Saturday, 8 October 2011

Sheep in Literature

I’ve been neglecting the blog lately, life has got in the way.  Also I haven’t had much to report compared to the busy shearing and craft show season.  I’m still plodding away with the mohair, there’s a bit more to comb before I can start spinning but once I get on to the spinning I’ll post an update.  

In the meantime, I thought I’d share another of my passions with you.  As well as being somewhat crazy about sheep, I also like literature.  I get very excited when the two interests come together and I actually find a piece about sheep.  This doesn’t happen all that often.  Recently I’ve been reading the works of WH Davies.  Davies had an amazing life, he was a tramp for many years.  In 1893 he went to America and in the following years he worked his passage across the Atlantic many times.  

The ships he worked on carried cattle and sheep.  Davies speaks briefly about the sheep in his book The Autobiography of a Super-tramp, he describes sailing with 2000 sheep on board.  The crossings seemed to take about 13 days.  I find it incredible that they used to ship live sheep across the Atlantic from America for slaughter in England.  The losses were considerable, with Davies giving an account of one voyage where all of the sheep were washed overboard during a storm.  

Undoubtedly Davies’ most powerful accounts of sailing with sheep are found in his two poems ‘A Child’s Pet’ and ‘Sheep’.  ‘Sheep’ describes the animals’ distress at leaving land behind:

They sniffed, poor things, for their green fields,
They cried so loud I could not sleep:

‘A Child’s Pet’ is a heart wrenching account of a sheep which had probably been a bottle fed lamb:

Yet every night and every day one sheep
That had no fear of man or sea,
Stuck through the bars its pleading face,
And it was stroked by me.

Davies describes the men on the ship as a bunch of ruffians and thieves yet all of them make a fuss of the tame sheep: 

Eight ragged sheep-men – tramps and thieves –
Would stroke that sheep’s black nose.

Sheep are often overlooked, I love the way Davies empathises with the sheep and really makes the tame sheep live in my imagination.

What do you think?  Have you come across any sheep in literature? 


  1. While waiting for my library queue to cough up Breaking Bad - the 1st season, I received All Creatures Great & Small - series one. I watched it many years ago on our public broadcasting station (PBS). It still resonates with me today. I was thinking about you as Mr. Herriot, the vitrinery, was doing his thing with the sheeps.
    I love that you enjoy reading books with sheep in them. I am often caught out reading books with airplanes in them.
    Happy spinning,

  2. I don't overlook sheep :o)
    I don't have any suggestions of my own, but look forward to any that arise.

  3. I love All Creatures Great and Small. Have you read any of James Herriot's books? He was a real vet, the books are hilarious.

  4. Wow, you've given me something to think about. Thank you!

    I don't recall any sheep in literature but you can bet I'll be looking for them now. :)

  5. I've read them all a few times now. They were well-written. Thank you for your kind words about my dog. I'm gradually getting out of my funk.