JANUARY.

 ____

  

   WITHERING and keen the Winter comes,

While Comfort flies to close-shut rooms,

And sees the snow in feathers pass

Winnowing by the window-glass;

Whilst unfelt tempests howl and beat

Above his head in chimney-seat.

 

   Now, musing o’er the changing scene,

Farmers behind the tavern-screen

Collect;—with elbow idly press’d

On hob, reclines the corner’s guest,                               10

Reading the news, to mark again

            The bankrupt lists, or price of grain;

2    ………………………………………………………………………

Or old Moore’s annual prophecies

Of flooded fields and clouded skies;

Whose Almanac’s thumb’d pages swarm

With frost and snow, and many a storm,

And wisdom, gossip’d from the stars,

Of politics and bloody wars.

He shakes his head, and still proceeds,

Nor doubts the truth of what he reads:                           20

All wonders are with faith supplied,—

Bible, at once, or weather-guide.

Puffing the while his red-tipt pipe,

He dreams o’er troubles nearly ripe;

Yet, not quite lost in profit’s way,

He’ll turn to next year’s harvest-day,

And, Winter’s leisure to regale,

Hope better times, and—sip his ale.

 

   The schoolboy still, with dithering joys,

In pastime leisure hours employs,                                  30

And, be the weather as it may,

2            Is never at a loss for play:                     

3    ………………………………………………………………………

Making rude forms of various names,

Snow-men, or aught his fancy frames;

Till, numb’d and shivering, he resorts

To brisker games and warmer sports—

Kicking, with many a flying bound,

The football o’er the frozen ground;

Or seeking bright glib ice, to play

And slide the wintry hours away,                                   40

As quick and smooth as shadows run,

When clouds in autumn pass the sun.

Some, hurrying rambles eager take

To skait upon the meadow lake,

Scaring the snipe from her retreat,

From shelving banks in frozen seat;

Or running brook, where icy spars,

Which the pale sun-light specks with stars,

Shoot crizzling o’er the restless tide,

To many a likeness petrified.                                         50

The moor-hen, too, with fear opprest,

Starts from her reedy shelter’d rest,

As skaiting by, with curving springs,

3           And arms outspread like heron’s wings,

4    ……………………………………………………………………

They race away, for pleasure’s sake,

With hunter’s speed along the lake.

 

   Blackening through the evening sky,

In clouds the starlings daily fly

To Whittlesea’s reed-wooded mere,

And osier holts by rivers near;                                       60

Whilst many a mingled swarthy crowd,—

Rook, crow, and jackdaw,—noising loud,

Fly to and fro to dreary fen,

Dull Winter’s weary flight again;

They flop on heavy wings away

As soon as morning wakens grey,

And, when the sun sets round and red,

Return to naked woods to bed.

  

   The sun is creeping out of sight

Behind the woods—whilst running Night                       70

Hastens to shut the Day’s dull eye,

And grizzle o’er the chilly sky.

Now maidens, fresh as summer roses,

4           Journeying from the distant closes,

5    ……………………………………………………………………

Haste home with yokes and swinging pail:

The thresher, too, sets by his flail,

And leaves the mice at peace again

To fill their holes with stolen grain;

Whilst owlets, glad his toils are o’er,

Swoop by him as he shuts the door.                              80

 

   Bearing his hook beneath his arm,

The shepherd seeks the cottage warm;

And, weary in the cold to roam,

Scenting the track that leads him home,

His dog goes swifter o’er the mead,

Barking to urge his master’s speed;

Then turns, and looks him in the face,

And trots before with mending pace,

Till, out of whistle from the swain,

He sits him down and barks again,                                90

Anxious to greet the open’d door,

And meet the cottage-fire once more.

 

   The shutter closed, the lamp alight,

5           The faggot chopt and blazing bright—

6    ………………………………………………………………………

The shepherd now, from labour free,

Dances his children on his knee;

While, underneath his master’s seat,

The tired dog lies in slumbers sweet,

Starting and whimpering in his sleep,

Chasing still the straying sheep.                                      100

The cat’s roll’d round in vacant chair,

Or leaping children’s knees to lair—

Or purring on the warmer hearth,

Sweet chorus to the cricket’s mirth.—

 

   The redcap, hanging over head,

In cage of wire is perch’d a-bed;

Slumbering in his painted feathers,

Unconscious of the out-door weathers:

Ev’n things without the cottage walls

Meet comfort as the evening falls,—                              110

As happy in the Winter’s dearth

As those around the blazing hearth.—

The ass, (frost-driven from the moor,

6           Where storms through naked bushes roar,

7    ……………………………………………………………………

And not a leaf or sprig of green,

On ground or quaking bush, is seen,

Save grey-vein’d ivy’s hardy pride,

Round old trees by the common side)

Litter’d with straw, now dozes warm,

Beneath his shed, from snow and storm:                        120

The swine are fed and in the stye;

And fowls snug perch’d in hovel nigh,

With head in feathers safe asleep,

Where foxes cannot hope to creep;

And geese are gabbling in their dreams

Of litter’d corn and thawing streams.—

The sparrow, too, a daily guest,

Is in the cottage eaves at rest:

And robin small, and smaller wren,

Are in their warm holes safe again                                 130

From falling snows, that winnow by

The hovels where they nightly lie,

And ague winds, that shake the tree

7           Where other birds are forc’d to be.—

8    ……………………………………………………………………

The housewife, busy night and day,

Clears the supper-things away;

The jumping cat starts from her seat;

