The Barnyard Ducks

In General Conference, 1963, President David O. McKay said,

“Real life is response to the best within us. To be alive only to appetite, pleasure, pride, money-making, and not to goodness and kindness, purity and love, poetry, music, flowers, stars, God and eternal hopes, is to deprive one’s self of the real joy of living.”

Join me in an effort to open up to some of the “real joys of living” through poetry. Of the few versions of this poem that exist, the one below is the version I’m most familiar with.

The Barnyard Ducks

There are three ducks in our backyard
Dabbling in the mud and trying hard
To get their share, or even more,
Of the overflowing barnyard store
Satisfied with the task they’re at
Of eating, and sleeping, and just getting fat

But whenever the free, wild ducks fly by
Their long line streaming across the sky
They cock a quizzical, puzzled eye
And flap their wings and try to fly

Oh, I think my soul is a tame old duck
Dabbling around in barnyard muck
Fat and lazy, with useless wings
Yet sometimes, when the North wind sings
And wild ones hurtle overhead
It remembers something lost and dead
And cocks a lazy, bewildered eye
And flaps its wings, and tries to fly

Oh, it’s content with the state it’s in
But it’s not the duck it might have been


This poem teaches me something about the dangers of complacency. It’s easy for me to get comfortable with where I am at, and to be satisfied with my status quo. Certainly the barnyard is not a bad place to be, and neither is the overflowing store found within a bad thing to have. Yet in the case of the barnyard ducks, their indulgence in excess cost them dearly; with each additional moment dabbling in the muck, they grew farther from their potential.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said,

“The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.”

I will admit that among my “good” pursuits, I enjoy watching TV, or playing video games, or reading a thrilling novel or comic book. And yet Elder Oaks cautions,

“Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it.”

Your vice may be different, and it may not even be a vice at all. It may be something wonderful, something good. But some things are better, and others are best. Elder Oaks tells us that our Heavenly Father’s plan is designed to qualify us for “eternal life… the greatest of all the gifts of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7; see also Doctrine and Covenants 76:51–59). If something good keeps us from clinging to something best, something that will move us forward on the path towards eternal life, something that will prevent us from stretching our wings and flying into the horizon, perhaps we should reevaluate its’ prominence in our lives.

May we not be like the barnyard ducks, sacrificing our potential to live a lesser life of comfort.  It is not what we have been created for. May we instead choose the best, and pay the price necessary in order to soar.


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