In the poem Endymion: A poetic romance (1818), the first stanza of Book I (beginning, "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever") contains the following passage:-

                                      yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season

I was told that "simple sheep" was a biblical reference (I presume it to be related to how we are all sheep following a Shepherd or something). However, I couldn’t find anything in particular related to it nor could I interpret what it could be as Keats was describing beauty till this point.

  • I'd recommend you move your side question to a question of its own. Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 14:51
  • I wouldn't have thought so. It's likely that this idea is mooted because the sheep are described as being simple. And this may be used in describing the Christian laity - as being simple (ie not crooked!). But Keats was probably reaching for the most simple alliteration that fitted his needs here. So, on the whole, I think you are right. Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 14:04

1 Answer 1


It is always difficult to prove a negative, but I doubt that ‘simple sheep’ is a biblical reference.

I have two reasons for this doubt. First, in the Authorized Version (the translation with which Keats was most familiar) the word ‘simple’ is mainly used with the meaning ‘unsophisticated, ignorant, foolish’, for example:

Psalm 119:130 The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.

Proverbs 9:13 A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple, and knoweth nothing.

Romans 16:17 by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

whereas in the line from ‘Endymion’, Keats is using ‘simple’ with the meaning ‘humble, modest, unassuming’.

Second, the sentiment of the passage is that the beauty of the natural world, such as a flock of sheep resting in the shade of a tree on a hot day, ‘moves away the pall from our dark spirits’, that is, it cheers us up. This is an idea that is not found in the Bible: when the Bible mentions the beauty of the natural world, it does so in order to praise God, as for example in Psalm 96:11–13:

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth

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