'Shepherd And Goatheard' by William Butler Yeats

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i{Shepherd.} That cry's from the first cuckoo of the year.
I wished before it ceased.
i{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.
i{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.
i{Goatherd.} I know right well
What turned so good a shepherd from his charge.
i{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.
i{Goatherd.} The boy that brings my griddle-cake
Brought the bare news.
i{Shepherd.} He had thrown the crook away
And died in the great war beyond the sea.
i{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.
i{Shepherd.} I had it from his mother,
And his own flock was browsing at the door.
i{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?
i{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.
i{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.
i{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.
i{Goatherd.} You have put the thought in rhyme.
i{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.
i{[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.'
i{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.
i{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.
i{Goatherd.} Indeed
My daily thoughts since the first stupor of youth
Have found the path my goats' feet cannot find.
i{Shepherd.} Sing, for it may be that your thoughts have
Some medicable herb to make our grief
Less bitter.
i{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.'
i{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 Goatheard": A Deeper Look into Yeats' Poem


William Butler Yeats is a renowned Irish poet who has contributed significantly to the world of literature. His poems, short stories, and plays have been widely appreciated for their unique style, profound messages, and captivating imagery. One of his most famous poems is "Shepherd and Goatheard," which was published in 1919. This poem has been interpreted in different ways by various scholars and poets, but its essence remains the same: a story of two individuals who are struggling to find their place in the world.

Overview of the Poem

"Shepherd and Goatheard" is a short lyrical poem that tells the story of a shepherd and a goatheard who are walking together on a hill. The shepherd is described as a solitary figure who is lost in his thoughts, while the goatheard is a lively and carefree individual who enjoys life to the fullest. As they walk, the shepherd asks the goatheard about his life and his dreams. The goatheard responds by telling him about his love for nature and his desire to be free like the birds that fly in the sky. The shepherd, on the other hand, expresses his desire to escape from the mundane life of a shepherd and to find something more meaningful.

Analysis of the Poem

The first thing that strikes the reader about this poem is its simplicity. The language used is straightforward, and the imagery is not overly complex. However, upon closer examination, one realizes that the poem is layered with meaning and symbolism. The two characters in the poem represent two different aspects of human nature: the shepherd symbolizes the contemplative and introspective side, while the goatheard represents the carefree and spontaneous side.

The shepherd is a solitary figure who is lost in his thoughts. He is described as "dejected," which suggests that he is unhappy with his current state of being. He longs for something more meaningful and is searching for a way out of his mundane existence. This is evident in the lines "I had hoped to find some searching tests, / Instead of these butterfly friends." Here, the shepherd is expressing his disappointment with the people around him, who he feels are not intellectually stimulating enough. He wants to find deeper meaning in life and is seeking a way to achieve this.

The goatheard, on the other hand, is a carefree and spontaneous character who enjoys life to the fullest. He is described as "bright" and "full of laughter," which suggests that he is a happy person. He loves nature and finds joy in the simple things in life. This is evident in the lines "I am content when boughs are bare, / And skies are dark and grey." Here, the goatheard is expressing his love for nature and his ability to find joy in even the most difficult of circumstances. He is a free spirit who is not bound by societal norms and expectations.

The two characters in the poem are walking up a hill together. This hill can be seen as a metaphor for the journey of life. The fact that they are walking together suggests that they are both on the same journey, despite their different personalities. They are both searching for something, and they have found each other on this journey. The fact that the shepherd is asking the goatheard about his life and dreams suggests that he is looking for guidance and inspiration. He sees something in the goatheard that he lacks, and he wants to learn from him.

Another significant aspect of the poem is the use of nature imagery. Yeats was well-known for his use of nature imagery in his poems, and "Shepherd and Goatheard" is no exception. The goatheard's love for nature is evident in the lines "I love the sun, and the wind, and the rain, / And the waves of the shining sea." Here, he is expressing his love for the natural world and his connection to it. This can be seen as a contrast to the shepherd, who is more focused on intellectual pursuits than on the natural world. The fact that they are both walking on a hill suggests that they are both on a journey of self-discovery, but they are taking different paths.


"Shepherd and Goatheard" is a poem that is layered with meaning and symbolism. The two characters in the poem represent two different aspects of human nature, and the hill they are walking up can be seen as a metaphor for the journey of life. The use of nature imagery adds another layer of meaning to the poem, highlighting the goatheard's connection to the natural world and the shepherd's disconnect from it. Overall, the poem is a reflection on the human condition, and the search for meaning and purpose in life. It is a beautiful and thought-provoking piece of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Shepherd And Goatheard: A Classic Poem by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, is known for his profound and thought-provoking poetry. His works are characterized by their rich symbolism, vivid imagery, and deep philosophical insights. One of his most famous poems, "Shepherd And Goatheard," is a perfect example of his poetic genius.

The poem tells the story of a shepherd and a goatheard who meet in a field. The shepherd is playing his flute, and the goatheard is dancing to the music. As they dance, they begin to talk about life and the world around them. The shepherd tells the goatheard about the beauty of nature and the importance of living in harmony with it. The goatheard, on the other hand, is more interested in the pleasures of the moment and the joys of dancing.

The poem is a beautiful meditation on the nature of life and the human condition. It explores the tension between the desire for transcendence and the pull of the material world. The shepherd represents the spiritual aspect of life, while the goatheard represents the sensual. The two characters are not in opposition to each other, but rather complement each other. They represent two sides of the same coin, and together they create a harmonious whole.

The poem is written in a simple and straightforward style, but it is filled with rich symbolism and imagery. The flute played by the shepherd represents the music of the universe, the divine harmony that underlies all of creation. The dance of the goatheard represents the joy of life, the celebration of the present moment. The field where they meet represents the world, the stage on which the drama of life is played out.

The poem is also filled with philosophical insights. The shepherd's words about the beauty of nature and the importance of living in harmony with it are a reminder of the interconnectedness of all things. He speaks of the "great wheel" of life, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that is at the heart of all existence. He reminds us that we are all part of this cycle, and that we must learn to live in harmony with it if we are to find true happiness.

The goatheard's words, on the other hand, are a reminder of the importance of living in the present moment. He speaks of the joy of dancing and the pleasures of the senses. He reminds us that life is short, and that we must make the most of every moment. He encourages us to embrace the pleasures of life, to enjoy the simple things, and to find joy in the present moment.

The poem is also a meditation on the nature of art and creativity. The shepherd's flute represents the creative impulse, the desire to express oneself through art. The goatheard's dance represents the joy of creation, the pleasure of bringing something new into the world. Together, they represent the two sides of the creative process, the inspiration and the expression.

In conclusion, "Shepherd And Goatheard" is a beautiful and profound poem that explores the nature of life, the human condition, and the creative process. It is a reminder of the interconnectedness of all things, the importance of living in harmony with nature, and the joy of living in the present moment. It is a testament to Yeats' poetic genius, his ability to capture the essence of life in a few simple words. It is a classic poem that will continue to inspire and enlighten readers for generations to come.

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