And stretching up on weary feet

The dog wakes at the welcome tones

That call him up to pick the bones.                                140

 

   On corner walls, a glittering row,

Hang fire-irons—less for use than show;

With horse-shoe brighten’d, as a spell,

Witchcraft’s evil powers to quell;

And warming-pan, reflecting bright

The crackling blazes’ flickering light,

That hangs the corner wall to grace,

Nor oft is taken from its place:

There in its mirror, bright as gold,

The children peep, and straight behold                           150

Their laughing faces, whilst they pass,

Gleam on the lid as plain as glass.—

 

   Supper removed, the mother sits,

8           And tells her tales by starts and fits.

9    ………………………………………………………………………

Not willing to lose time or toil,

She knits or sews, and talks the while

Something, that may be warnings found

To the young listeners gaping round—

Of boys who in her early day

Stroll’d to the meadow-lake to play,                             160

Where willows, o’er the bank inclined,

Shelter’d the water from the wind,

And left it scarcely crizzled o’er—

When one sank in, to rise no more!

And how, upon a market-night,

When not a star bestow’d its light,

A farmer’s shepherd, o’er his glass,

Forgot that he had woods to pass:

And having sold his master’s sheep,

Was overta’en by darkness deep.                                 170

How, coming with his startled horse,

To where two roads a hollow cross;

Where, lone guide when a stranger strays,

A white post points four different ways,

Beside the woodride’s lonely gate

9           A murdering robber lay in wait.

10    ……………………………………………………………………

The frighten’d horse, with broken rein

Stood at the stable-door again;

But none came home to fill his rack,

Or take the saddle from his back:                                  180

The saddle—it was all he bore—

The man was seen alive no more!—

In her young days, beside the wood,

The gibbet in its terror stood:

Though now decay’d, ’tis not forgot,

But dreaded as a haunted spot.—

 

   She from her memory oft repeats

Witches’ dread powers and fairy feats:

How one has oft been known to prance

In cowcribs, like a coach, to France,                             190

And ride on sheep-trays from the fold

A race-horse speed to Burton-hold;

To join the midnight mystery’s rout,

Where witches meet the yews about:

And how, when met with unawares,

10          They turn at once to cats or hares,

11    ……………………………………………………………………

And race along with hellish flight,

Now here, now there, now out of sight!—

And how the other tiny things

Will leave their moonlight meadow-rings,                       200

And, unperceiv’d, through key-holes creep,

When all around have sunk to sleep,

To feast on what the cotter leaves,—

Mice are not reckon’d greater thieves.

They take away, as well as eat,

And still the housewife’s eye they cheat,

In spite of all the folks that swarm

In cottage small and larger farm;

They through each key-hole pop and pop,

Like wasps into a grocer’s shop,                                   210

With all the things that they can win

From chance to put their plunder in;—

As shells of walnuts, split in two

By crows, who with the kernels flew;

Or acorn-cups, by stock-doves pluck’d,

Or egg-shells by a cuckoo suck’d;

With broad leaves of the sycamore

11          They clothe their stolen dainties o’er:

12    ……………………………………………………………………

And when in cellar they regale,

Bring hazel-nuts to hold their ale;                                   220

With bung-holes bor’d by squirrels well,

To get the kernel from the shell;

Or maggots a way out to win,

When all is gone that grew within:

And be the key-holes e’er so high,

Rush poles a ladder’s help supply,

Where soft the climbers fearless tread,

On spindles made of spiders’ thread.

And foul, or fair, or dark the night,

Their wild-fire lamps are burning bright:                         230

For which full many a daring crime

Is acted in the summer-time;—

When glow-worm found in lanes remote

Is murder’d for its shining coat,

And put in flowers, that Nature weaves

With hollow shapes and silken leaves,

Such as the Canterbury bell,

Serving for lamp or lantern well;

Or, following with unwearied watch

12          The flight of one they cannot match,                               240

13    ……………………………………………………………………

As silence sliveth upon sleep,

Or thieves by dozing watch-dogs creep,

They steal from Jack-a-Lantern’s tails

A light, whose guidance never fails

To aid them in the darkest night

And guide their plundering steps aright.

Rattling away in printless tracks,

Some, housed on beetles’ glossy backs,

Go whisking on—and others hie

As fast as loaded moths can fly:                                     250

Some urge, the morning cock to shun,

The hardest gallop mice can run,

In chariots, lolling at their ease,

Made of whate’er their fancies please;—

Things that in childhood’s memory dwell—

Scoop’d crow-pot-stone, or cockle-shell,

With wheels at hand of mallow seeds,

Where childish sport was stringing beads;

And thus equipp’d, they softly pass

Like shadows on the summer-grass,                              260

And glide away in troops together

13          Just as the Spring-wind drives a feather.

14    ……………………………………………………………………

As light as happy dreams they creep,

Nor break the feeblest link of sleep:

A midge, if in their road a-bed,

Feels not the wheels run o’er his head,

But sleeps till sunrise calls him up,

Unconscious of the passing troop.—

 

   Thus dame the winter-night regales

With wonder’s never-ceasing tales;                               270

While in a corner, ill at ease,

Or crushing ’tween their father’s knees,

The children—silent all the while—

And e’en repressed the laugh or smile—

Quake with the ague chills of fear,

And tremble though they love to hear;

Starting, while they the tales recall,

At their own shadows on the wall:

Till the old clock, that strikes unseen

Behind the picture-pasted screen                                   300

Where Eve and Adam still agree

14          To rob Life’s fatal apple-tree,

15    …………………………………………………………………..

