The Old Shepherd

A poem by John Clare

'T is pleasant to bear recollections in mind
Of joys that time hurries away--
To look back on smiles that have passed like the wind,
And compare them with frowns of to-day.
'T was the constant delight of Old Robin, forsooth,
On the past with clear vision to dwell--
To recount the fond loves and the raptures of youth,
And tales of lost pleasures to tell.

"'T is now many years," like a child, he would say,
"Since I joined in the sports of the green--
Since I tied up the flowers for the garland of May,
And danced with the holiday queen.
My memory looks backward in sorrowful pride,
And I think, till my eyes dim with tears,
Of the past, where my happiness withered and died,
And the present dull, desolate years.

I love to be counting, while sitting alone,
With many a heart-aching sigh,
How many a season has rapidly flown,
And springs, with their summers, gone by,
Since Susan the pride of the village was deemed,
To whom youth's affections I gave;
Whom I led to the church, and beloved and esteemed,
And followed in grief to the grave.

Life's changes for many hours musings supply;
Both the past and the present appear;
I mark how the years that remain hurry by,
And feel that my last must be near.
The youths that with me to man's summer did bloom
Have dwindled away to old men,
And maidens, like flowers of the Spring, have made room
For many new blossoms since then.

I have lived to see all but life's sorrows pass by,
Leaving changes, and pains, and decay,
Where nought is the same but the wide-spreading sky,
And the sun that awakens the day.
The green, where I tended my sheep when a boy,
Has yielded its pride to the plough;
And the shades where my infancy revelled in joy
The axe has left desolate now.

Yet a bush lingers still, that will urge me to stop--
(What heart can such fancies withstand?)
Where Susan once saw a bird's nest on the top,
And I reached her the eggs with my hand:
And so long since the day I remember so well,
It has stretched to a sizable tree,
And the birds yearly come in its branches to dwell,
As far from a giant as me.

On a favourite spot, by the side of a brook,
When Susan was just in her pride,
A ripe bunch of nuts from her apron she took,
To plant as she sat by my side.
They have grown up with years, and on many a bough
Cluster nuts like their parents agen,
Where shepherds no doubt have oft sought them ere now,
To please other Susans since then.

The joys that I knew when my youth was in prime,
Like a dream that's half ended, are o'er;
And the faces I knew in that changeable time
Are met with the living no more.
I have lived to see friends that I loved pass away
With the pleasures their company gave:
I have lived to see love, with my Susan, decay,
And the grass growing green on her grave."

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