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  She lies upon the soft, enamoured grass,
    I' the wooing shelter of an apple-tree,
  And at her feet the tranc├ęd brook is glass,
    And in the blossoms over her the bee
    Hangs charm├ęd of his sordid industry;
  For love of her the light wind will not pass.


  Her golden hair, blown over her red lips,
    That seem two rose-leaves softly breathed apart,
  Athwart her rounded throat like sunshine slips;
    Her small hand, resting on her beating heart,
    The crook that tells her peaceful shepherd-art
  Scarce keeps with light and tremulous finger-tips.


  She is as fair as any shepherdess
    That ever was in mask or Christmas scene:
  Bright silver spangles hath she on her dress,
    And of her red-heeled shoes appears the sheen;
    And she hath ribbons of such blue or green
  As best suits pastoral people's comeliness.


  She sleeps, and it is in the month of May,
    And the whole land is full of the delight
  Of music and sweet scents; and all the day
    The sun is gold; the moon is pearl all night,
    And like a paradise the world is bright,
  And like a young girl's hopes the world is gay.


  So waned the hours; and while her beauteous sleep
    Was blest with many a happy dream of Love,
  Untended still, her silly, vagrant sheep
    Afar from that young shepherdess did rove,
    Along the vales and through the gossip grove,
  O'er daisied meads and up the thymy steep.


  Then (for it happens oft when harm is nigh,
    Our dreams grow haggard till at last we wake)
  She thought that from the little runnel by
    There crept upon a sudden forth a snake,
    And stung her hand, and fled into the brake;
  Whereat she sprang up with a bitter cry,


  And wildly over all that place did look,
    And could not spy her ingrate, wanton flock,--
  Not there among tall grasses by the brook,
    Not there behind the mossy-bearded rock;
    And pitiless Echo answered with a mock
  When she did sorrow that she was forsook.


  Alas! the scattered sheep might not be found,
    And long and loud that gentle maid did weep,
  Till in her blurr├ęd sight the hills went round,
    And, circling far, field, wood, and stream did sweep;
    And on the ground the miserable Bopeep
  Fell and forgot her troubles in a swound.


  When she awoke, the sun long time had set,
    And all the land was sleeping in the moon,
  And all the flowers with dim, sad dews were wet,
    As they had wept to see her in that swoon.
    It was about the night's low-breathing noon;
  Only the larger stars were waking yet.


  Bopeep, the fair and hapless shepherdess,
    Rose from her swooning in a sore dismay,
  And tried to smooth her damp and rumpled dress,
    That showed in truth a grievous disarray;
    Then where the brook the wan moon's mirror lay,
  She laved her eyes, and curled each golden tress.


  And looking to her ribbons, if they were
    As ribbons of a shepherdess should be,
  She took the hat that she was wont to wear
    (Bedecked it was with ribbons flying free
    As ever man in opera might see),
  And set it on her curls of yellow hair.


  "And I will go and seek my sheep," she said,
    "Through every distant land until I die;
  But when they bring me hither, cold and dead,
    Let me beneath these apple-blossoms lie,
    With this dear, faithful, lovely runnel nigh,
  Here, where my cru--cru--cruel sheep have fed."


  Thus sorrow and despair make bold Bopeep,
    And forth she springs, and hurries on her way:
  Across the lurking rivulet she can leap,
    No sombre forest shall her quest delay,
    No crooked vale her eager steps bewray:
  What dreadeth she that seeketh her lost sheep?


  By many a pond, where timorous water-birds,
    With clattering cries and throbbing wings, arose,
  By many a pasture, where the soft-eyed herds
    Looked shadow-huge in their unmoved repose,
    Long through the lonesome night that sad one goes
  And fills the solitude with wailing words;


  So that the little field-mouse dreams of harm,
    Snuggled away from harm beneath the weeds;
  The violet, sleeping on the clover's arm,
    Wakes, and is cold with thoughts of dreadful deeds;
    The pensive people of the water-reeds
  Hark with a mute and dolorous alarm.


  And the fond hearts of all the turtle-doves
    Are broken in compassion of her woe,
  And every tender little bird that loves
    Feels in his breast a sympathetic throe;
    And flowers are sad wherever she may go,
  And hoarse with sighs the waterfalls and groves.


  The pale moon droppeth low; star after star
    Grows faint and slumbers in the gray of dawn;
  And still she lingers not, but hurries far,
    Till in a dreary wilderness withdrawn
    Through tangled woods she lorn and lost moves on,
  Where griffins dire and dreadful dragons are.


  Her ribbons all are dripping with the dew,
    Her red-heeled shoes are torn, and stained with mire,
  Her tender arms the angry sharpness rue
    Of many a scraggy thorn and envious brier;
    And poor Bopeep, with no sweet pity nigh her,
  Wrings her small hands, and knows not what to do.


  And on that crude and rugged ground she sinks,
    And soon her seeking had been ended there,
  But through the trees a fearful glimmer shrinks,
    And of a hermit's dwelling she is 'ware:
    At the dull pane a dull-eyed taper blinks,
  Drowsed with long vigils and the morning air.


