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The Shepherd Swaine

The Shepherd Swaine

. . . I got hold of a book of selections from the writings of John Aubrey and reread a pastoral poem which must have been written some time in the first half of the seventeenth century, and which was inspired by a certain Mrs Overall. . .

Mrs Overall was the wife of a Dean and was extensively unfaithful to him. According to Aubrey she "could scarcely denie any one", and she had "the loveliest Eies that were ever seen, but wondrous wanton". The poem (the "shepherd swaine" seems to have been somebody called Sir John Selby) . . . ends with [an] exquisite stanza.

. . . Mrs Overall was no more an exemplary character than the Vicar of Bray, though a more attractive one. Yet in the end all that remains of her is a poem which still gives pleasure to many people, though for some reason it never gets into the anthologies. The suffering which she presumably caused, and the misery and futility in which her own life must have ended, have been transformed into a sort of lingering fragrance like the smell of tobacco-plants on a summer evening. -- George Orwell

Orwell only quoted a couple of verses. Here is the compete poem:

Downe lay the shepherd swaine
So sober and demure,
Wishing for his wench againe
So bonny and so pure,
With his head on hillock lowe
And his armes akimbo;
And all was for the losse of his
Hye nonny nonny noe.

His teares fell as thinne
As water from the still,
His haire upon his chinne
Grew like thyme upon a hill,
His cherry cheekes pale as snowe
Did testifye his mickle woe,
And all was for the losse of his
Hye nonny nonny noe.

Sweet she was, as kind a love
As ever fetter'd swayne;
Never such a daynty one
Shall man enjoy again.
Sett a thousand on a rowe
I forbid that any showe
Ever the like of her
Hye nonny nonny noe.

Face she had of filberd hue,
And bosom'd like a swan;
Back she had of bended ewe,
And waisted by a span.
Haire she had as black as crowe
From the head unto the toe
Downe, downe, all over her
Hye nonny nonny noe.

With her mantle tuck't-up high
She foddered her flock
So bucksome and alluringly,
Her knee upheld her smock
So nimbly did she use to goe,
So smooth she danc't on tip-toe,
That all men were fond of her
Hye nonny nonny noe.

She smiled like a Holy-day
And simpred like the Spring,
She pranck't it like a popingaie
And like a swallow sing,
She trip't it like a barren doe,
She strutted like a gor-crowe,
Which made the men so fond of her
Hye nonny nonny noe.

To sport it on the merry downe
To daunce the lively Haye
To wrastle for a green gowne
In heate of all the daye
Never would she say me no
Yet me thought I had thô
Never enough of her
Hye nonny nonny noe.

But gonne she is, the prettiest lasse
That ever trod on plaine.
What ever hath betide of her
Blame not the shepherd swayne
For why? she was her owne foe
And gave her selfe the over throwe
By being so franke of her
Hye nonny nonny noe.

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