The dew was falling fast, the stars began to blink;
I heard a voice: it said, "Drink, pretty creature, drink!"
And looking o'er the hedge, before me I espied
A snow-white mountain lamb, with a maiden at its side.
No other sheep were near, the lamb was all alone,
And by a slender cord was tethered to a stone;
With one knee on the grass did the little maiden kneel,
While to that mountain lamb she gave its evening meal.
The lamb, while from her hand he thus his supper took,
Seemed to feast with head and ears; and his tail with pleasure shook,
"Drink, pretty creature, drink," she said in such a tone,
That I almost received her heart into my own.
'T was little Barbara Lewthwaite, a child of beauty rare!
I watched them with delight: they were a lovely pair.
Now with her empty can the maiden turned away;
But, ere ten yards were gone, her footsteps did she stay.
Towards the lamb she looked; and from that shady place
I, unobserved, could see the workings of her face:
If Nature to her tongue could measured numbers bring,
Thus, thought I, to her lamb that little maid might sing:—
"What ails thee, young one? What? Why pull so at thy cord?
Is it not well with thee? well both for bed and board?
Thy plot of grass is soft, and green as grass can be;
Rest, little one, rest: what is 't that aileth thee?
"Rest, little one, rest; thou hast forgot the day
When my father found thee first in places far away:
Many flocks were on the hills, but thou wert owned by none,
And thy mother from thy side for evermore was gone.
"He took thee in his arms, and in pity brought thee home:
A blessed day for thee! Then whither wouldst thou roam?
A faithful nurse thou hast: the dam that did thee yean
Upon the mountain-tops no kinder could have been.
"Thou knowest that twice a day I have brought thee in this can
Fresh water from the brook, as clear as ever ran;
And twice in the day, when the ground is wet with dew,
I bring thee draughts of milk,—warm milk it is and new.
"It will not, will not rest!—poor creature, can it be
That 't is thy mother's heart which is working so in thee?
Things that I know not of belike to thee are dear,
And dreams of things which thou canst neither see nor hear."
As homeward through the lane I went with lazy feet,
This song to myself did I oftentimes repeat;
And it seemed, as I retraced the ballad line by line,
That but half of it was hers, and one half of it was mine.
Again, and once again, did I repeat the song;
"Nay," said I, "more than half to the damsel must belong.
For she looked with such a look, and she spake with such a tone,
That I almost received her heart into mine own."