18 pages 36 minutes read

Naomi Shihab Nye

300 Goats

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide


“300 Goats” by Naomi Shihab Nye first appeared in the January 2016 issue of Poetry. It is a contemporary poem written in unrhymed free verse, with no formal pattern of meter. “300 Goats” has been described as an example of ecopoetry, in that it proposes an attitude of environmentalism toward the natural world, as opposed to passively observing it. In the poem, the speaker is visiting with a friend who keeps goats on a ranch “far from here” (Line 13). The weather is cold and icy, and the speaker is concerned for the goats’ welfare under such conditions. The poem offers two examples of how human beings perceive the lives of other animals in relation to their own. The speaker anthropomorphizes the goats, projecting her own concerns about comfort and safety onto them, while the speaker’s friend suggests that the goats know how to care for themselves without human intervention.

Poet Biography

Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet, novelist, and literary ambassador. Born in St. Louis, March 12, 1952, Nye spent her early childhood in Ferguson, Missouri, and spent her high school years in both the Old City in Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. She wrote her first poem when she was six, and she has since written more than two dozen books of poetry, three novels, a collection of short stories and multiple essays. She has edited numerous anthologies, including This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World.

Originally from Palestine, Nye’s father and his family left Palestine as refugees after the founding of Israel in 1948. He worked as a journalist and editor. Nye’s mother worked as a Montessori teacher. Nye earned a bachelor of arts degree from Trinity University in San Antonio in 1974.

Awards and accolades include four Pushcart Prizes, the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Robert Creeley Award, and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. She is a Guggenheim Poetry Fellow, a Witter Bynner Fellow, and a Lannan Literary Fellow. From 2019 until 2021, Nye served as the Young People’s Poet Laureate, designated by the Poetry Foundation. She was named laureate, as well, of the 2013 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature and served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2010-2015.

A self-proclaimed “wandering poet,” Nye is known for poetry that is deeply concerned with place. Her poems and other work address subjects including peace, cultural heritage, and humans’ relationships to the environment and to one another.

Poem Text

Nye, Naomi Shihab. “300 Goats.” 2016. Poetry Foundation.


In the poem, the speaker is visiting with a friend who keeps goats on a ranch, some distance from where the poem takes place. The weather is frigid, and the speaker wonders how the goats manage. In a parenthetical, the speaker takes a moment to ponder whether, in the Chinese zodiac, it is the goat or the sheep that is that year’s emblem—the question is whether that year’s animal representative is a “follower or leader” (Line 6).

At this point in the poem, the speaker offers a kind of prayer or wish that the goats find a way to stay warm and out of the “icy wind” (Line 9). Night is coming on. Eventually, the speaker asks her friend is she is “worried about” (Line 11) the goats. The speaker notes that her friend lives by herself on the goat ranch, which is remote. Her friend, the rancher, assures the speaker that she’s not too concerned about the animals, saying, “they know what to do. / They’re goats” (Line 15).