Verse > A.E. Housman > A Shropshire Lad
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A. E. Housman (1859–1936).  A Shropshire Lad.  1896.
 
IX. On moonlit heath and lonesome bank
 
 
ON moonlit heath and lonesome bank
  The sheep beside me graze;
And yon the gallows used to clank
  Fast by the four cross ways.
 
A careless shepherd once would keep        5
  The flocks by moonlight there, 1
And high amongst the glimmering sheep
  The dead man stood on air.
 
They hang us now in Shrewsbury jail:
  The whistles blow forlorn,        10
And trains all night groan on the rail
  To men that die at morn.
 
There sleeps in Shrewsbury jail to-night,
  Or wakes, as may betide,
A better lad, if things went right,        15
  Than most that sleep outside.
 
And naked to the hangman’s noose
  The morning clocks will ring
A neck God made for other use
  Than strangling in a string.        20
 
And sharp the link of life will snap,
  And dead on air will stand
Heels that held up as straight a chap
  As treads upon the land.
 
So here I ’ll watch the night and wait        25
  To see the morning shine,
When he will hear the stroke of eight
  And not the stroke of nine;
 
And wish my friend as sound a sleep
  As lads’ I did not know,        30
That shepherded the moonlit sheep
  A hundred years ago.

Line 6: Hanging in chains was called keeping sheep by moonlight.
 

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