Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Sheep-Washing
By James Thomson (1700–1748)
From the ‘Seasons’—Summer

THE MEEK-EYED morn appears, mother of dews,
At first faint gleaming in the dappled east;
Till far o’er ether spreads the widening glow,
And from before the lustre of her face,
White break the clouds away. With quickened step        5
Brown night retires. Young day pours in apace,
And opens all the lawny prospect wide.
The dripping rock, the mountain’s misty top,
Swell on the sight and brighten with the dawn….
Roused by the cock, the soon-clad shepherd leaves        10
His mossy cottage, where with peace he dwells;
And from the crowded fold, in order, drives
His flock to taste the verdure of the morn….
  Now swarms the village o’er the jovial mead:
The rustic youth, brown with meridian toil,        15
Healthful and strong; full as the summer rose
Blown by prevailing suns, the ruddy maid,
Half naked, swelling on the sight, and all
Her kindled graces burning o’er her cheek;
Even stooping age is here; and infant hands        20
Trail the long rake, or with the fragrant load
O’ercharged, amid the kind oppression roll.
Wide flies the tedded grain; all in a row
Advancing broad, or wheeling round the field,
They spread their breathing harvest to the sun,        25
That throws refreshful round a rural smell;
Or as they rake the green-appearing ground,
And drive the dusky wave along the mead,
The russet hay-cock rises thick behind,
In order gay: while heard from dale to dale,        30
Waking the breeze, resounds the blended voice
Of happy labor, love and social glee.
  Or rushing thence in one diffusive band,
They drive the troubled flocks, by many a dog
Compelled to where the mazy-running brook        35
Forms a deep pool; this bank abrupt and high,
And that fair-spreading in a pebbled shore.
Urged to the giddy brink, much is the toil,
The clamor much of men and boys and dogs,
Ere the soft fearful people to the flood        40
Commit their woolly sides. And oft the swain,
On some, impatient, seizing hurls them in:
Emboldened then, nor hesitating more,
Fast, fast they plunge amid the flashing wave,
And panting, labor to the farther shore.        45
Repeated this, till deep the well-washed fleece
Has drunk the flood, and from his lively haunt
The trout is banished by the sordid stream.
Heavy and dripping, to the breezy brow
Slow move the harmless race: where as they spread        50
Their swelling treasures to the sunny ray,
Inly disturbed, and wondering what this wild
Outrageous tumult means, their loud complaints
The country fill; and tossed from rock to rock,
Incessant bleatings run around the hills.        55
At last of snowy white, the gathered flocks
Are in the wattled pen, innumerous pressed,
Head above head; and ranged in lusty rows
The shepherds sit, and whet the sounding shears.
The housewife waits to roll her fleecy stores,        60
With all her gay-drest maids attending round.
One, chief, in gracious dignity enthroned,
Shines o’er the rest, the pastoral queen, and rays
Her smiles, sweet-beaming, on her shepherd-king;
While the glad circle round them yield their souls        65
To festive mirth, and wit that knows no gall.
Meantime their joyous task goes on apace:
Some mingling stir the melted tar, and some,
Deep on the new-shorn vagrant’s heaving side,
To stamp his master’s cypher ready stand;        70
Others the unwilling wether drag along;
And glorying in his might, the sturdy boy
Holds by the twisted horns the indignant ram.
Behold where, bound and of its robe bereft
By needy man,—that all-depending lord,—        75
How meek, how patient, the mild creature lies!
What softness in its melancholy face,
What dumb complaining innocence appears!
Fear not, ye gentle tribes,—’tis not the knife
Of horrid slaughter that is o’er you waved;        80
No, ’tis the tender swain’s well-guided shears,
Who having now, to pay his annual care,
Borrowed your fleece, to you a cumbrous load,
Will send you bounding to your hills again.

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