On moonlit heath and lonesome bank The sheep beside me graze; And yon the gallows used to clank Fast by the four cross ways. A careless shepherd once would keep The flocks by moonlight there1, And high amongst the glimmering sheep The dead man stood on air. They hang us now in Shrewsbury jail: The whistles blow forlorn, And trains all night groan on the rail To men that die at morn. There sleeps in Shrewsbury jail to-night, Or wakes, as may betide, A better lad, if things went right, Than most that sleep outside. And naked to the hangman's noose The morning clocks will ring A neck God made for other use Than strangling in a string. And sharp the link of life will snap, And dead on air will stand Heels that held up as straight a chap As treads upon the land. So here I'll watch the night and wait To see the morning shine, When he will hear the stroke of eight And not the stroke of nine; And wish my friend as sound a sleep As lads' I did not know, That shepherded the moonlit sheep A hundred years ago.
About the headline (FAQ)View original text (without footnotes)
1 Note in one edition: "Hanging in chains was called keeping sheep by moonlight."
- by Alfred Edward Housman (1859 - 1936), appears in A Shropshire Lad, no. 9, first published 1896 [author's text checked 1 time against a primary source]
Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)
- by Alan Leichtling , "On moonlit heath and lonesome bank", published 1971 [baritone and orchestra], from Eleven Songs from "A Shropshire Lad" [text not verified]
- by John Ramsden Williamson (1929 - 2015), "Keeping sheep by moonlight - On moonlit heath and lonesome bank" [baritone and piano] [text not verified]
Researcher for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator]
Text added to the website: 2008-08-18 00:00:00
Last modified: 2015-04-10 18:41:09
Line count: 32
Word count: 195