The Fleece

Posted by on Thursday, December 28th, 2006

John Dyer’s The Fleece is one of those works that few people read but everyone should.  Well, everyone should read it but it’s really hard to get copies.  Dyer was Welsh, and his family, being Welsh, knew a lot about sheep.   The Fleece is an epic–four volumes of blank verse–about sheep, published in 1757.   It’s shockingly modern, despite its age.  But, well, maybe I think that because it’s all about sheep.  Here’s a little piece of it.

To mend thy mounds, to trench, to clear, to soil
Thy grateful fields, to medicate thy sheep,
Hurdles to weave, and cheerly shelters raise,
Thy vacant hours require: and ever learn
Quick æther’s motions: oft the scene is turn’d;
Now the blue vault, and now the murky cloud,
Hail, rain, or radiance; these the moon will tell,
Each bird and beast, and these thy fleecy tribe:
When high the sapphire cope, supine they couch,
And chew the cud delighted; but, ere rain,
Eager, and at unwonted hour, they feed:
Slight not the warning; soon the tempest rolls,
Scattering them wide, close rushing at the heels
Of th’ hurrying o’ertaken swains: forbear
Such nights to fold; such nights be theirs to shift
On ridge or hillock; or in homesteads soft,
Or softer cotes, detain them. Is thy lot
A chill penurious turf, to all thy toils
Untractable? Before harsh winter drowns
The noisy dykes, and starves the rushy glebe,
Shift the frail breed to sandy hamlets warm:
There let them sojourn, till gay Procne skims
The thickening verdure, and the rising flowers.
And while departing autumn all embrowns
The frequent-bitten fields.

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