Counts over bed-time’s hour of rest,

And bids each be Sleep’s fearful guest.

She then her half-told tales will leave

To finish on to-morrow’s eve.—

The children steal away to-bed,

And up the ladder softly tread;

Scarce daring—from their fearful joys—

To look behind or make a noise;                                   310

Nor speak a word! but still as sleep

They secret to their pillows creep,

And whisper o’er, in terror’s way,

The prayers they dare no louder say;

Then hide their heads beneath the clothes,

And try in vain to seek repose:

While yet, to fancy’s sleepless eye,

Witches on sheep-trays gallop by,

And fairies, like a rising spark,

Swarm twittering round them in the dark;                       320

Till sleep creeps nigh to ease their cares,

15          And drops upon them unawares.

16    ………………………………………………………………………

   Oh! Spirit of the days gone by—

The witching spells of winter nights,

Sweet childhood’s fearful ecstacy!

Where are they fled with their delights?

When list’ning on the corner seat,

The winter evening’s length to cheat,

I heard my mother’s memory tell

Tales Superstition loves so well:—                                330

Things said or sung a thousand times,

In simple prose or simpler rhymes!

Ah! where is page of poesy

So sweet as this was wont to be?

The magic wonders that deceived,

When fictions were as truths believed;

The fairy feats that once prevail’d,

Told to delight, and never fail’d:

Where are they now, their fears and sighs,

And tears from founts of happy eyes?                            340

I read in books, but find them not,

For Poesy hath its youth forgot:

I hear them told to children still,

16          But fear numbs not my spirits chill:

17    ………………………………………………………………………

I still see faces pale with dread,

While mine could laugh at what is said;

See tears imagined woes supply,

While mine with real cares are dry.

Where are they gone?—the joys and fears,

The links, the life of other years?                                   350

I thought they twined around my heart

So close, that we could never part;

But Reason, like a winter’s day,

Nipp’d childhood’s visions all away,

Nor left behind one withering flower

To cherish in a lonely hour.

Memory may yet the themes repeat,

But Childhood’s heart hath ceased to beat

At tales, which Reason’s sterner lore

Turns like weak gossips from her door:                         360

The Magic Fountain, where the head

Rose up, just as the startled maid

Was stooping from the weedy brink

To dip her pitcher in to drink,

That did its half-hid mystery tell

17          To smooth its hair, and use it well;

18……………………………………………………………………..

Which, doing as it bade her do,

Turn’d to a king and lover too.

The tale of Cinderella, told

The winter through, and never old:                                 370

The pumpkin that, at her approach,

Was turn’d into a golden coach;

The rats that fairies’ magic knew,

And instantly to horses grew;

The coachmen ready at her call,

To drive her to the Prince’s ball,

With fur-changed jackets silver lined,

And tails hung ’neath their hats behind;

The golden glove, with fingers small,

She lost while dancing in the hall,                                   380

That was on every finger tried,

And fitted hers, and none beside,

When Cinderella, soon as seen,

Was woo’d and won, and made a Queen.

The Boy that did the Giant slay,

And gave his mother’s cows away

For magic mask, that day or night,

18         When on, would keep him out of sight.

19………………………………………………………………………

The running bean,—not such as weaves

Round poles the height of cottage eaves,                       390

But magic one,—that travell’d high

Some steeple’s journey up the sky,

And reach’d a giant’s dwelling there,

A cloud-built castle in the air:

Where, venturing up the fearful height,

That served him climbing half the night,

He search’d the giant’s coffers o’er,

And never wanted riches more;

While, like a lion scenting food,

The giant roar’d in hungry mood,                                   400

A storm of threats that might suffice

To freeze the hottest blood to ice.

 

   I hear it now, nor dream of woes;

The storm is settled to repose.

Those fears are dead!—What will not die

In fading Life’s mortality?

Those truths have fled, and left behind

19         A real world and doubting mind.

   …………………………………………………………………………

 

  FEBRUARY.

        ____

 

                I.

THE snow has left the cottage top;

   The thatch-moss grows in brighter green;

And eaves in quick succession drop,

   Where grinning icicles have been;

Pit-patting with a pleasant noise

   In tubs set by the cottage-door;

While ducks and geese, with happy joys,

   Plunge in the yard-pond brimming o’er.

                                                II.

The sun peeps through the window-pane;

   Which children mark with laughing eye,                      10

And in the wet street steal again,

               To tell each other Spring is nigh:

21    ………………………………………………………………………………….

            Then, as young hope the past recalls,

   In playing groups they often draw,

To build beside the sunny walls

   Their spring-time huts of sticks or straw.

III.

And oft in pleasure’s dreams they hie

   Round homesteads by the village side,

Scratching the hedgerow mosses by,

   Where painted pooty shells abide;                              20

Mistaking oft the ivy spray

   For leaves that come with budding Spring,

And wond’ring, in their search for play,

   Why birds delay to build and sing.

IV.

The milkmaid singing leaves her bed,

   As glad as happy thoughts can be,

While magpies chatter o’er her head

   As jocund in the change as she:

Her cows around the closes stray,

   Nor ling’ring wait the foddering-boy;                          30

Tossing the mole-hills in their play,

21             And staring round with frolic joy.

22    ………………………………………………………………………………….

V.

The shepherd now is often seen

   Near warm banks o’er his hook to bend;

Or o’er a gate or stile to lean,

   Chattering to a passing friend:

Ploughmen go whistling to their toils,

   And yoke again the rested plough;

And, mingling o’er the mellow soils,

   Boys shout, and whips are noising now.                      40

VI.

