Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
The Legend of the Dead Lambs
 
Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st earl of Lytton (1831–91)
 
 
DEATH, though already in the world, as yet
Had only tried his timorous tooth to whet
On grass and leaves. But he began to grow
Greedoier, greater, and resolv’d to know
The taste of stronger food than such light fare.        5
To feed on human flesh he did not dare,
Till many a meaner meal had slowly given
The young destroyer strength to vanquish even
His restless rival in destruction, Man.
Meanwhile, on lesser victims he began        10
To test his power; and in a cold spring night
Two weanling lambs first perish’d from his bite.
The bleatings of their dam at break of day
Drew to the spot where her dead lambkins lay
The other beasts. Thy, understanding not,        15
In wistful silence round that fatal spot
Stood eyeing the dead lambs with looks forlorn.
 
Adam, who was upon the march that morn,
Missing his bodyguard, turn’d back to see
What they were doing; and there also he        20
Saw the two frozen lambkins lying dead,
But understood not. At the last he said,
“Since the lambs cannot move, methinks ’t were best
That I should carry them.”
 
        So on his breast        25
He laid their little bodies, and again
Set forward, follow’d o’er the frosty plain
By his bewilder’d flocks. And in dismay
They held their peace. That was a silent day.
At night he laid the dead lambs on the grass.        30
That night still colder than the other was,
And when the morning broke there were two more
Dead lambs to carry. Adam took the four,
And in his arms he bore them, no great way,
Till eventide. That was a sorrowful day.        35
 
But, ere the next, two other lambkins died,
Frost-bitten in the dark. Then Adam tried
To carry them, all six. But the poor sheep
Said, “Nay, we thank thee, Adam. Let them sleep!
Thou canst not carry them. ’T is all in vain.        40
We fear our lambkins will not wake again.
And, if they wake, they could not walk—for see,
Their little legs are stiffen’d. Let them be!”
So Adam left the lambs. And all the herd
Follow’d him sorrowing, and not a word        45
Was spoken. Never until then had they
Their own forsaken. That was the worst day.
 
Eve said to Adam, as they went along,
“Adam, last night the cold was bitter strong.
Warm fleeces to keep out the freezing wind        50
Have those six lambkins thou hast left behind;
Bu they will never need them any more.
Go, fetch them here ! and I will make, before
This day be done, stout garments for us both,
Lest we, too, wake no more.” Said Adam, loth        55
To do her bidding, “Why dost thou suppose
Our lambs will never more have need of those
Warm fleeces? They are sleeping.” But Eve said,
“They are not sleeping, Adam. They are dead.”
“Dead? What is that?” “I know not. But I know        60
That they no more can feel the north wind blow,
Nor the sun burn. They cannot hear the bleat
Of their own mothers, cannot suffer heat
Or cold, or thirst or hunger, weariness
Or want, again.” “How dost thou know all this?”        65
Ask’d Adam. And Eve whisper’d in his ear,
“The Serpent told me.” “Is the Serpent here?
If here he be, why hat he,” Adam cried,
“No good gift brought me?” Adam’s wife replied,
“The best of gifts, if rightly understood,        70
He brings thee, and that gift is counsel good.
The Serpent is a prudent beast; and right!
For we were miserably cold last night,
And may to-night be colder; and hard by
Those dead lambs in their woolly fleeces lie,        75
Yet need them not as we do. They are dead.
Go fetch them hither!”
 
        Adam shook his head,
But went.
    Next morning, o the beasts’ surprise,        80
Adam and Eve appear’d before their eyes
In woollen fleeces warmly garmented
And all the beasts to one another said,
“How wonderful is Man, who can make wool
As good as sheep’s wool, and more beautiful!”        85
 
Only the Fox, who sniff’d and grinn’d, had guess’d
Man’s unacknowledged theft: and to the rest
He sneer’d, “How wonderful is Woman’s whim!
See, Adam’s wife hath made a sheep of him!”
 

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