Editors’ note: These poems are excerpted from The Lamb Cycle: What the Great English Poets Would Have Written About Mary and Her Lamb (Had They Thought of It First), by David Ewbank, illustrated by Kate Feiffer, published this month by Brandeis University Press.

Mary had a little lamb;
Its fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.

                                —Sarah Josepha Hale


William Shakespeare: Sonnet 155

That cruel hind well may the world beshrew
Who plighted pairs of sheep would separate;
Such rude divorce can but, depriving ewe,
Bank the still flickering fervor for her mate
And in his mutinous breast only beget,
By paradox, increase of fiery heat,
Stoked by inflaming hinderance and let,
Which else had burned innoxious and discrete.
How much more scorn deserves thy master’s spite,
Rudely to rive from thy dark-dazzling blaze
Thy pettish fond adorer, shaggy white,
And slam the door on his enamored gaze.
Only in this, my curse, may meddling rival
Find near renown and infamous survival.


A. E. Housman: A Shropshire lamb

I went to school, and I believe
That I could count past two
If the teacher had not made me leave
And filled my heart with rue.

Mary kissed me ere I left
And said I should not cry,
But now, heartbroken and bereft,
I’ve learned that lovers lie.

Now Mary’s doing calculus
And trigonometry,
While I, alone and envious,
Have yet to get to three.


George Herbert: The school steps

Down       this
Steep        stair
He      fell        from     bliss
And        fortune            fair.
Meek   lamb   and  lettered  miss,
Ill-sorted,            hapless               pair,
The          sill          of         Learning’s           Edifice
Transgressed  and made the master swear
That   should  he   brook   such   sin   he’d   be   remiss.
He   pet   from   pupil   tore   like   wheat   from   tare.
To      repossess          the       maid      and        thwart          his        nemesis
Is      now      the      lambkin’s        fervid,        postlapsarian         prayer.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 41 Number 8, on page 41
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