The barking dogs, by lane and wood,

   Drive sheep a-field from foddering ground;

And Echo, in her summer mood,

   Briskly mocks the cheering sound.

The flocks, as from a prison broke,

   Shake their wet fleeces in the sun,

While, following fast, a misty smoke

   Reeks from the moist grass as they run.

VII.

No more behind his master’s heels

   The dog creeps on his winter-pace;                            50

But cocks his tail, and o’er the fields

22             Runs many a wild and random chase,

23    ………………………………………………………………………………….

Following, in spite of chiding calls,

   The startled cat with harmless glee,

Scaring her up the weed-green walls,

   Or mossy mottled apple tree.

VIII.

As crows from morning perches fly,

   He barks and follows them in vain;

E’en larks will catch his nimble eye,

   And off he starts and barks again,                              60

With breathless haste and blinded guess,

   Oft following where the hare hath gone;

Forgetting, in his joy’s excess,

   His frolic puppy-days are done!

IX.

The hedgehog, from his hollow root,

   Sees the wood-moss clear of snow,

And hunts the hedge for fallen fruit—

   Crab, hip, and winter-bitten sloe;

But often check’d by sudden fears,

   As shepherd-dog his haunt espies,                              70

He rolls up in a ball of spears,

23             And all his barking rage defies.

24   ………………………………………………………………………………….

X.

The gladden’d swine bolt from the sty,

   And round the yard in freedom run,

Or stretching in their slumbers lie

   Beside the cottage in the sun.

The young horse whinneys to his mate,

   And, sickening from the thresher’s door,

Rubs at the straw-yard’s banded gate,

   Longing for freedom on the moor.                              80

XI.

The small birds think their wants are o’er,

   To see the snow-hills fret again,

And, from the barn’s chaff-litter’d door,

   Betake them to the greening plain.

The woodman’s robin startles coy,

   Nor longer to his elbow comes,

To peck, with hunger’s eager joy,

   ’Mong mossy stulps the litter’d crumbs.

XII.

’Neath hedge and walls that screen the wind,

   The gnats for play will flock together;                         90

And e’en poor flies some hope will find

24             To venture in the mocking weather;

25   ………………………………………………………………………………….

From out their hiding-holes again,

   With feeble pace, they often creep

Along the sun-warm’d window-pane,

   Like dreaming things that walk in sleep.

XIII.

The mavis thrush with wild delight,

   Upon the orchard’s dripping tree,

Mutters, to see the day so bright,

   Fragments of young Hope’s poesy:                            100

And oft Dame stops her buzzing wheel

   To hear the robin’s note once more,

Who tootles while he pecks his meal

   From sweet-briar hips beside the door.

XIV.

The sunbeams on the hedges lie,

   The south wind murmurs summer soft;

The maids hang out white clothes to dry

   Around the elder-skirted croft:

A calm of pleasure listens round,

   And almost whispers Winter by;                                 110

While Fancy dreams of Summer’s sound,

25             And quiet rapture fills the eye.

26   ………………………………………………………………………………….

XV.

Thus Nature of the Spring will dream

   While south winds thaw; but soon again

Frost breathes upon the stiff’ning stream,

   And numbs it into ice: the plain

Soon wears its mourning garb of white;

   And icicles, that fret at noon,

Will eke their icy tails at night

   Beneath the chilly stars and moon.                              120

XVI.

Nature soon sickens of her joys,

   And all is sad and dumb again,

Save merry shouts of sliding boys

   About the frozen furrow’d plain.

The foddering-boy forgets his song,

   And silent goes with folded arms;

And croodling shepherds bend along,

26             Crouching to the whizzing storms.

    ………………………………………………………………………………….

 

MARCH.

   ____

 

MARCH, month of “many weathers,” wildly comes

In hail, and snow, and rain, and threatening hums,

And floods;—while often at his cottage-door

The shepherd stands, to hear the distant roar

Loosed from the rushing mills and river-locks,

With thundering sound and overpowering shocks.                                                   

From bank to bank, along the meadow lea,

The river spreads, and shines a little sea;

While, in the pale sunlight, a watery brood

Of swopping white birds flock about the flood.                          10

 

   Yet Winter seems half weary of his toil;

And round the ploughmen, on the elting soil,

Will thread a minute’s sunshine wild and warm,

            Through the ragg’d places of the swimming storm;

28   ……………………………………………………………………………………………….

And oft the shepherd in his path will spy

The little daisy in the wet grass lie,

That to the peeping sun uncloses gay,

Like Labour smiling on a holiday;

And where the steep bank fronts the southern sky,

By lanes or brooks where sunbeams love to lie,                         20

A cowslip-peep will open faintly coy,

Soon seen and gather’d by a wondering boy.

 

   A tale of Spring around the distant haze

Seems muttering pleasures with the lengthening days;

Morn wakens mottled oft with May-day stains;

And shower-drops hang the grassy sprouting plains,

Or on the naked thorns of brassy hue

Drip glistening, like a summer-dream of dew.

The woodman, in his pathway down the wood,

Crushes with hasty feet full many a bud                                      30

Of early primrose; yet if timely spied,

Shelter’d some old half-rotten stump beside,

The sight will cheer his solitary hour,

28         And urge his feet to stride and save the flower.

29   ………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The hedger’s toils oft scare the doves, that browze

The chocolate berries on the ivy boughs,

Or flocking fieldfares, speckled like the thrush,

Picking the berry from the hawthorn bush,

That come and go on Winter’s chilling wing,

And seem to share no sympathy with Spring.                             40

The ploughmen now along the doughy sloughs

Will often stop their songs, to clean their ploughs

From teasing twitch, that in the spongy soil

Clings round the coulter, interrupting toil.

