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The Idle Shepherd Boys




[Footnote 5: 'Gill', in the dialect of Cumberland and Westmoreland,
is a short and for the most part a steep narrow valley, with a stream
running through it. Force is the word universally employed in these
dialects for Waterfall.]


The valley rings with mirth and joy,
Among the hills the Echoes play
A never, never ending song
To welcome in the May.
The Magpie chatters with delight;

The mountain Raven's youngling Brood
Have left the Mother and the Nest,
And they go rambling east and west
In search of their own food,
Or thro' the glittering Vapors dart
In very wantonness of Heart.


Beneath a rock, upon the grass,
Two Boys are sitting in the sun;
It seems they have no work to do
Or that their work is done.
On pipes of sycamore they play
The fragments of a Christmas Hymn,
Or with that plant which in our dale
We call Stag-horn, or Fox's Tail
Their rusty Hats they trim:
And thus as happy as the Day,
Those Shepherds wear the time away.


Along the river's stony marge
The sand-lark chaunts a joyous song;
The thrush is busy in the Wood,
And carols loud and strong.
A thousand lambs are on the rocks,
All newly born! both earth and sky
Keep jubilee, and more than all,
Those Boys with their green Coronal,
They never hear the cry,
That plaintive cry! which up the hill
Comes from the depth of Dungeon-Gill.


Said Walter, leaping from the ground,
"Down to the stump of yon old yew
I'll run with you a race."--No more--
Away the Shepherds flew.
They leapt, they ran, and when they came
Right opposite to Dungeon-Gill,
Seeing, that he should lose the prize,
"Stop!" to his comrade Walter cries--
James stopp'd with no good will:
Said Walter then, "Your task is here,
'Twill keep you working half a year."


"Till you have cross'd where I shall cross,
Say that you'll neither sleep nor eat."
James proudly took him at his word,
But did not like the feat.
It was a spot, which you may see
If ever you to Langdale go:
Into a chasm a mighty Block
Hath fallen, and made a bridge of rock;
The gulph is deep below,
And in a bason black and small
Receives a lofty Waterfall.


With staff in hand across the cleft
The Challenger began his march;
And now, all eyes and feet, hath gain'd
The middle of the arch.
When list! he hears a piteous moan--
Again! his heart within him dies--
His pulse is stopp'd, his breath is lost,
He totters, pale as any ghost,
And, looking down, he spies
A Lamb, that in the pool is pent
Within that black and frightful rent.


The Lamb had slipp'd into the stream,
And safe without a bruise or wound
The Cataract had borne him down
Into the gulph profound,
His dam had seen him when he fell,
She saw him down the torrent borne;
And while with all a mother's love
She from the lofty rocks above
Sent forth a cry forlorn,
The Lamb, still swimming round and round
Made answer to that plaintive sound.


When he had learnt, what thing it was,
That sent this rueful cry; I ween,
The Boy recover'd heart, and told
The sight which he had seen.
Both gladly now deferr'd their task;
Nor was there wanting other aid--
A Poet, one who loves the brooks
Far better than the sages' books,
By chance had thither stray'd;
And there the helpless Lamb he found
By those huge rocks encompass'd round.


He drew it gently from the pool,
And brought it forth into the light;
The Shepherds met him with his charge
An unexpected sight!
Into their arms the Lamb they took,
Said they, "He's neither maim'd nor scarr'd"--
Then up the steep ascent they hied
And placed him at his Mother's side;
And gently did the Bard
Those idle Shepherd-boys upbraid,
And bade them better mind their trade.

'Tis said, that some have died for love:
And here and there a church-yard grave is found
In the cold North's unhallow'd ground,
Because the wretched man himself had slain,
His love was such a grievous pain.
And there is one whom I five years have known;
He dwells alone
Upon Helvellyn's side.
He loved--The pretty Barbara died,
And thus he makes his moan:
Three years had Barbara in her grave been laid
When thus his moan he made.

Oh! move thou Cottage from behind that oak
Or let the aged tree uprooted lie,
That in some other way yon smoke
May mount into the sky!
The clouds pass on; they from the Heavens depart:
I look--the sky is empty space;
I know not what I trace;
But when I cease to look, my hand is on my heart.

O! what a weight is in these shades! Ye leaves,
When will that dying murmur be suppress'd?
Your sound my heart of peace bereaves,
It robs my heart of rest.
Thou Thrush, that singest loud and loud and free,
Into yon row of willows flit,
Upon that alder sit;
Or sing another song, or chuse another tree

Roll back, sweet rill! back to thy mountain bounds,
And there for ever be thy waters chain'd!
For thou dost haunt the air with sounds
That cannot be sustain'd;
If still beneath that pine-tree's ragged bough
Headlong yon waterfall must come,
Oh let it then be dumb!--
Be any thing, sweet rill, but that which thou art now.

Thou Eglantine whose arch so proudly towers
(Even like a rainbow spanning half the vale)
Thou one fair shrub, oh! shed thy flowers,
And stir not in the gale.
For thus to see thee nodding in the air,
To see thy arch thus stretch and bend,
Thus rise and thus descend,
Disturbs me, till the sight is more than I can bear.

The man who makes this feverish complaint
Is one of giant stature, who could dance
Equipp'd from head to foot in iron mail.
Ah gentle Love! if ever thought was thine
To store up kindred hours for me, thy face
Turn from me, gentle Love, nor let me walk
Within the sound of Emma's voice, or know
Such happiness as I have known to-day.

William Wordsworth