Sunday, June 14, 2015

Shepherd Singing Ragtime / Louis Golding

Shepherd Singing Ragtime

The shepherd sings:–
'_Way down in Dixie,
Way down in Dixie,
Where the hens are dog-gone glad to lay_ ...'
With shaded eyes he stands to look
Across the hills where the clouds swoon,
He singing, leans upon his crook,
He sings, he sings no more.
The wind is muffled in the tangled hairs
Of sheep that drift along the noon.
One mild sheep stares
With amber eyes about the pearl-flecked June.
Two skylarks soar
With singing flame
Into the sun whence first they came.
All else is only grasshoppers
Or a brown wing the shepherd stirs,
Who, like a tall tree moving, goes
Where the pale tide of sheep-drift flows.

See! the sun smites
With sea-drawn lights
The turned wing of a gull that glows
Aslant the violet, the profound
Dome of the mid-June heights.

Alas! again the grasshoppers,
The birds, the slumber-winging bees,
Alas! again for those and these
Demure and sweet things drowned;
Drowned in vain raucous words men made
Where no lark rose with swift and sweet
Ascent and where no dim sheep strayed
About the stone immensities,
Where no sheep strayed and where no bees
Probed any flowers nor swung a blade
Of grass with pollened feet.

He sings:–
'_In Dixie,
Way down in Dixie,
Where the hens are dog-gone glad to lay
Scrambled eggs in the new-mown hay_...'
The herring-gulls with peevish cries
Rebuke the man who sings vain words;
His sheep-dog growls a low complaint,
Then turns to chasing butterflies.
But when the indifferent singing-birds
From midmost down to dimmest shore
Innumerably confirm their songs,
And grasshoppers make summer rhyme
And solemn bees in the wild thyme
Clash cymbals and beat gongs,
The shepherd's words once more are faint,
The shepherd's song once more is thinned
Upon the long course of the wind,
He sings, he sings no more.

Ah, now the sweet monotonies
Of bells that jangle on the sheep
To the low limit of the hills!
Till the blue cup of music spills
Into the boughs of lowland trees;
Till thence the lowland singings creep
Into the silenced shepherd's head,
Creep drowsily through his blood:
The young thrush fluting all he knows,
The ring-dove moaning his false woes,
Almost the rabbit's tiny tread,
The last unfolding bud.

                                 But now,
Now a cool word spreads out along the sea.
Now the day's violet is cloud-tipped with gold.
Now dusk most silently
Fills the hushed day with other wings than birds'.
Now where on foam-crest waves the seagulls rock,
To their cliff-haven go the seagulls thence.
So too the shepherd gathers in his flock,
Because birds journey to their dens,
Tired sheep to their still fold.
A dark first bat swoops low and dips
About the shepherd who now sings
A song of timeless evenings;
For dusk is round him with wide wings,
Dusk murmurs on his moving lips.

There is not mortal man who knows
From whence the shepherd's song arose:
It came a thousand years ago.

Once the world's shepherds woke to lead
The folded sheep that they might feed
On green downs where winds blow.

One shepherd sang a golden word.
A thousand miles away one heard.
One sang it swift, one sang it slow.

Three skylarks heard, three skylarks told
All shepherds this same song of gold
On all downs where winds blow.

This is the song that shepherds must
Sing till the green downlands be dust
And tide of sheep-drift no more flow:

The song three skylarks told again
To all the sheep and shepherd men
On green downs where winds blow.

Louis Golding (1895-1958)
from Shepherd Singing Ragtime, and other poems, 1922

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada and the United States]

Louis Golding biography

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