The Shepherd’s Daughter

The Shepherd's Daughter

It was in her ancestry,
the longing to tend and herd.
Being the daughter of a shepherd
she knew why Arcadia pulled her.
Knowing her family began there,
she longed to return to her spirit land,
to deep harmony and highlands,
a vision of unspoiled wilderness.
To restore a branch of her family tree
and move in peace upon its mountains.
Home may be where the heart is,
yet hiraeth was calling her soul home.

Arcadia, a poetic shaped space,
where roots reach deep into the earth.
Isolated from her ancestors,
she dreamt of tending this land
hundreds of miles away.
A land filled with the scent of sheep,
ancient stone circles
and fast flowing waters.
The land spoke to her and she to the land.
If the South was her motherland,
then the North was her fatherland
and it was time to go home.

Long after leaving the farm,
her calling to care for and heal
the lame and lost ones,
including herself,
came as no surprise to the daughter.
Far from a life that was more real.
Far from a circle of shepherds.
A liberated sheep in a post shepherd world,
inhabiting a time of solitude,
until she followed her bliss
to the Lakeland beauty
and rain washed hills.

From a world unmoved by the temptations
of a chaotic, empty city life,
Arcadians had virtuous souls.
They saw the wickedness of the city
and returned to the fells, all the wiser.
The daughter dreamt of a kingdom
that grew close to the heavens,
where she could honour her ancestors
and the holy wisdom of mountains.
Where each hill, tree, crag and cloud
was not a lifeless body,
but a precious friend to her.

In the fabled land of Arcadia,
poets push poems into the ground
and everything conspires to make this place
a heavenly dwelling for shepherds.
No beauty here could ever fade,
in whatever season.
Shepherds learn first and foremost
they are servants,
not seeking recognition
in their role of humility and service.
Such noble savages the shepherd-poets,
whose heartbeat shepherds the flock.

On the way the daughter learnt
that parts of her must die.
She was to shed beliefs not needed
for the road home would not be easy.
Shepherded by sharp pain and great joy
she weathered turbulent seas,
blind prophets and raging monsters.
There was no escaping the journey
and yet to fail
meant she would never fully live,
as she moved from the world of action
to the world of contemplation.

To deny her inheritance
had been part of her journey.
She rejected her father’s farm,
instead taking to the seas
and staying there for forty years,
before hiraeth called her home.
Endlessly she licked her wounds,
sick with sorrow,
before this salty shepherd could see
each lamb’s shimmering soul.
At last she discovered word-pollen
to infuse her own and others hearts.

For, to reclaim her ancestral way of life,
she had needed first to learn many things.
How to befriend and comfort
the hurt and broken ones.
How to bravely fight off her enemies
and bring back the wandering.
How to carry each lamb close to her heart
and know the names of all sheep.
How to guard and watch over her flock,
when to call them to shelter.
How to restore, revive, and refresh
each ewe with wisdom and wonder.

To do this she was told as a child,
her apprenticeship would last until sixty.
She would need trusty dogs,
for it would take great faith to reach Arcadia
and earn the respect of other shepherds.
“The goddess Diana will lead you there
and then your story will begin.”
Yet even in the dark of night,
on reaching five years of age,
she understood her calling
for she was also the moon’s daughter,
a woodland child.

These days, standing beside the oak,
the shepherd of the hills
surveys her flock with wonder.
Shepherd and sheep, spiritual guides,
companions on an ancient path,
protectors of each other.
Long ago she wrote down the dream
of becoming shepherd to another flock.
Now, we follow her footsteps,
watching the shepherd’s daughter
search for truth and beauty
and her way back to the wild feminine.

Let us rest here, admire the view,
drink in the natural world,
align our soul with Mother Nature.
Let us explore for a moment
the stories of our heritage
and know that Arcadia truly exists
in the northern lands of our isle.
Far from the maddening crowds
and pavements of gold.
A place where we can dream of wild things,
accept rebirth as our spiritual toll 
and know we journey home.

From wounded child to whole healed woman,
returning to Eden at the dawn of life,
she learnt her story was holy.
A two-eyed story, one inner, one outer,
which brought her to wholeness.
Although we are here at the end,
the tale of the shepherd’s daughter
has only just begun.
For high upon a hilltop,
beside the shoemaker’s daughter,
she stands bravely to meet her fate,
calling the soul home.


Copyright © Deborah Gregory 2018
Image Credit: William-Aldophe Bouguereau
The Shepherdess (oil painting) 1873

18 thoughts on “The Shepherd’s Daughter

    1. Thank you so much Brigido for your lovely comment and welcome to my poetry and Jungian thought blog. It’s true, on our spiritual journeys parts of us must indeed die, in order for other parts of us to live. Warm and wild blessings, Deborah.