The sower o’er his heavy hopper leans,

Strewing with swinging arms the pattering beans,

Which, soon as April’s milder weather gleams,

Will shoot up green between the furrow’d seams.

The driving boy, glad when his steps can trace

The swelling headland as a resting-place,                                   50

Flings from his clotted shoes the dirt around,

And fain would rest him on the solid ground.

Not far behind them struts the nauntly crow,

And daw, whose head seems powder’d o’er with snow,

Seeking the worms: the rook, a noisy guest,

29         That on the wind-rock’d elms prepares her nest,

30   ……………………………………………………………………………………….………….

On the fresh furrow often drops, to pull

The twitching roots, or gather sticks and wool,

From trees whose dead twigs litter to the wind,

And gaps where stray sheep left their coats behind;                   60

While ground-larks, on a swinging clump of rushes,

Or on the top twigs of the scatter’d bushes,

Chirp their “cree-creery” note, that sounds of Spring;

And sky-larks meet the sun with fluttering wing.

 

   The shepherd-boy, that hastens now and then

From hail and snow beneath his sheltering den

Of flags, or file-leaved sedges tied in sheaves,

Or stubble shocks, oft as his eye perceives

Sun-threads shrink out in momentary smiles,

With fairy thoughts his loneliness beguiles;                                  70

Thinking the struggling Winter howling by,

As down the edges of the distant sky

The hail-storm sweeps;—and while he stops to strip

The stooping hedgebriar of its lingering hip,

He hears the wild geese gabble o’er his head;

Then, pleased with fancies in his musings bred,

He marks the figured forms in which they fly,

30         And pausing, follows with a wondering eye,

31   ………………………………………………………………………….……………….

Likening their curious march, in curves or rows,

To every letter which his memory knows;                                  80

While, far above, the solitary crane

Swings lonely to unfrozen dykes again,

Cranking a jarring melancholy cry

Through the wild journey of the cheerless sky.

 

   Often, at early seasons, mild and fair

March bids farewell, with garlands in her hair

Of hazel tassels, woodbine’s bushy sprout,

And sloe and wild-plum blossoms peeping out

In thick-set knots of flowers, preparing gay,

For April’s reign, a mockery of May.                                        90

The old dame then oft stills her humming wheel—

When the bright sun-beams through the windows steal

And gleam upon her face, and dancing fall

In diamond shadows on the pictur’d wall;

While the white butterfly, as in amaze,

Will settle on the glossy glass to gaze—

And smiling, glad to see such things once more,

31         Up she will get and totter to the door,

32   ………………………………………………………………….………………………….

And look upon the trees beneath the eaves—

Sweetbriar and lad’s-love—swelling into leaves;                        100

And, stooping down, cull from her garden beds

The early blossoms perking out their heads,

In flower-pots on the window-board to stand,

Where the old hour-glass spins its thread of sand.

And while the passing clown remarks, with pride,

Days lengthen in their visits a “cock’s stride,”

She cleans her candlesticks and sets them by,

Glad of the make-shift light that eves supply!

 

   The boy, retiring home at night from toil,

Down lane and close, o’er footbrig, gate, and stile,                    110

Oft trembles into fear, and stands to hark

The waking fox renew his short gruff bark;

And shepherds—that within their hulks remain

Night after night upon the chilly plain,

To watch the dropping lambs, that at all hours

Come in the quaking blast like tender flowers—

When in the nightly watch they chance to hear

The badger’s shrieks, can hardly stifle fear;

Likening the cry, from woodland’s dark recess,

32         To that of helpless woman in distress:                                         120

33   ………………………………………………………………………..………………….

For Superstition hath a thousand tales

To people all her midnight woods and vales;—

And the dread spot from whence the dismal noise

Mars the night-musings of their dark employs,

Owns its sad tale to realize their fear—

A tale their hearts in boyhood ached to hear.

A maid, at night, by treacherous love decoy’d,

Was in that shrieking wood, years past, destroy’d.

She went, ’twas said, to meet the waiting swain;

But home and friends ne’er saw her face again!                         130

’Mid brake and thorns that crowded round the dell,

And matting weeds that had no tongue to tell,

He murder’d her alone at dead midnight,

While the pale moon threw round her sickly light.

Loud screams assail’d the thicket’s slumbers deep,

But only scared the little birds from sleep;

When the pale murderer’s terror-frowning eye

Told its dread errand—that the maid should die.—

’Mid thick black thorns her secret grave was made;

And there the unresisting corpse was laid,                                  140

When no one saw the deed but God and he,

33         And moonlight sparkling through the sleeping tree.

34   ………………………………………………………………….…………………………….

The Robin-redbreast might at morning steal

There, for the worm to meet his early meal,

In fresh-turn’d moulds which first beheld the sun—

Nor know the deed that dismal night had done.

Such is the tale that Superstition gives;

Which in her midnight memory ever lives;

Which makes the boy run by with wild affright,

And shepherds startle on their rounds at night.                           150

 

   Now love-teazed maidens, from the droning wheel,

At the red hour of sun-set, slily steal

From scolding dames, to meet their swains again;

Though water checks their visits o’er the plain:

They slive where no one sees, some wall behind,

Or orchard apple-tree that stops the wind,

To talk about Spring’s pleasures hovering nigh,

And happy rambles when the roads get dry.

