by Alfred Edward Housman (1859 - 1936)

On moonlit heath and lonesome bank
Language: English 
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.

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1 Note in one edition: "Hanging in chains was called keeping sheep by moonlight."

Authorship

Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)


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