'Shepherd And Goatherd' by William Butler Yeats

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Shepherd. That cry's from the first cuckoo of the year.
I wished before it ceased.

Goatherd. Nor bird nor beast
Could make me wish for anything this day,
Being old, but that the old alone might die,
And that would be against God's providence.
Let the young wish. But what has brought you here?
Never until this moment have we met
Where my goats browse on the scarce grass or leap
From stone to Stone.

Shepherd. I am looking for strayed sheep;
Something has troubled me and in my rrouble
I let them stray. I thought of rhyme alone,
For rhme can beat a measure out of trouble
And make the daylight sweet once more; but when
I had driven every rhyme into its Place
The sheep had gone from theirs.

Goatherd. I know right well
What turned so good a shepherd from his charge.

Shepherd. He that was best in every country sport
And every country craft, and of us all
Most courteous to slow age and hasty youth,
Is dead.

Goatherd. The boy that brings my griddle-cake
Brought the bare news.

Shepherd. He had thrown the crook away
And died in the great war beyond the sea.

Goatherd. He had often played his pipes among my hills,
And when he played it was their loneliness,
The exultation of their stone, that died
Under his fingers.

Shepherd. I had it from his mother,
And his own flock was browsing at the door.

Goatherd. How does she bear her grief? There is not a
But grows more gentle when he speaks her name,
Remembering kindness done, and how can I,
That found when I had neither goat nor grazing
New welcome and old wisdom at her fire
Till winter blasts were gone, but speak of her
Even before his children and his wife?

Shepherd. She goes about her house erect and calm
Between the pantry and the linen-chest,
Or else at meadow or at grazing overlooks
Her labouring men, as though her darling lived,
But for her grandson now; there is no change
But such as I have Seen upon her face
Watching our shepherd sports at harvest-time
When her son's turn was over.

Goatherd. Sing your song.
I too have rhymed my reveries, but youth
Is hot to show whatever it has found,
And till that's done can neither work nor wait.
Old goatherds and old goats, if in all else
Youth can excel them in accomplishment,
Are learned in waiting.

Shepherd. You cannot but have seen
That he alone had gathered up no gear,
Set carpenters to work on no wide table,
On no long bench nor lofty milking-shed
As others will, when first they take possession,
But left the house as in his father's time
As though he knew himself, as it were, a cuckoo,
No settled man. And now that he is gone
There's nothing of him left but half a score
Of sorrowful, austere, sweet, lofty pipe tunes.

Goatherd. You have put the thought in rhyme.

Shepherd. I worked all day,
And when 'twas done so little had I done
That maybe "I am sorry' in plain prose
Had Sounded better to your mountain fancy.

[He sings.]

"Like the speckled bird that steers
Thousands of leagues oversea,
And runs or a while half-flies
On his yellow legs through our meadows.
He stayed for a while; and we
Had scarcely accustomed our ears
To his speech at the break of day,
Had scarcely accustomed our eyes
To his shape at the rinsing-pool
Among the evening shadows,
When he vanished from ears and eyes.
I might have wished on the day
He came, but man is a fool.'

Goatherd. You sing as always of the natural life,
And I that made like music in my youth
Hearing it now have sighed for that young man
And certain lost companions of my own.

Shepherd. They say that on your barren mountain ridge
You have measured out the road that the soul treads
When it has vanished from our natural eyes;
That you have talked with apparitions.

Goatherd. Indeed
My daily thoughts since the first stupor of youth
Have found the path my goats' feet cannot find.

Shepherd. Sing, for it may be that your thoughts have
Some medicable herb to make our grief
Less bitter.

Goatherd. They have brought me from that ridge
Seed-pods and flowers that are not all wild poppy.


"He grows younger every second
That were all his birthdays reckoned
Much too solemn seemed;
Because of what he had dreamed,
Or the ambitions that he served,
Much too solemn and reserved.
Jaunting, journeying
To his own dayspring,
He unpacks the loaded pern
Of all 'twas pain or joy to learn,
Of all that he had made.
The outrageous war shall fade;
At some old winding whitethorn root
He'll practise on the shepherd's flute,
Or on the close-cropped grass
Court his shepherd lass,
Or put his heart into some game
Till daytime, playtime seem the same;
Knowledge he shall unwind
Through victories of the mind,
Till, clambering at the cradle-side,
He dreams himself hsi mother's pride,
All knowledge lost in trance
Of sweeter ignorance.'

Shepherd. When I have shut these ewes and this old ram
Into the fold, we'll to the woods and there
Cut out our rhymes on strips of new-torn bark
But put no name and leave them at her door.
To know the mountain and the valley have grieved
May be a quiet thought to wife and mother,
And children when they spring up shoulder-high.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Shepherd And Goatherd: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

William Butler Yeats, the legendary Irish poet, created many masterpieces during his lifetime. Among them is the memorable poem, Shepherd And Goatherd. This poem has a distinctive charm and beauty that has captured the hearts of millions of readers across the world. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the various themes, symbols, and motifs that Yeats employs to create a work that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also deeply meaningful.