 

   The insect-world, now sunbeams higher climb,

Oft dream of Spring, and wake before their time.                       160

Bees stroke their little legs across their wings,

34         And venture short flights where the snow-drop hings

35   ……………………………………………………………………………………………….

Its silver bell, and winter aconite

Its butter-cup-like flowers that shut at night,

With green leaf furling round its cup of gold,

Like tender maiden muffled from the cold:

They sip, and find their honey-dreams are vain,

Then feebly hasten to their hives again.—

The butterflies, by eager hopes undone,

Glad as a child come out to greet the sun,                                  170

Beneath the shadow of a sudden shower

35        Are lost—nor see to-morrow’s April flower.

   ………………………………………………………………………………………..……….

 

APRIL.

 ____

 

     I.

NOW infant April joins the Spring,

   And views the watery sky,

As youngling linnet tries its wing,

   And fears at first to fly;

With timid step she ventures on,

   And hardly dares to smile,

Till blossoms open one by one,

   And sunny hours beguile.

                        II.

But finer days are coming yet,

   With scenes more sweet to charm,                             10

And suns arrive that rise and set

                    Bright strangers to a storm:

37   …………………………………………………………..……

Then, as the birds with louder song

   Each morning’s glory cheer,

With bolder step she speeds along,

   And loses all her fear.

                        III.

In wanton gambols, like a child,

   She tends her early toils,

And seeks the buds along the wild,

   That blossoms while she smiles;                                  20

Or, laughing on, with nought to chide,

   She races with the Hours,

Or sports by Nature’s lovely side,

   And fills her lap with flowers.

                        IV.

The shepherd on his pasture walks

   The first fair cowslip finds,

Whose tufted flowers, on slender stalks,

   Keep nodding to the winds.

And though the thorns withhold the May,

   Their shades the violets bring.                                     30

Which children stoop for in their play

37                As tokens of the Spring.

38   …………………………………..……………………………..……

V.

Those joys which childhood calls its own,

   Would they were kin to men!

Those treasures to the world unknown,

   When known, are wither’d then!

But hovering round our growing years,

   To gild Care’s sable shroud,

Their spirit through the gloom appears

   As suns behind a cloud.                                             40

VI.                          

Since thou didst meet my infant eyes,

   As through the fields I flew,

Whose distance, where they meet the skies,

   Was all the world I knew;

That warmth of Fancy’s wildest hours,

   Which fill’d all things with life,

Which heard a voice in trees and flowers,

   Has swoon’d in Reason’s strife.

VII.

Sweet Month! thy pleasures bid thee be

   The fairest child of Spring;                                          50

And every hour, that comes with thee,

38                Comes some new joy to bring:

39   ………………….…………………………………………..……

The trees still deepen in their bloom,

   Grass greens the meadow-lands,

And flowers with every morning come,

   As dropt by fairy hands.

VIII.

The field and garden’s lovely hours

   Begin and end with thee;

For what’s so sweet, as peeping flowers

   And bursting buds to see,                                           60

What time the dew’s unsullied drops,

   In burnish’d gold, distil

On crocus flowers’ unclosing tops,

   And drooping daffodil?

IX.

To see thee come, all hearts rejoice;

   And, warm with feelings strong,

With thee all Nature finds a voice,

   And hums a waking song.

The lover views thy welcome hours,

   And thinks of summer come,                                      70

And takes the maid thy early flowers,

39                To tempt her steps from home.

40   ………………………………..……………………………..……

X.

Along each hedge and sprouting bush

   The singing birds are blest,

And linnet green and speckled thrush

   Prepare their mossy nest;

On the warm bed thy plains supply,

   The young lambs find repose,

And ’mid thy green hills basking lie

   Like spots of ling’ring snows.                                     80

XI.

Thy open’d leaves and ripen’d buds

   The cuckoo makes his choice,

And shepherds in thy greening woods

   First hear his cheering voice:

And to thy ripen’d blooming bowers

   The nightingale belongs;

And, singing to thy parting hours,

   Keeps night awake with songs!

XII.

With thee the swallow dares to come,

   And cool his sultry wing;                                            90

And, urged to seek his yearly home,

40                Thy suns the martin bring.

41   ……………………………………………………………..……

Oh! lovely Month! be leisure mine

   Thy yearly mate to be;

Though May-day scenes may brighter shine,

   Their birth belongs to thee.

XIII.

I waked me with thy rising sun,

   And thy first glories viewed,

And, as thy welcome hours begun,

   Their sunny steps pursued.                                         100

And now thy sun is on thee set,

   Like to a lovely eve,

I view thy parting with regret,

   And linger loth to leave.—

XIV.

Though at her birth the northern gale

   Come with its withering sigh;

And hopeful blossoms, turning pale,

   Upon her bosom die;

Ere April seeks another place,

   And ends her reign in this,                                          110

She leaves us with as fair a face

41             As e’er gave birth to bliss!

    …………………………………………………………..……

 

MAY.

                         ____

 

COME, Queen of Months! in company

With all thy merry minstrelsy:—

The restless cuckoo, absent long,

And twittering swallows’ chimney-song;

With hedge-row crickets’ notes, that run

From every bank that fronts the sun;

And swarthy bees, about the grass,

That stop with every bloom they pass,

And every minute, every hour,

Keep teazing weeds that wear a flower;                        10

And Toil, and Childhood’s humming joys!

