CELT document E910001-059

Shepherd and Goatherd

William Butler Yeats

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  1. Shepherd

    That cry's from the first cuckoo of the year.
    I wished before it ceased.

    Nor bird nor beast
    Could make me wish for anything this day,
    Being old, but that the old alone might die,
    And that would be against God's providence.
    Let the young wish. But what has brought you here?
    Never until this moment have we met
    Where my goats browse on the scarce grass or leap
    From stone to Stone.
  2. Shepherd

    I am looking for strayed sheep;
    Something has troubled me and in my trouble
    I let them stray. I thought of rhyme alone,
    For rhyme can beat a measure out of trouble
    And make the daylight sweet once more; but when
    I had driven every rhyme into its place
    The sheep had gone from theirs.

    I know right well
    What turned so good a shepherd from his charge.
  3. Shepherd

    He that was best in every country sport
    And every country craft, and of us all
    Most courteous to slow age and hasty youth,
    Is dead.

    The boy that brings my griddle-cake
    Brought the bare news.
  4. Shepherd

    He had thrown the crook away
    And died in the great war beyond the sea.

    He had often played his pipes among my hills,
    And when he played it was their loneliness,
    The exultation of their stone, that cried
    Under his fingers.
  5. Shepherd

    I had it from his mother,
    And his own flock was browsing at the door.

    How does she bear her grief? There is not a shepherd
    But grows more gentle when he speaks her name,
    Remembering kindness done, and how can I,
    That found when I had neither goat nor grazing
    New welcome and old wisdom at her fire
    Till winter blasts were gone, but speak of her
    Even before his children and his wife.
  6. Shepherd

    She goes about her house erect and calm
    Between the pantry and the linen-chest,
    Or else at meadow or at grazing overlooks
    Her labouring men, as though her darling lived,
    But for her grandson now; there is no change
    But such as I have Seen upon her face
    Watching our shepherd sports at harvest-time
    When her son's turn was over.

    Sing your song.
    I too have rhymed my reveries, but youth
    Is hot to show whatever it has found,
    And till that's done can neither work nor wait.
    Old goatherds and old goats, if in all else
    Youth can excel them in accomplishment,
    Are learned in waiting.
  7. Shepherd

    You cannot but have seen
    That he alone had gathered up no gear,
    Set carpenters to work on no wide table,
    On no long bench nor lofty milking-shed  p.144
    As others will, when first they take possession,
    But left the house as in his father's time
    As though he knew himself, as it were, a cuckoo,
    No settled man. And now that he is gone
    There's nothing of him left but half a score
    Of sorrowful, austere, sweet, lofty pipe tunes.

    You have put the thought in rhyme.
  8. Shepherd

    I worked all day,
    And when 'twas done so little had I done
    That maybe “I am sorry” in plain prose
    Had sounded better to your mountain fancy.
  9. Shepherd (sings)

    'Like the speckled bird that steers
    Thousands of leagues oversea,
    And runs or a while half-flies
    On his yellow legs through our meadows,
    He stayed for a while; and we
    Had scarcely accustomed our ears
    To his speech at the break of day,
    Had scarcely accustomed our eyes
    To his shape at the rinsing-pool
    Among the evening shadows,
    When he vanished from ears and eyes.
    I might have wished on the day
    He came, but man is a fool.'

    You sing as always of the natural life,
    And I that made like music in my youth
    Hearing it now have sighed for that young man
    And certain lost companions of my own.
  10. Shepherd

    They say that on your barren mountain ridge
    You have measured out the road that the soul treads
    When it has vanished from our natural eyes;
    That you have talked with apparitions.

    My daily thoughts since the first stupor of youth
    Have found the path my goats' feet cannot find.
  11.  p.145
  12. Shepherd

    Sing, for it may be that your thoughts have plucked
    Some medicable herb to make our grief
    Less bitter.