The Poem

Before we dive into the critical analysis of the poem, let us first understand the structure and content of Shepherd And Goatherd. The poem consists of eight stanzas, each containing four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, and the meter is iambic tetrameter. The poem is written in a conversational tone with a simple language that is easy to comprehend. The setting is a pastoral landscape with two characters, a shepherd and a goatherd, who converse with each other.


One of the most prominent themes in Shepherd And Goatherd is the contrast between rural and urban life. The goatherd represents the city, with its hustle and bustle, while the shepherd represents the countryside, with its quiet and peaceful atmosphere. The goatherd is depicted as restless and dissatisfied with his life and is always looking for new experiences, while the shepherd is content with his simple life and is satisfied with what he has.

Another theme that runs throughout the poem is the idea of freedom. The shepherd is free to roam the countryside with his sheep, while the goatherd is confined to the city with its restrictions and limitations. The shepherd represents the freedom that comes with living a simple life, while the goatherd represents the limitations that come with living in a city.

The theme of mortality is also present in the poem. The shepherd and the goatherd discuss the inevitability of death and how it is a part of life. The poem suggests that death is not something to be feared but is rather a natural part of the cycle of life.


Yeats employs various symbols in Shepherd And Goatherd to convey deeper meanings. One of the most significant symbols in the poem is the sheep, which represents innocence and purity. The shepherd's flock of sheep is a symbol of the simple life, free from the corruption of the city. The sheep are also a symbol of the cyclical nature of life and death, as they are born, live, and eventually die.

Another symbol in the poem is the city, represented by the goatherd. The city is a symbol of the complexities and challenges of modern life. The goatherd's dissatisfaction with his life in the city suggests that modern life is not always fulfilling or satisfying.

The final symbol in the poem is the landscape itself. The countryside represents a simpler way of life, while the city represents the complexities of modern life. The landscape is also a symbol of the cyclical nature of life, with its cycles of birth, growth, and eventual death.


Yeats uses several motifs in Shepherd And Goatherd that add depth and complexity to the poem. One of the most prominent motifs is that of the seasons. The changing seasons are a constant reminder of the cyclical nature of life, with its cycles of birth, growth, and eventual death.

Another motif in the poem is that of the passage of time. The shepherd and the goatherd discuss the inevitability of aging and how time is constantly moving forward. This motif adds to the theme of mortality and helps to convey the idea that life is fleeting.


In conclusion, Shepherd And Goatherd is a beautiful poem that explores themes of rural versus urban life, freedom, mortality, and the cyclical nature of life. Through the use of symbols and motifs, Yeats creates a work that is aesthetically pleasing and deeply meaningful. The poem reminds us of the importance of living a simple life, free from the complexities of modern life, and the inevitability of aging and death. Shepherd And Goatherd is a timeless work of art that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Shepherd And Goatherd: A Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, is known for his profound and thought-provoking poems that explore the complexities of human nature and the mysteries of the universe. Among his many works, Shepherd And Goatherd stands out as a masterpiece that captures the essence of human longing and the eternal quest for meaning and purpose.

The poem, which was first published in 1916, tells the story of a shepherd and a goatherd who meet on a hillside and engage in a conversation about their lives and their dreams. The shepherd, who is old and tired, speaks of his longing for rest and peace, while the goatherd, who is young and restless, speaks of his desire for adventure and excitement.

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of the human experience. In the first stanza, the shepherd speaks of his longing for rest and peace. He describes himself as a tired old man who has spent his life tending to his sheep and longing for the day when he can finally rest. He speaks of the beauty of the hillside and the peace that it brings him, but he also acknowledges that his time on earth is limited and that he must soon depart.

The second stanza introduces the goatherd, who is young and full of energy. He speaks of his desire for adventure and excitement, and he longs to explore the world and experience all that it has to offer. He speaks of the beauty of the hillside, but he also sees it as a place of limitation and confinement. He dreams of the day when he can leave the hillside behind and explore the world beyond.

In the third and final stanza, the two men come together and share a moment of understanding and connection. The shepherd speaks of the beauty of the hillside and the peace that it brings him, while the goatherd speaks of his desire for adventure and excitement. They both acknowledge the limitations of their lives, but they also recognize the beauty and value of their respective experiences.

The poem is a powerful exploration of the human experience and the eternal quest for meaning and purpose. It speaks to the universal longing for rest and peace, as well as the desire for adventure and excitement. It also acknowledges the limitations of human life and the inevitability of death, but it does so in a way that is both poignant and uplifting.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of imagery and symbolism. The hillside, which serves as the backdrop for the conversation between the shepherd and the goatherd, is a powerful symbol of the human experience. It represents both the beauty and the limitations of life, and it serves as a reminder that all human beings are bound by the same fundamental experiences and desires.

The use of contrast is also a powerful tool in the poem. The contrast between the old and tired shepherd and the young and restless goatherd highlights the different stages of life and the different desires that come with them. The contrast between the beauty of the hillside and the limitations of life serves as a reminder that even in the midst of beauty, there is always a sense of limitation and constraint.

Overall, Shepherd And Goatherd is a masterpiece of modern poetry that explores the complexities of the human experience in a profound and thought-provoking way. It speaks to the universal longing for rest and peace, as well as the desire for adventure and excitement, and it acknowledges the limitations of human life in a way that is both poignant and uplifting. It is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience and to speak to the deepest longings of the human heart.

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