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IX. [On moonlit heath and lonesome bank]

by A. E. Housman, 1896

On moonlit heath and lonesome bank
 The sheep beside me graze;
And yon the gallows used to clank
 Fast by the four cross ways.

A careless shepherd once would keep
 The flocks by moonlight there,
And high amongst the glimmering sheep
 The dead man stood on air.

They hang us now in Shrewsbury jail:
 The whistles blow forlorn,
And trains all night groan on the rail
 To men that die at morn.

There sleeps in Shrewsbury jail to-night,
 Or wakes, as may betide,
A better lad, if things went right,
 Than most that sleep outside.

And naked to the hangman's noose
 The morning clocks will ring
A neck God made for other use
 Than strangling in a string.

And sharp the link of life will snap,
 And dead on air will stand
Heels that held up as straight a chap
 As treads upon the land.

So here I'll watch the night and wait
 To see the morning shine,
When he will hear the stroke of eight
 And not the stroke of nine;

And wish my friend as sound a sleep
 As lads' I did not know,
That shepherded the moonlit sheep
 A hundred years ago.

Published in A Shropshire Lad

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