Lyrical Ballads, with other poems, by William Wordsworth

The Idle Shepherd–Boys
Dungeon–Gill Force

A Pastoral.

‘Gill’, in the dialect of Cumberland and Westmoreland, is a short and for the most part a steep narrow valley, with a stream running through it. Force is the word universally employed in these dialects for Waterfall.


The valley rings with mirth and joy,

Among the hills the Echoes play

A never, never ending song

To welcome in the May.

The Magpie chatters with delight;

The mountain Raven’s youngling Brood

Have left the Mother and the Nest,

And they go rambling east and west

In search of their own food,

Or thro’ the glittering Vapors dart

In very wantonness of Heart.


Beneath a rock, upon the grass,

Two Boys are sitting in the sun;

It seems they have no work to do

Or that their work is done.

On pipes of sycamore they play

The fragments of a Christmas Hymn,

Or with that plant which in our dale

We call Stag-horn, or Fox’s Tail

Their rusty Hats they trim:

And thus as happy as the Day,

Those Shepherds wear the time away.


Along the river’s stony marge

The sand-lark chaunts a joyous song;

The thrush is busy in the Wood,

And carols loud and strong.

A thousand lambs are on the rocks,

All newly born! both earth and sky

Keep jubilee, and more than all,

Those Boys with their green Coronal,

They never hear the cry,

That plaintive cry! which up the hill

Comes from the depth of Dungeon–Gill.


Said Walter, leaping from the ground,

“Down to the stump of yon old yew

I’ll run with you a race.”— No more —

Away the Shepherds flew.

They leapt, they ran, and when they came

Right opposite to Dungeon–Gill,

Seeing, that he should lose the prize,

“Stop!” to his comrade Walter cries —

James stopp’d with no good will:

Said Walter then, “Your task is here,

’Twill keep you working half a year.”


“Till you have cross’d where I shall cross,

Say that you’ll neither sleep nor eat.”

James proudly took him at his word,

But did not like the feat.

It was a spot, which you may see

If ever you to Langdale go:

Into a chasm a mighty Block

Hath fallen, and made a bridge of rock;

The gulph is deep below,

And in a bason black and small

Receives a lofty Waterfall.


With staff in hand across the cleft

The Challenger began his march;

And now, all eyes and feet, hath gain’d

The middle of the arch.

When list! he hears a piteous moan —

Again! his heart within him dies —

His pulse is stopp’d, his breath is lost,

He totters, pale as any ghost,

And, looking down, he spies

A Lamb, that in the pool is pent

Within that black and frightful rent.


The Lamb had slipp’d into the stream,

And safe without a bruise or wound

The Cataract had borne him down

Into the gulph profound,

His dam had seen him when he fell,

She saw him down the torrent borne;

And while with all a mother’s love

She from the lofty rocks above

Sent forth a cry forlorn,

The Lamb, still swimming round and round

Made answer to that plaintive sound.


When he had learnt, what thing it was,

That sent this rueful cry; I ween,

The Boy recover’d heart, and told

The sight which he had seen.

Both gladly now deferr’d their task;

Nor was there wanting other aid —

A Poet, one who loves the brooks

Far better than the sages’ books,

By chance had thither stray’d;

And there the helpless Lamb he found

By those huge rocks encompass’d round.


He drew it gently from the pool,

And brought it forth into the light;

The Shepherds met him with his charge

An unexpected sight!

Into their arms the Lamb they took,

Said they, “He’s neither maim’d nor scarr’d”—

Then up the steep ascent they hied

And placed him at his Mother’s side;

And gently did the Bard

Those idle Shepherd-boys upbraid,

And bade them better mind their trade.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02