have tried to do in them. But let me emphasize that I’m not trying to impose an official interpretation on the poems; that would be the last thing I would want to do. As one reader of my verse and as the person who happened to create the poems, I offer the following remarks for whatever interest they have to people who want to look at the poems from my standpoint as well as their own.
"The Sheep Child" comes out of the most horrible thing anybody ever told me in my childhood. A boy named Dick Harris once gave me to understand that a man and a sheep can conceive progeny. I asked him if that was really true and he said, "Oh sure, everybody knows that! Way down on the south side of Atlanta there’s this museum, and way back in the corner where nobody would ever look, there’s this little thing like a woolly baby in a bottle of alcohol, because those things can’t live. I could probably find out where it is, and take you down there and show it to you." He never did, thank God! To this day I’m afraid to run into him again, because he might still take me down there and show it to me! But one day I thought this was a possibility for a poem, and so I wrote it. I took the situation seriously and tried to discover some of the implications of what such beings might be like.
I believe that farm boys develop a kind of private mythology that has the effect of preventing too much of this sort of thing from going on. It doesn’t prevent all of it, you understand, but it keeps it within reasonable bounds—whatever they might be. The first part of the poem is a recounting of the farm boys’ legend of the sheep child in the museum. But the second part of the poem is supposed to be spoken by the sheep child himself from his bottle of formaldehyde in the museum. I don’t know what other defects or virtues this poem might have, but I think it can hardly be faulted from the standpoint of originality of viewpoint, at least in the latter section!
I intended no blasphemy or obscenity by this poem at all. I tried to the best of my ability to write a poem about the universal need for contact between living creatures that runs through all of sentient nature and recognizes no boundaries of species or anything else. Really the heroine of the poem is the female sheep who accepts the monstrous conjunction and bears the monstrous child, because in some animal way she recognizes the need that it is born from. I tried to give the sheep child himself a double vision of the destiny of man and animal.
[quotes ll. 41-48]
What I intended was that this contra naturum creature born from this monstrous, clandestine marriage between a human being and an animal is not contra naturum but very much naturum. It is evidence of the blind and renewing need for contact between any kind of living creature with another kind. This need is much larger than and transcends any kind of man-made, artificial boundaries. And yet, because of men’s minds and attitudes, men develop a mythology to keep it from happening. Paradoxically, it’s probably just as well that they do. But when things of this sort happen, it seemed to me to be evidence of this larger need that I was attempting to comment on.