Helen Darbishire and Ernest De Selincourt (eds), The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Vol. 1: Poems Written in Youth; Poems Referring to the Period of Childhood (Second Edition)

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pg 245Editor’s NoteXIVTHE PET-LAMB

a pastoral

[Composed 1800.—Published 1800.]

  • 1The dew was falling fast, the stars began to blink;
  • 2I heard a voice; it said, "Drink, pretty creature, drink!"
  • 3And looking o'er the hedge, before me I espied
  • 4A snow-white mountain-lamb with a Maiden at its side.
  • 5Nor sheep nor kine were near; the lamb was all alone,
  • 6And by a slender cord was tethered to a stone;
  • 7With one knee on the grass did the little Maiden kneel,
  • 8While to that mountain-lamb she gave its evening meal.
  • 9The lamb, while from her hand he thus his supper took,
  • 10Seemed to feast with head and ears; and his tail with pleasure shook.
  • 11"Drink, pretty creature, drink," she said in such a tone
  • 12That I almost received her heart into my own.
  • 13'Twas little Barbara Lewthwaite, a child of beauty rare!
  • 14I watched them with delight, they were a lovely pair.
  • 15Now with her empty can the Maiden turned away:
  • 16But ere ten yards were gone her footsteps did she stay.
  • 17Right towards the lamb she looked; and from a shady place
  • 18I unobserved could see the workings of her face:
  • 19If Nature to her tongue could measured numbers bring,
  • 20Thus, thought I, to her lamb that little Maid might sing:
  • 21"What ails thee, young One? what? Why pull so at thy cord?
  • 22Is it not well with thee? well both for bed and board?
  • 23Thy plot of grass is soft, and green as grass can be;
  • 24Rest, little young One, rest; what is't that aileth thee?
  • 25"What is it thou wouldst seek? What is wanting to thy heart?
  • 26Thy limbs, are they not strong? And beautiful thou art:
  • 27This grass is tender grass; these flowers they have no peers;
  • 28And that green corn all day is rustling in thy ears!
  • 29"If the sun be shining hot, do but stretch thy woollen chain,
  • 30This beech is standing by, its covert thou canst gain;
  • 31For rain and mountain-storms! the like thou need'st not fear,
  • 32The rain and storm are things that scarcely can come here.
  • pg 24633"Rest, little young One, rest; thou hast forgot the day
  • 34When my father found thee first in places far away;
  • 35Many flocks were on the hills, but thou wert owned by none,
  • 36And thy mother from thy side for evermore was gone.
  • 37"He took thee in his arms, and in pity brought thee home:
  • 38A blessed day for thee! then whither wouldst thou roam?
  • 39A faithful nurse thou hast; the dam that did thee yean
  • 40Upon the mountain-tops no kinder could have been.
  • 41"Thou know'st that twice a day I have brought thee in this can
  • 42Fresh water from the brook, as clear as ever ran;
  • 43And twice in the day, when the ground is wet with dew,
  • 44I bring thee draughts of milk, warm milk it is and new.
  • 45"Thy limbs will shortly be twice as stout as they are now,
  • 46Then I'll yoke thee to my cart like a pony in the plough;
  • 47My playmate thou shalt be; and when the wind is cold
  • 48Our hearth shall be thy bed, our house shall be thy fold.
  • 49"It will not, will not rest!—Poor creature, can it be
  • 50That 'tis thy mother's heart which is working so in thee?
  • 51Things that I know not of belike to thee are dear,
  • 52And dreams of things which thou canst neither see nor hear.
  • 53"Alas, the mountain-tops that look so green and fair!
  • 54I've heard of fearful winds and darkness that come there;
  • 55The little brooks that seem all pastime and all play,
  • 56When they are angry, roar like lions for their prey.
  • 57"Here thou need'st not dread the raven in the sky;
  • Critical Apparatus58Night and day thou art safe,—our cottage is hard by.
  • 59Why bleat so after me? Why pull so at thy chain?
  • 60Sleep—and at break of day I will come to thee again!"
  • 61—As homeward through the lane I went with lazy feet,
  • 62This song to myself did I oftentimes repeat;
  • 63And it seemed, as I retraced the ballad line by line,
  • 64That but half of it was hers, and one half of it was mine.
  • 65Again, and once again, did I repeat the song;
  • 66"Nay," said I, "more than half to the damsel must belong,
  • 67For she looked with such a look, and she spake with such a tone,
  • 68That I almost received her heart into my own."

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
p. 245. XIV. The Pet Lamb: "Town-End, 1800. Barbara Lewthwaite, now living at Ambleside (1843), though much changed as to beauty, was one of two most lovely sisters. Almost the first words my poor Brother John said, when he visited us for the first time at Grasmere, were, 'Were those two angels that I have just seen?' and from his description I have no doubt they were those two sisters. The mother died in childbed; and one of our neighbours at Grasmere told me that the loveliest sight she had ever seen was that mother as she lay in her coffin with her babe in her arm. I mention this to notice what I cannot but think a salutary custom once universal in these vales. Every attendant on a funeral made it a duty to look at the corpse in the coffin before the lid was closed, which was never done (nor I believe is now) till a minute or two before the corpse was removed. Barbara Lewthwaite was not in fact the child whom I had seen and overheard as engaged [sic] in the poem. I chose the name for reasons implied in the above; and will here add a caution against the use Of names of living persons. Within a few months after the publication of this poem, I was much surprised, and more hurt, to find it in a child's school-book which, having been compiled by Lindley Murray, had come into use at Grasmere School where Barbara was a pupil. And, alas, I had the mortification of hearing that she was very vain of being thus distinguished; and, in afterlife, she used to say that she remembered the incident and what I said to her upon the occasion."—I. F.
Critical Apparatus
58–60 so 1802:
  • He will not come to thee, our Cottage is hard by,
  • Night and day thou art safe as living thing can be,
  • Be happy then and rest, what is't that aileth thee?
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