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James Russell Lowell

The Shepherd of King Admetus

There came a youth upon the earth,

Some thousand years ago,

Whose slender hands were nothing worth,

Whether to plow, or reap, or sow.

Upon an empty tortoise-shell

He stretched some chords, and drew

Music that made men's bosoms swell

Fearless, or brimmed their eyes with dew.

Then King Admetus, one who had

Pure taste by right divine,

Decreed his singing not too bad

To hear between the cups of wine:

And so, well pleased with being soothed

Into a sweet half-sleep,

Three times his kingly beard he smoothed,

And made him viceroy o'er his sheep.

His words were simple words enough,

And yet he used them so,

That what in other mouths was rough

In his seemed musical and low.

Men called him but a shiftless youth,

In whom no good they saw;

And yet, unwittingly, in truth,

They made his careless words their law.

They knew not how he learned at all,

For idly, hour by hour,

He sat and watched the dead leaves fall,

Or mused upon a common flower.

It seemed the loveliness of things

Did teach him all their use,

For, in mere weeds, and stones, and springs,

He found a healing power profuse.

Men granted that his speech was wise,

But, when a glance they caught

Of his slim grace and woman's eyes,

They laughed, and called him good-for-naught.

Yet after he was dead and gone,

And e'en his memory dim,

Earth seemed more sweet to live upon,

More full of love, because of him.

And day by day more holy grew

Each spot where he had trod,

Till after-poets only knew

Their first-born brother as a god.