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"The Sheep Child" develops in two movements spoken by two separate personae, the narrator and the sheep child, a method that recalls the method of "The Owl King," in which each of three speakers views an experience from a different angle of vision. The sheep child is a vastly better poet than the narrator, exceeding him as the superhuman exceeds the human. The narrator's introductory remarks are delivered with the maundering stammer of a southern yokel spinning a ghostly yarn. In his soliloquy. . ., the sheep child maintains that the farm boy regarded his sheep-mate as a thing without being, selfless, defenseless, caught unawares. To couple with the sheep would be a mere extension of the act of masturbation, like coupling "with soft-wooded trees / With mounds of earth." Shrewdly, the sheep complies with this falsification of her role to trap the boy into completing the act of bestiality. The boy mistakes the female sheep's absorbed passiveness for indifference, for "she gave, not lifting her head / Out of dew, without ever looking, her best / Self to that great need." The ewe experiences a perfect fulfillment of being; the farm boy, "stumbling away," is sobbing, haunted, driven wildly afraid by the profundity of her experience. His fear is mixed with guilt for having committed the forbidden act.

The ewe takes her place alongside "Crazy Jane" in the gallery of mindless sexual heroines in modern poetry in English. The farm boy's amazement and terror at her unexpected passion dramatize, in an original and unpredictable way, the mystery and depth of female sexuality. Yeats provided religious-erotic motif that anticipate this poem in "Leda and the Swan" and "The Second Coming." But while Yeats molds the poem around myths taken from Bible, folklore, or literary tradition, Dickey draws on legends concocted by nonliterate, superstitious people to curb the wildness of the young. The poem combines the supernatural otherness of nightmare with Ripleyesque shock effects, but the vision is so powerfully conceived that it escapes sensationalism.