For there is music in the noise

When village children, wild for sport,

            In school-time’s leisure, ever short,

43   ………………………………………………………………….……..

Alternate catch the bounding ball;

Or run along the church-yard wall,

Capp’d with rude figured slabs, whose claims

In time’s bad memory have no names;

Or race around the nooky church;

Or raise loud echoes in the porch;                                 20

Throw pebbles o’er the weather-cock,

Viewing with jealous eyes the clock;

Or leap o’er grave-stones’ leaning heights,

Uncheck’d by melancholy sights,

Though green grass swells in many a heap

Where kin, and friends, and parents sleep.

They think not, in their jovial cry,

The time will come, when they shall lie

As lowly and as still as they;

While other boys above them play,                                30
Heedless, as they are now, to know

The unconscious dust that lies below.

 

   The driving boy, beside his team,

Of May-month’s beauty now will dream,
And cock his hat, and turn his eye

43         On flower, and tree, and deepening sky;

44   ………………………………………………………………….……..

And oft burst loud in fits of song,

And whistle as he reels along;

Cracking his whip in starts of joy—

A happy, dirty, driving boy.                                           40

The youth, who leaves his corner stool

Betimes for neighbouring village-school,

Where, as a mark to guide him right,

The church spire’s all the way in sight,

With cheerings from his parents given,

Beneath the joyous smiles of Heaven

Saunters, with many an idle stand,

With satchel swinging in his hand,

And gazes, as he passes by,

On every thing that meets his eye.                                  50

Young lambs seem tempting him to play,

Dancing and bleating in his way;

With trembling tails and pointed ears

They follow him, and lose their fears;

He smiles upon their sunny faces,

And fain would join their happy races.

The birds, that sing on bush and tree,

44         Seem chirping for his company;—

45   ………………………………………………………………….……..

And all—in fancy’s idle whim—

Seem keeping holiday, but him.                                     60

He lolls upon each resting stile,

To see the fields so sweetly smile—

To see the wheat grow green and long;

And lists the weeder’s toiling song,

Or short note of the changing thrush

Above him in the white-thorn bush,

That o’er the leaning stile bends low

Its blooming mockery of snow.

 

   Each hedge is cover’d thick with green;

And where the hedger late hath been,                            70

Young tender shoots begin to grow

From out the mossy stumps below.

But woodmen still on Spring intrude,

And thin the shadow’s solitude;

With sharpen’d axes felling down

The oak-trees budding into brown,

Which, as they crash upon the ground,

A crowd of labourers gather round.

These, mixing ’mong the shadows dark,

45         Rip off the crackling, staining bark;                                 80

46   ………………………………………………………………….……..

Depriving yearly, when they come,

The green woodpecker of his home,

Who early in the Spring began,

Far from the sight of troubling man,

To bore his round holes in each tree

In fancy’s sweet security;

Now, startled by the woodman’s noise,

He wakes from all his dreary joys.

The blue-bells too, that thickly bloom

Where man was never known to come;                         90

And stooping lilies of the valley,

That love with shades and dews to dally,

And bending droop on slender threads,

With broad hood-leaves above their heads,

Like white-robed maids, in summer hours,

Beneath umbrellas shunning showers;—

These, from the bark-men’s crushing treads,

Oft perish in their blooming beds.

Stripp’d of its boughs and bark, in white

The trunk shines in the mellow light                                100

Beneath the green surviving trees,

46         That wave above it in the breeze,

47   ………………………………………………………………….……..

 

And, waking whispers, slowly bend,

As if they mourn’d their fallen friend.

 

   Each morning, now, the weeders meet

To cut the thistle from the wheat,

And ruin, in the sunny hours,

Full many a wild weed with its flowers;—

Corn-poppies, that in crimson dwell,

Call’d “Head-achs,” from their sickly smell;                   110

And charlocks, yellow as the sun,

That o’er the May-fields quickly run;

And “Iron-weed,” content to share

The meanest spot that Spring can spare—

E’en roads, where danger hourly comes,

Are not without its purple blooms,

Whose leaves, with threat’ning thistles round

Thick set, that have no strength to wound,

Shrink into childhood’s eager hold

Like hair; and, with its eye of gold                                 120

And scarlet-starry points of flowers,

Pimpernel, dreading nights and showers,

Oft call’d “the Shepherd’s Weather-glass,”

47         That sleeps till suns have dried the grass,

48   ………………………………………………………………….……..

Then wakes, and spreads its creeping bloom

Till clouds with threatening shadows come—

Then close it shuts to sleep again:

Which weeders see, and talk of rain;

And boys, that mark them shut so soon,

Call “John that goes to bed at noon:”                             130

And fumitory too—a name

That Superstition holds to fame—

Whose red and purple mottled flowers

Are cropp’d by maids in weeding hours,

To boil in water, milk, and whey,

For washes on a holiday,

To make their beauty fair and sleek,

And scare the tan from Summer’s cheek;

And simple small “Forget-me-not,”

Eyed with a pin’s-head yellow spot                               140

I’ the middle of its tender blue,

That gains from poets notice due:—

These flowers, that toil by crowds destroys,

Robbing them of their lowly joys,

Had met the May with hopes as sweet

48        As those her suns in gardens meet;

49   ………………………………………………………………….……..