  1. I read this last night, Deborah, but was too blown away to say anything sensible other than, “You knock me off my feet.” We’ll see how I do this morning. This is so rich and creative that you set my imagination free.

    I’m drawn to the image of tending the wounds and leaving behind the inheritance (in my case, my mother’s negative animus where I feel some recent loosening). I’m drawn to learning how to love our broken selves and learning to protect ourselves and the soft lambs we carry close to our heart. And the dog friend and guide, and the oak, and the long views, and the silence that sometimes scares me. Yes, this land where I’m so deeply planted is my Arcadia, the place where I tell my two-eyed stories, the place where I still seek comfort and healing.

    Now that I dare to call this land my Arcadia, I’ll speak of distant views with no humans in sight. Gurgling streams and ancient trees. Rabbit, squirrel, coyote, crow, and deer tracks in the snow. And are those footprints Pan? No, another hoofed animal, maybe a small doe, but Pan is here somewhere. Everywhere.

    I hope to be this brave in facing my fate. I’m fearful at the moment as I move my elderly (102 is beyond elderly) mother-in-law into a nursing home and face that world where people are slowly dying and most have forgotten the life they had. I don’t have a living partner watching the sunset with me, but my dog is here watching over me and nosing my hand for a cookie. Every shepherd needs her dog.

    1. Thank you so much Elaine for your awe-inspiring review! Please know that your kindness, compassion and generous spirit in regard to my work, is always gratefully received. You’re such an inspiring, brave and wise woman to me! Am typing in tears yet my heart is full of joy knowing that my words, even for a moment, set your imagination free! The opening line came while deep in the middle of an ancient wood. Thankfully, I had my small notepad and the “shoe-maker’s daughter” had a pen, so I was able to quickly scribble the words down.

      The gentle releasing of your mother’s negative animus reveals (to me) how much you’ve been participating in your own “two-eyed” ancestral story. I really get that “one inner, one outer” perspective now! There is so much to learn isn’t there, so much to experience! The way of the writer is often the way of the shepherd. I’m so happy you are deeply planted in, and that your roots journey down to great depths on the land you live on. Yes, yes, yes this is your Arcadia and you are home! And I love it when you post photos of your woods!

      I agree the wild loving Pan is here, there and everywhere! I don’t know if you’ve ever come across Terri Windling’s “Myth & Moor” website, go there! It’s a veritable treasure chest and one of my favourite places to visit. Yesterday she posted, “Wild Neighbours” and the day before, another post named “Wild Marriage” I know you’ll enjoy her nature writing and mythological work immensely! I follow her on Twitter too so if you want to read either of those two articles I’ve retweeted them. Again thank you for my Twitter lessons, 1, 2, and 3!

      Just knowing you exist in this world helps me to face the “pregnant darkness” and follow the alchemists in their “Great Work.” You’re a great teacher! For yours is an open, willing heart and radiant soul! I cannot imagine how difficult recent months have been, the patience of a saint comes to mind. Your wonderful blog teaches me all about what it takes to be brave and courageous. And as for Willow, your gorgeous, loyal and faithful animal spirit, I agree, every shepherd needs her dog indeed and you have yours, Blessed Be! In soul, Deborah.

  2. WOWSERS!! You track and uncover the secrets of the wild and sacred feminine. A shoe-maker mends soles/souls doesn’t s/he? In a month of lean words your poem creates inner fireworks!!! Love to you both. HF

    1. Ha-ha! Yes, I like to think she does mend souls! Her descendants were shoe-makers and guess what, they lived in the northern lands too! Thank you Henry for your lovely email and comment here, much appreciated. Hope the day finds you well and that your beloved muse pays you an extended visit this weekend. Warm and wild blessings, Deborah.

  3. Deborah these are such beautiful, soulful words you have chosen to tell the tale of your life’s journey and what an exciting stage you have reached. It feels as though you are like the Fool in the Tarot – you have completed one cycle and now you are ready to take the next step, a leap of faith from a mountain…yet it seems that you already know your path as your ancestors call you home to the mountains and lakes of Arcadia?

    In the UK there are many such beautiful places (Snowdonia, the Cairngorms) but in England that can only be Cumbria – a land of fells and valleys, woodland and lakes – and of course many, many sheep!! “Arcadia, a poetic shaped space,” indeed if this is Cumbria that you speak of then it is the perfect place for a shepherd to find their flock and their soul too.