    They have brought me from that ridge
    Seed-pods and flowers that are not all wild poppy.
  13. Goatherd (sings)

    'He grows younger every second
    That were all his birthdays reckoned
    Much too solemn seemed;
    Because of what he had dreamed,
    Or the ambitions that he served,
    Much too solemn and reserved.
    Jaunting, journeying
    To his own dayspring,
    He unpacks the loaded pern
    Of all 'twas pain or joy to learn,
    Of all that he had made.
    The outrageous war shall fade;
    At some old winding whitethorn root
    He'll practise on the shepherd's flute,
    Or on the close-cropped grass
    Court his shepherd lass,
    Or put his heart into some game
    Till daytime, playtime seem the same;
    Knowledge he shall unwind
    Through victories of the mind,
    Till, clambering at the cradle-side,
    He dreams himself his mother's pride,
    All knowledge lost in trance
    Of sweeter ignorance.'

    When I have shut these ewes and this old ram
    Into the fold, we'll to the woods and there
    Cut out our rhymes on strips of new-torn bark
    But put no name and leave them at her door.
    To know the mountain and the valley have grieved
    May be a quiet thought to wife and mother,
    And children when they spring up shoulder-high.

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Title statement

Title (uniform): Shepherd and Goatherd

Author: William Butler Yeats

Responsibility statement

Electronic edition compiled and proof-read by: Beatrix Färber

Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork

Edition statement

1. First draft.

Extent: 1722 words

Publication statement

Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2014

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E910001-059

Availability: The works by W. B. Yeats are in the public domain. This electronic text is available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of private or academic research and teaching.

Notes statement

This poem was finished on 19 March 1918 and first published in The Wild Swans at Coole with the title The Sad Shepherd. The title was changed in Collected Poems (A. Norman Jeffares, p. 172).

Source description

Literature (a small selection)

  1. Jeremiah Curtin, Myths and Folk-lore in Ireland (Boston 1890).
  2. W. B. Yeats, The Rose (1893).
  3. W. B. Yeats, Poems (London 1895).
  4. Edmund Spenser, Astrophel, (first published 1595), reprinted in: The Complete Poetical Worksof Edmund Spenser (Cambridge 1908).
  5. W. B. Yeats, The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats, consisting of Reveries over childhood and youth, The trembling of the veil, and Dramatis personae (New York 1938).
  6. Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks. Corrected edition with a new preface (Oxford 1979). [First published New York 1948; reprinted London 1961.]
  7. Peter Allt and Russell K. Alspach, The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W.B. Yeats (New York: Macmillan 1957).
  8. W. B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions (New York: Macmillan 1961).
  9. W. B. Yeats, Explorations: selected by Mrs W. B. Yeats (London/New York: Macmillan 1962).
  10. Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats (New York 1964).
  11. A. Norman Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems of W.B. Yeats (Stanford 1984).
  12. Helen Vendler, Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form (Oxford/New York 2007).
  13. A general bibliography is available online at the official web site of the Nobel Prize. See: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1923/yeats-bibl.html

The edition used in the digital edition

Yeats, William Butler (1991). ‘Shepherd and Goatherd’. In: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats‍. Ed. by Richard J. Finneran. London: Macmillan Press, pp. 142–145.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  author 	 = {William Butler Yeats},
  title 	 = {Shepherd and Goatherd},
  editor 	 = {Richard J. Finneran},
  booktitle 	 = {The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats},
  publisher 	 = {Macmillan Press},
  address 	 = { London},
  date 	 = {1991},
  pages 	 = {142–145}


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Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

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The whole poem.

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Correction: The text has been proof-read twice.

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Interpretation: Names of persons (given names), and places are not tagged. Terms for cultural and social roles are not tagged.

Profile description


Date: March 1918

Language usage

  • The poem is in English. (en)

Keywords: poetry; W. B. Yeats; 19c; Bucolism

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2014-04-29: File parsed and validated; SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2014-04-03: File proofed (1); structural markup applied according to CELT practice; TEI header created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 1996: Text captured (data capture Donnchadh Ó Corráin)

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