Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works
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THE LAST OF THE FLOCK

                                   I

          IN distant countries have I been,
          And yet I have not often seen
          A healthy man, a man full grown,
          Weep in the public roads, alone.
          But such a one, on English ground,
          And in the broad highway, I met;
          Along the broad highway he came,
          His cheeks with tears were wet:
          Sturdy he seemed, though he was sad;
          And in his arms a Lamb he had.

                                   II

          He saw me, and he turned aside,
          As if he wished himself to hide:
          And with his coat did then essay
          To wipe those briny tears away.
          I followed him, and said, "My friend,
          What ails you? wherefore weep you so?"
          --"Shame on me, Sir! this lusty Lamb,
          He makes my tears to flow.
          To-day I fetched him from the rock;
          He is the last of all my flock,

                                   III

          "When I was young, a single man,
          And after youthful follies ran,
          Though little given to care and thought,
          Yet, so it was, an ewe I bought;
          And other sheep from her I raised,
          As healthy sheep as you might see;
          And then I married, and was rich
          As I could wish to be;
          Of sheep I numbered a full score,
          And every year increased my store.

                                   IV

          "Year after year my stock it grew;
          And from this one, this single ewe,
          Full fifty comely sheep I raised,
          As fine a flock as ever grazed!
          Upon the Quantock hills they fed;
          They throve, and we at home did thrive:
          --This lusty Lamb of all my store
          Is all that is alive;
          And now I care not if we die,
          And perish all of poverty.

                                   V

          "Six Children, Sir! had I to feed;
          Hard labour in a time of need!
          My pride was tamed, and in our grief
          I of the Parish asked relief.
          They said, I was a wealthy man;
          My sheep upon the uplands fed,
          And it was fit that thence I took
          Whereof to buy us bread.
          'Do this: how can we give to you,'
          They cried, 'what to the poor is due?'

                                   VI

          "I sold a sheep, as they had said,
          And bought my little children bread,
          And they were healthy with their food
          For me--it never did me good.
          A woeful time it was for me,
          To see the end of all my gains,
          The pretty flock which I had reared
          With all my care and pains,
          To see it melt like snow away--
          For me it was a woeful day.

                                 VII

          "Another still! and still another!
          A little lamb, and then its mother!
          It was a vein that never stopped--
          Like blood-drops from my heart they dropped.
          'Till thirty were not left alive
          They dwindled, dwindled, one by one
          And I may say, that many a time
          I wished they all were gone--
          Reckless of what might come at last
          Were but the bitter struggle past.

                                  VIII

          "To wicked deeds I was inclined,
          And wicked fancies crossed my mind;
          And every man I chanced to see,
          I thought he knew some ill of me:
          No peace, no comfort could I find,
          No ease, within doors or without;
          And, crazily and wearily
          I went my work about;
          And oft was moved to flee from home,
          And hide my head where wild beasts roam.

                                   IX

          "Sir! 'twas a precious flock to me,
          As dear as my own children be;
          For daily with my growing store
          I loved my children more and more.
          Alas! it was an evil time;
          God cursed me in my sore distress;
          I prayed, yet every day I thought
          I loved my children less;
          And every week, and every day,
          My flock it seemed to melt away.

                                   X

          "They dwindled, Sir, sad sight to see!
          From ten to five, from five to three,
          A lamb, a wether, and a ewe;--
          And then at last from three to two;
          And, of my fifty, yesterday
          I had but only one:
          And here it lies upon my arm,
          Alas! and I have none;--
          To-day I fetched it from the rock;
          It is the last of all my flock."
                                                              1798.


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