    “Rebirth as a spiritual toll” is such an insightful way of seeing and overcoming the many trials we face along life’s path, yet there are such exciting new adventures to be had if we are brave enough to find our way through. Thank you Deborah for being brave enough to share your words and for a truly inspiring poem.

    1. Thank you so much Sophia for your wonderful, kind-hearted words! As you know I’m a huge Tarot admirer so resonate deeply with all circular journeys. I agree a leap of faith is necessary to meet one’s fate, if not vital. Great insight! These days, the ancestral call home feels strong, loud and loving. Yes, early in life becoming a “shepherd” felt truly vocational, especially born with the surname “Shepherd,” of name and nature I thought.

      I have yet to travel up to the impressive, breath-taking Cairngorms in Scotland, or read Nan Shepherd’s amazing book, “The Living Mountains” despite it sleeping on my book shelves, waking for love’s true kiss I say! Cumbria, yes, yes, yes I love the county, and Yorkshire too! The northern lands of England are my version of Arcadia, that beautiful pastoral idyll! Simply heaven on earth. I could weep for the wanting to live there forever!

      Sometimes I close eyes and return to my father’s farm with the whiffs and pongs of sheep, cattle and disinfectant. It was a place of wonder, horror and miracles! I remember the first time I entered the milking shed, with all its stainless steel and the smell and taste of unpasteurised milk, whilst I inhaled much shit and other smells I couldn’t put a name on! A circular journey indeed. Thank you for acknowledging my bravery. In soul, Deborah.

      1. Nan Shepherds book is pure poetry – highly recommended!! It sounds like your early life was filled with many polar opposites and a great learning ground that has given you the strength and courage to face life’s mountainous journey of ascents and descents. Time now to step off the next precipice and take another leap into the unknown perhaps??!!

        1. Thank you, it’s on my reading list! Yes, a place (in hindsight) that I started to learn to tolerate tension between the opposites especially life and death, which never seemed far apart. Life’s “ascents and descents” hmm I like that! The precipice awaits, eek!

  4. My Arcadian friend – thank you. This is very soulful and beautiful. We who hear your inner call and voice are blessed indeed. Not only for your sharing, but to be inspired from your words of wisdom.

    I surmise it is only those who have journeyed far and wide, inner and outer, who can bravely stand with arms outstretched and meet their Fate. You are such a one Deborah. Each line is a glittering jewel, thank you again. In soul, Susan

    1. Dear Susan, Oh my Goddess! Your beautiful reply comes to me in the form of a poem itself! I’m reading your most generous, lyrical words in tears, or call them glittering jewels, depending on which lens you’re using. Thank you so much my dear friend!

      I feel truly blessed to have found a small circle of loving, tender shepherds here on the internet with whom I join and together I believe we guide, inspire and support each other. I’m utterly thrilled that you enjoyed my long poem! Warm and wild blessings, Deborah.

        1. A poem from artist and author Patricia Reis comes to mind:

          From the beginning / We have been with you. / We are the ancient ones / And we remember.

          We remember the time when there was only love / The time when all breathing was one…

          We are the ancient ones / And we have waited and watched / You say that you have no memory of us / You say that you cannot hear our voices…

          We say the time of waiting is over / We say the silence has been broken / We say there can be no forgetting now. We say listen.

          We are the bones of your grandmother’s grandmothers / We have returned now / We say you cannot forget us now / We say we are with you / And that you are with us.

          Remember. Remember.

  5. Deborah, I have few words yet even more admiration for your work today. The poem is grand!!! The depth is staggering!! I did not know the word “hiraeth” before so had to look it up. I enjoyed your translation. You know as poet & psychotherapist you are a modern-day shepherd! I cannot wait for “The Shepherd’s Daughter” to be published in novel form. All the best, Anna.

    1. Thank you so much Anna for your truly wonderful comment! By name and nature it seems! This has got to be one of my longest poems, the verses wouldn’t stop coming! For me Hiraeth means something akin to that voiceless call from the soul. It’s the deep longing you feel when you want to go home.

      Yes, I guess there are many parallels between shepherding and being a therapist. This is the first time I’ve explored these insights in poetry form. The book is cooking slowly, perhaps next year, who knows. In the meantime this year I’m hoping to finish my Animus Diet. In soul, Deborah.

      1. “The doors to the world of the wild self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door. If you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes

        If you didn’t know, your poetry is one such door.

        1. That’s an amazing quote! Does it come from, “Women Who Run With The Wolves” ? (I’m off to google now!) You are most generous and I am deeply humbled. Thank you always Anna for supporting and encouraging me. x

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