  Thither she trembling moves, and at the door
    Falls down, and cannot either speak or stir:
  The hermit comes,--with no white beard before,
    Nor coat of skins, nor cap of shaggy fur:
    It was a comely youth that lifted her,
  And to his hearth, and to his breakfast, bore.


  Arrayed he was in princeliest attire,
    And of as goodly presence sooth was he
  As any little maiden might admire,
    Or any king-beholding cat might see
    "My poor Bopeep," he sigheth piteously,
  "Rest here, and warm you at a hermit's fire."


  She looked so beautiful, there, mute and white,
    He kissed her on the lips and on the eyes
  (The most a prince could do in such a plight);
    But chiefly gazed on her in still surprise,
    And when he saw her lily eyelids rise,
  For him the whole world had no fairer sight.


  "Rude is my fare: a bit of venison steak,
    A dish of honey and a glass of wine,
  With clean white bread, is the poor feast I make.
    Be served, I pray: I think this flask is fine,"
    He said. "Hard is this hermit life of mine:
  This day I will its weariness forsake."


  And then he told her how it chanced that he,
    King Cole's son, in that forest held his court,
  And the sole reason that there seemed to be
    Was, he was being hermit there for sport;
    But he confessed the life was not his forte,
  And therewith both laughed out right jollily.


  And sly Bopeep forgot her sheep again
    In gay discourse with that engaging youth:
  Love hath such sovran remedies for pain!
    But then he was a handsome prince, in truth,
    And both were young, and both were silly, sooth,
  And everything to Love but love seems vain.


  They took them down the silver-clasp├ęd book
    That this young anchorite's predecessor kept,--
  A holy seer,--and through it they did look;
    Sometimes their idle eyes together crept,
    Sometimes their lips; but still the leaves they swept,
  Until they found a shepherd's pictured crook.


  And underneath was writ it should befall
    On such a day, in such a month and year,
  A maiden fair, a young prince brave and tall,
    By such a chance should come together here.
    They were the people, that was very clear:
  "O love," the prince said, "let us read it all!"


  And thus the hermit's prophecy ran on:
    Though she her lost sheep wist not where to find,
  Yet should she bid her weary care begone,
    And banish every doubt from her sweet mind:
    They, with their little snow-white tails behind,
  Homeward would go, if they were left alone.


  They closed the book, and in her happy eyes
    The prince read truth and love forevermore,--
  Better than any hermit's prophecies!
    They passed together from the cavern's door;
    Embraced, they turned to look at it once more,
  And over it beheld the glad sun rise,


  That streamed before them aisles of dusk and gold
    Under the song-swept arches of the wood,
  And forth they went, tranced in each other's hold,
    Down through that rare and luminous solitude,
    Their happy hearts enchanted in the mood
  Of morning, and of May, and romance old.


  Sometimes the saucy leaves would kiss her cheeks,
    And he must kiss their wanton kiss away;
  To die beneath her feet the wood-flower seeks,
    The quivering aspen feels a fine dismay,
    And many a scented blossom on the spray
  In odorous sighs its passionate longing speaks.


  And forth they went down to that stately stream,
    Bowed over by the ghostly sycamores
  (Awearily, as if some heavy dream
    Held them in languor), but whose opulent shores
    With pearl├ęd shells and dusts of precious ores
  Were tremulous brilliance in the morning beam;


  Where waited them, beside the lustrous sand,
    A silk-winged shallop, sleeping on the flood;
  And smoothly wafted from the hither strand,
    Across the calm, broad stream they lightly rode,
    Under them still the silver fishes stood;
  The eager lilies, on the other land,


  Beckon├ęd them; but where the castle shone
    With diamonded turrets and a wall
  Of gold-embedded pearl and costly stone,
    Their vision to its peerless splendor thrall
    The maiden fair, the young prince brave and tall,
  Thither with light, unlingering feet pressed on.


  A gallant train to meet this loving pair,
    In silk and steel, moves from the castle door,
  And up the broad and ringing castle stair
    They go with gleeful minstrelsy before,
    And "Hail our prince and princess evermore!"
  From all the happy throng is greeting there.


  And in the hall the prince's sire, King Cole,
    Sitting with crown and royal ermine on,
  His fiddlers three behind with pipe and bowl,
    Rises and moves to lift his kneeling son,
    Greeting his bride with kisses many a one,
  And tears and laughter from his jolly soul;


  Then both his children to a window leads
    That over daisied pasture-land looks out,
  And shows Bopeep where her lost flock wide feeds,
    And every frolic lambkin leaps about.
    She hears Boy-Blue, that lazy shepherd, shout,
  Slow pausing from his pipe of mellow reeds;


  And, turning, peers into her prince's eyes;
    Then, caught and clasped against her prince's heart,
  Upon her breath her answer wordless dies,
    And leaves her gratitude to sweeter art,--
    To lips from which the bloom shall never part,
  To looks wherein the summer never dies!


William Dean Howells