Patrick William Kavanagh
The Sleeping Shepherdess - Poem by Patrick William Kavanagh
Sheep grazing safely on the gentle mountain slopes, beside a sparkling stream,
Warm summer sun, the shepherdess lay resting by a standing stone,
Sleep creeps softly in, the daisy chained slipped from her supple hands,
As Morpheus turned all her childish hopes to dreams.
Night falls, the moon awakens her with silver light and gentle breeze,
Startled she awakens in a fright, though stalwart for her age, she does not like the night.
Sheep come quickly to her worried call, she counts until quite sure she has them all,
Then hurries home to find an open door and empty hall...
She huddled in her little bed, the dying fire still flickered with an eerie glow.
In time, she cried herself to sleep and left behind, for just a while,
her many questions, and the answers to them, that she didn't know.
Perhaps the dawn would tell her what to do or where to go.
Day breaks, but brings unto her mystery little light,
Once again she searched for clues, but what she found just added to her fright.
Pantry bare, and in the precious curtain that divides the room, a long suspicious tear,
table overturned, but not a sign of little brother or her parents anywhere.
She scattered all her sheep and grabbed her heavy woollen robe,
Determination stamped upon her tear-stained face, she headed up the dusty road,
Her family were still alive, - she felt it in her heart,
and if she wished to know where they were gone,
The wizard in the woods, would be the only place to start.
The wise man saw her coming and the news he gave was hard to bare,
His blind old eyes had seen the slave ship cut the waves,
and in the dark and stinking hold, amongst the chained and coffled,
young and old,
Her parents and her little brother, barely five years old.
Though dim and dank, so little light, so little air, he clearly saw them there.
Her tender heart was broken, when he told her of their plight,
And though he made her drink a sleeping draught, she lay beside the fire and wept all night.
A week had passed, she had not slept, and by her side the kindly wizard had a vigil kept.
She begged a spell to make her sleep a thousand years, so all the pain she could forget.
He bid her take the time to mourn, that sleep would overtake her yet.
Another week had passed, The roses fast were fading from her cheeks,
The old man fretted and he frowned, It seemed the shepherdess might die from grief.
He raised his hands up to the skies, and called upon the gods to hear her cries,
An muttering incantations in a voice that rumbled sonorous and deep,
He bid that for a thousand years the little girl would sleep,
and waken when a lover would appear, who loved her more than life,
and a husband who would cherish her and bring to her a long and happy life.
A thousand years had passed,
A little robin spied the pretty lady, sleeping in her magic bower.
His little heart entranced, he kept quite still and watched her till the midday hour.
The warm sun on her face awoke her and she jumped up with a start,
And, reaching out, she clutched the little redbreast to her heart.
My Love, she cried, you've come at last to wake me from my sleep!
Now you must take me to your home, your loving bride to keep.
The robin was much wiser to the ways of life than she,
he said, although I love my lady to the bottom of my heart, your lover and your husband, I can surely never be!
But there is a friend in whom I trust, a Dragon of nobility.
I know that he will find a way to break this spell and set your spirit free.
The Dragon listened to his tale with worried frown that framed his kindly eyes,
He said, at last, there is a way to end this well, but, I would not wish to pay the price.
There is a way to bring this spell to right, but I would need a robins heart before this night,
The robin thrust his fiery chest against the dragons claw, and red grew redder still,
The Dragon gently raised his little friend, and yielded to his will.
He softly blew upon his tiny chest, and to his ashes added faery dust and morning dew,
He went to where the weary maiden wept and scattered from beyond the clouds, his sacrificial brew.
Again she slept, and in her sleep she softly wept, until there was and end to all her tears.
Then finally her true love did arrive, and woke her, after many many years.
I'm sure that they were happy, they had a dozen children and they lived for many years.
Though sometimes when she saw a robin, she would shed a little tear.
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