The Idle Shepherd-Boys, or Dungeon-Gill Force, a Pastoral






The valley rings with mirth and joy;
Among the hills the Echoes play
A never never ending song
To welcome in the May.
The Magpie chatters with delight;5

(*Gill in the dialect of Cumberland and Westmoreland is a short, and, for the most part, a steep narrow valley, with a stream running through it. Force is the word universally employed in these dialects for Waterfall.)

The mountain Raven’s youngling Brood
Have left the Mother and the Nest;
And they go rambling east and west
In search of their own food;
Or through the glittering Vapors dart10
In very wantonness of heart.
Beneath a rock, upon the grass,
Two Boys are sitting in the sun;
It seems they have no work to do,
Or that their work is done.15
On pipes of sycamore they play
The fragments of a Christmas Hymn;
Or with that plant which in our dale
We call Stag-horn, or Fox’s Tail,
Their rusty Hats they trim:20
And thus, as happy as the Day,
Those Shepherds wear the time away.
Along the river’s stony marge
The Sand-lark chants a joyous song;
The Thrush is busy in the wood,25
And carols loud and strong.
A thousand Lambs are on the rocks,
All newly born! both earth and sky
Keep jubilee; and more than all,
Those Boys with their green Coronal;30
They never hear the cry,
That plaintive cry! which up the hill
Comes from the depth of Dungeon-Gill.
Said Walter, leaping from the ground,
“Down to the stump of yon old yew35
We’ll for our Whistles run a race.”
—Away the Shepherds flew.
They leapt—they ran—and when they came
Right opposite to Dungeon-Gill,
Seeing that he should lose the prize,40
“Stop!” to his comrade Walter cries—
James stopped with no good will:
Said Walter then, “Your task is here,
’Twill keep you working half a year.
“Now cross where I shall cross—come on,45
And follow me where I shall lead”—
The other took him at his word,
But did not like the deed.
It was a spot, which you may see
If ever you to Langdale go:50
Into a chasm a mighty Block
Hath fallen, and made a Bridge of rock:
The gulph is deep below;
And in a bason black and small
Receives a lofty Waterfall.55
With staff in hand across the cleft
The Challenger began his march;
And now, all eyes and feet, hath gained
The middle of the arch.
When list! he hears a piteous moan—60
Again!—his heart within him dies—
His pulse is stopped, his breath is lost,
He totters, pale as any ghost,
And, looking down, he spies
A Lamb, that in the pool is pent65
Within that black and frightful Rent.
The Lamb had slipped into the stream,
And safe without a bruise or wound
The Cataract had borne him down
Into the gulph profound.70
His Dam had seen him when he fell,
She saw him down the torrent borne;
And, while with all a mother’s love
She from the lofty rocks above
Sent forth a cry forlorn,75
The Lamb, still swimming round and round,
Made answer to that plaintive sound.
When he had learnt what thing it was,
That sent this rueful cry; I ween,
The Boy recovered heart, and told80
The sight which he had seen.
Both gladly now deferred their task;
Nor was there wanting other aid—
A Poet, one who loves the brooks
Far better than the sages’ books,85
By chance had thither strayed;
And there the helpless Lamb he found
By those huge rocks encompassed round.
He drew it gently from the pool,
And brought it forth into the light:90
The Shepherds met him with his Charge,
An unexpected sight!
Into their arms the Lamb they took,
Said they, “He’s neither maimed nor scarred.”
Then up the steep ascent they hied,95
And placed him at his Mother’s side;
And gently did the Bard
Those idle Shepherd-boys upbraid,
And bade them better mind their trade.