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The Last of the Flock by William Wordsworth

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

William Wordsworth changed the way we use language. He changed the way we investigate human beings. This is the romantic legacy. The usage of imagination to delve into the inner world of man. As Hugo put it "There is one thing grander than the ocean, that is the sky; there is one thing grander than the sky that is the interior of man's soul."

This is one of the major projects of the romantics, to illustrate the depth of man's inner world. How, for instance, an event can cause a schism in ones values in this world.

That's exactly what happens to the main character in Wordsworth's ballad, "The Last of the Flock." He has to butcher a single sheep in order to feed his growing family, but in dong so we learn about the values of christianity, modernism, industrialism and more. And we learn of the conflicts that arise in these systems.

Increase your imaginative faculty with "The Last of the Flock."



By William Wordsworth

In distant countries I have been,

And yet I have not often seen

A healthy man, a man full grown

Weep in the public roads alone.

But such a one, on English ground,

And in the broad high-way, I met;

Along the broad high-way he came,

His cheeks with tears were wet.

Sturdy he seemed, though he was sad;

And in his arms a lamb he had.

He saw me, and he turned aside,

As if he wished himself to hide:

Then with his coat he made essay

To wipe those briny tears away.

I follow'd him, and said, "My friend

"What ails you? wherefore weep you so?"

--"Shame on me, Sir! this lusty lamb,

He makes my tears to flow.

To-day I fetched him from the rock;

He is the last of all my flock.

When I was young, a single man.

And after youthful follies ran,

Though little given to care and thought,

Yet, so it was, a ewe I bought;

And other sheep from her I raised,

As healthy sheep as you might see,

And then I married, and was rich

As I could wish to be;

Of sheep I number'd a full score,

And every year encreas'd my store.

Year after year my stock it grew,

And from this one, this single ewe,

Full fifty comely sheep I raised,

As sweet a flock as ever grazed!

Upon the mountain did they feed;

They throve, and we at home did thrive.

--This lusty lamb of all my store

Is all that is alive:

And now I care not if we die,

And perish all of poverty.

Ten children, Sir! had I to feed,

Hard labour in a time of need!

My pride was tamed, and in our grief,

I of the parish ask'd relief.

They said I was a wealthy man;

My sheep upon the mountain fed,

And it was fit that thence I took

Whereof to buy us bread:"

"Do this; how can we give to you,"

They cried, "what to the poor is due?"

I sold a sheep as they had said,

And bought my little children bread,

And they were healthy with their food;

For me it never did me good.

A woeful time it was for me,

To see the end of all my gains,

The pretty flock which I had reared

With all my care and pains,

To see it melt like snow away!

For me it was a woeful day.

Another still! and still another!

A little lamb, and then its mother!

It was a vein that never stopp'd,

Like blood-drops from my heart they dropp'd.

Till thirty were not left alive

They dwindled, dwindled, one by one,

And I may say that many a time

I wished they all were gone:

They dwindled one by one away;

For me it was a woeful day.

To wicked deeds I was inclined,

And wicked fancies cross'd my mind,

And every man I chanc'd to see,

I thought he knew some ill of me

No peace, no comfort could I find,

No ease, within doors or without,

And crazily, and wearily,

I went my work about.

Oft-times I thought to run away;

For me it was a woeful day.

Sir! 'twas a precious flock to me,

As dear as my own children be;

For daily with my growing store

I loved my children more and more.

Alas! it was an evil time;

God cursed me in my sore distress,

I prayed, yet every day I thought

I loved my children less;

And every week, and every day,

My flock, it seemed to melt away.

They dwindled, Sir, sad sight to see!

From ten to five, from five to three,

A lamb, a weather, and a ewe;

And then at last, from three to two;

And of my fifty, yesterday

I had but only one,

And here it lies upon my arm,

Alas! and I have none;

To-day I fetched it from the rock;

It is the last of all my flock."


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