Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  The Legend of the Dead Lambs

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st earl of Lytton 1831–91

The Legend of the Dead Lambs


DEATH, though already in the world, as yet

Had only tried his timorous tooth to whet

On grass and leaves. But he began to grow

Greedoier, greater, and resolv’d to know

The taste of stronger food than such light fare.

To feed on human flesh he did not dare,

Till many a meaner meal had slowly given

The young destroyer strength to vanquish even

His restless rival in destruction, Man.

Meanwhile, on lesser victims he began

To test his power; and in a cold spring night

Two weanling lambs first perish’d from his bite.

The bleatings of their dam at break of day

Drew to the spot where her dead lambkins lay

The other beasts. Thy, understanding not,

In wistful silence round that fatal spot

Stood eyeing the dead lambs with looks forlorn.

Adam, who was upon the march that morn,

Missing his bodyguard, turn’d back to see

What they were doing; and there also he

Saw the two frozen lambkins lying dead,

But understood not. At the last he said,

“Since the lambs cannot move, methinks ’t were best

That I should carry them.”

So on his breast

He laid their little bodies, and again

Set forward, follow’d o’er the frosty plain

By his bewilder’d flocks. And in dismay

They held their peace. That was a silent day.

At night he laid the dead lambs on the grass.

That night still colder than the other was,

And when the morning broke there were two more

Dead lambs to carry. Adam took the four,

And in his arms he bore them, no great way,

Till eventide. That was a sorrowful day.

But, ere the next, two other lambkins died,

Frost-bitten in the dark. Then Adam tried

To carry them, all six. But the poor sheep

Said, “Nay, we thank thee, Adam. Let them sleep!

Thou canst not carry them. ’T is all in vain.

We fear our lambkins will not wake again.

And, if they wake, they could not walk—for see,

Their little legs are stiffen’d. Let them be!”

So Adam left the lambs. And all the herd

Follow’d him sorrowing, and not a word

Was spoken. Never until then had they

Their own forsaken. That was the worst day.

Eve said to Adam, as they went along,

“Adam, last night the cold was bitter strong.

Warm fleeces to keep out the freezing wind

Have those six lambkins thou hast left behind;

Bu they will never need them any more.

Go, fetch them here ! and I will make, before

This day be done, stout garments for us both,

Lest we, too, wake no more.” Said Adam, loth

To do her bidding, “Why dost thou suppose

Our lambs will never more have need of those

Warm fleeces? They are sleeping.” But Eve said,

“They are not sleeping, Adam. They are dead.”

“Dead? What is that?” “I know not. But I know

That they no more can feel the north wind blow,

Nor the sun burn. They cannot hear the bleat

Of their own mothers, cannot suffer heat

Or cold, or thirst or hunger, weariness

Or want, again.” “How dost thou know all this?”

Ask’d Adam. And Eve whisper’d in his ear,

“The Serpent told me.” “Is the Serpent here?

If here he be, why hat he,” Adam cried,

“No good gift brought me?” Adam’s wife replied,

“The best of gifts, if rightly understood,

He brings thee, and that gift is counsel good.

The Serpent is a prudent beast; and right!

For we were miserably cold last night,

And may to-night be colder; and hard by

Those dead lambs in their woolly fleeces lie,

Yet need them not as we do. They are dead.

Go fetch them hither!”

Adam shook his head,

But went.

Next morning, o the beasts’ surprise,

Adam and Eve appear’d before their eyes

In woollen fleeces warmly garmented

And all the beasts to one another said,

“How wonderful is Man, who can make wool

As good as sheep’s wool, and more beautiful!”

Only the Fox, who sniff’d and grinn’d, had guess’d

Man’s unacknowledged theft: and to the rest

He sneer’d, “How wonderful is Woman’s whim!

See, Adam’s wife hath made a sheep of him!”