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The Loving Shepherdess

Robinson Jeffers 1887 (Allegheny) – 1962 (Carmel-by-the-Sea)

The little one-room schoolhousc among the redwoods

Opened its door, a dozen children ran out

And saw on the narrow road between the dense trees

A persona girl by the long light-colored hair:

The torn brown cloak that she wore might be a man's

Or woman's eitherwalking hastily northward

Among a huddle of sheep. Her thin young face

Seemed joyful, and lighted from inside, and formed

Too finely to be so wind-burnt. As she went forward

One or another of the trotting sheep would turn

Its head to look at her face, and one would press

Its matted shoulder against her moving thigh.

The schoolchildren stood laughing and shouting together.

'Who's that? ' 'Clare Walker,' they said, 'down from the hill.

She'd fifty sheep and now she's got eight, nine,

Ten: what have you done with all the others, Clare Walker? '

The joy that had lived in her face died, she yet

Went on as if she were deaf, with forward eyes

And lifted head, but the delicate lips moving.

The jeering children ran in behind her, and the sheep

Drew nervously on before, except the old ram,

That close at her side dipped his coiled horns a little

But neither looked back nor edged forward. An urchin shouted

'You killed your daddy, why don't you kill your sheep? '

And a fat girl, 'Oh where's your lover, Clare Walker?

He didn't want you after all.'

The patriarch ram

That walked beside her wore a greasy brown bundle
Tied on his back with cords in the felt of wool,
And one of the little boys, running by, snatched at it
So that it fell. Clare bent to gather it fallen,
And tears dropped from her eyes. She offered no threat
With the bent staff of rosy-barked madrone-wood

That lay in her hand, but said 'Oh please, Oh please,'

As meek as one of her ewes. An eight-year-old girl

Shrilled, 'Whistle for the dogs, make her run like a cat,

Call your dog, Charlie Geary! ' But a brown-skinned

Spanish-Indian boy came forward and said,

'You let her alone. They'll not hurt you, Clare Walker.

Don't cry, I'll walk beside you.' She thanked him, still crying.

Four of the children, who lived southward, turned back;

The rest followed more quietly.

The black-haired boy

Said gently, 'Remember to keep in the road, Clare Walker.
There's enough grass. The ranchers will sick their dogs on you
If you go into the pastures, because their cows
Won't eat where the sheep have passed; but you can walk
Into the woods.' She answered, 'You're kind, you're kind.
Oh yes, I always remember.' The small road dipped
Under the river when they'd come down the hill,
A shallow mountain river that Clare skipped over
By stone after stone, the sheep wading beside her.
The friendly boy went south to the farm on the hill, 'good-by,

good-by,' and Clare with her little flock
Kept northward among great trees like towers in the river- valley.

Her sheep sidled the path, snifHng
The bitter sorrel, lavender-flowering in shade, and the withered

ferns. Toward evening they found a hollow
Of autumn grass.


Clare laughed and was glad, she undid the bundle

from the ram's back
And found in the folds a battered metal cup and a broken loaf.

She shared her bread with the sheep,
A morsel for each, and prettily laughing
Pushed down the reaching faces. 'Piggies, eat grass. Leave me the

crust, Tiny, I can't eat grass.
Nosie, keep off. Here Frannie, here Frannie.' One of the ewes

came close and stood to be milked, Clare stroked

The little udders and drank when the cup filled, and filled it again

and drank, dividing her crust
With the milch ewe; the flock wandered the glade, nibbling white

grass. There was only one lamb among them,
The others had died in the spring storm.

The light in the glade

suddenly increased and changed, the hill
High eastward began to shine and be rosy-colored, and bathed

in so clear a light that up the bare hill
Each clump of yucca stood like a star, bristling sharp rays; while

westward the spires of the giant wood
Were strangely tall and intensely dark on the layered colors of

the winter sundown; their blunt points touched
The high tender blue, their heads were backed by the amber, the

thick-branched columns

Crossed flaming rose. Then Clare with the flush
Of the solemn
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:46 min read

Robinson Jeffers

John Robinson Jeffers was an American poet, known for his work about the central California coast. more…

All Robinson Jeffers poems | Robinson Jeffers Books

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