Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Suggested by a character found in the work of Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott and transposed to the California coast, “The Loving Shepherdess” is the most straightforward and simplest in texture of Jeffers’s narrative poems. It lacks both the mythic overtones and the thematic commentary of the others. Structurally, it traces the course of Clare Walker’s last, doomed journey, during which she refuses to avert the suffering derived from her previous actions.
The poem opens with a ragged Clare leading her flock, reduced from fifty to ten, past a one-room schoolhouse at recess. The children jeer at her and threaten her, reminding her that she had killed her father and then been abandoned by her lover. One boy alone protects her, warning her to avoid the cattle ranches, where the dogs would be set on her sheep. Clare wanders on, obviously distressed in mind and body but devoted to her sheep. Near Fogler’s ranch the rancher’s dogs attack; he comes out to drive them off. Recognizing her, he wants to offer her shelter but knows that his wife would object. Hastily he packs some food, gathers a pair of old shoes, and kisses her, shame-faced, as she leaves.
Clare wanders northward. She has moments of pastoral bliss, but all pleasures are overshadowed. Near Point Sur, forgetting for the moment that she is in cattle country, she is warned off the pastures by a young cowboy, Will Brighton. He shows her an abandoned house, telling her that she...
(The entire section is 923 words.)
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