 

And oft the dame will feel inclined,

As Childhood’s memory comes to mind,

To turn her hook away, and spare

The blooms it loved to gather there!                              150

—Now young girls whisper things of love,

And from the old dames’ hearing move;

Oft making “love-knots” in the shade,

Of blue-green oat or wheaten blade;

Or, trying simple charms and spells

Which rural Superstition tells,

They pull the little blossom threads

From out the knotweed’s button heads,

And put the husk, with many a smile,

In their white bosoms for a while,—                              160

Then, if they guess aright the swain

Their loves’ sweet fancies try to gain,

’Tis said, that ere it lies an hour,

’Twill blossom with a second flower,

And from their bosom’s handkerchief

Bloom as it ne’er had lost a leaf.

—But signs appear that token wet,

49        While they are ’neath the bushes met;

50   ………………………………………………………………….……..

The girls are glad with hopes of play,

And harp upon the holiday:—                                       170

A high blue bird is seen to swim

Along the wheat, when skies grow dim

With clouds; slow as the gales of Spring

In motion, with dark-shadow’d wing

Beneath the coming storm he sails:

And lonely chirp the wheat-hid quails,

That come to live with Spring again,

But leave when Summer browns the grain;

They start the young girl’s joys afloat,

With “wet my foot”—their yearly note:—                      180

So fancy doth the sound explain,

And oft it proves a sign of rain!

 

   The thresher, dull as winter days,

And lost to all that Spring displays,

Still ’mid his barn-dust forced to stand,

Swings round his flail with weary hand;

While o’er his head shades thickly creep,

50         That hide the blinking owl asleep,

51   ………………………………………………………………….……..

 

And bats, in cobweb-corners bred,

Sharing till night their murky bed.                                   190

The sunshine trickles on the floor

Through ev’ry crevice of the door:

This makes his barn, where shadows dwell,

As irksome as a prisoner’s cell;

And, whilst he seeks his daily meal,

As school-boys from their task will steal,

So will he stand with fond delay

To see the daisy in his way,

Or wild weeds flowering on the wall;—

For these to memory still recall                                      200

The joys, the sports that come with Spring,—

The twirling top, the marble ring,

The jingling halfpence hustled up

At pitch and toss, the eager stoop

To pick up heads, the smuggled plays

’Neath hovels upon sabbath-days,—

The sitting down, when school was o’er,

Upon the threshold of the door,

Picking from mallows, sport to please,

51         Each crumpled seed he call’d a cheese,                          210

52   ………………………………………………………………….……..

And hunting from the stack-yard sod

The stinking henbane’s belted pod,

By youth’s warm fancies sweetly led

To christen them his loaves of bread.

He sees, while rocking down the street

With weary hands and crimpling feet,

Young children at the self-same games,

And hears the self-same boyish names

Still floating on each happy tongue:

Touch’d with the simple scene so strong,                       220

Tears almost start, and many a sigh

Regrets the happiness gone by;

Thus, in sweet Nature’s holiday,

His heart is sad while all is gay.

 

   How lovely now are lanes and balks,

For lovers in their Sunday-walks!

The daisy and the butter-cup—

For which the laughing children stoop

A hundred times throughout the day,

In their rude romping Summer play—                            230

So thickly now the pasture crowd,

52         In a gold and silver sheeted cloud,

53   ………………………………………………………………….……..

As if the drops of April showers

Had woo’d the sun, and changed to flowers.

The brook resumes her Summer dresses,

Purling ’neath grass and water-cresses,

And mint and flagleaf, swording high

Their blooms to the unheeding eye;

The Summer tracks about its brink

Are fresh again where cattle drink;                                240

And on its sunny bank the swain

Stretches his idle length again;

While all that lives enjoys the birth

53         Of frolic Summer’s laughing mirth.

     ………………………………………………………………….……..

 

JUNE.                                                             

 ____

 

NOW Summer is in flower, and Nature’s hum

Is never silent round her bounteous bloom;

Insects, as small as dust, have never done

With glitt’ring dance, and reeling in the sun;

And green wood-fly, and blossom-haunting bee,

Are never weary of their melody.

Round field and hedge, flowers in full glory twine,

Large bind-weed bells, wild hop, and streak’d woodbine,

That lift athirst their slender throated flowers,

Agape for dew-falls, and for honey showers;                                         10

These o’er each bush in sweet disorder run,

And spread their wild hues to the sultry sun.

The mottled spider, at eve’s leisure, weaves

            His webs of silken lace on twigs and leaves,

55   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Which ev’ry morning meet the poet’s eye,                    

Like fairies’ dew-wet dresses hung to dry.

The wheat swells into ear, and hides below

The May-month wild flowers and their gaudy show,

Leaving, a school-boy’s height, in snugger rest,

The leveret’s seat, and lark, and partridge nest.                                     20

 

   The mowers now bend o’er the beaded grass,

Where oft the gipsy’s hungry journeying ass

Will turn his wishes from the meadow paths,

List’ning the rustle of the falling swaths.

The ploughman sweats along the fallow vales,

And down the sun-crack’d furrow slowly trails;

Oft seeking, when athirst, the brook’s supply,

Where, brushing eagerly the bushes by

For coolest water, he disturbs the rest

Of ring-dove, brooding o’er its idle nest.                                               30

The shepherd’s leisure hours are over now;

No more he loiters ’neath the hedge-row bough,                                                    

On shadow-pillowed banks and lolling stile;

55         The wilds must lose their summer friend awhile.

56   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

With whistle, barking dogs, and chiding scold,  

He drives the bleating sheep from fallow fold

To wash-pools, where the willow shadows lean,

Dashing them in, their stained coats to clean;

Then, on the sunny sward, when dry again,

He brings them homeward to the clipping pen,                                       40

Of hurdles form’d, where elm or sycamore

Shut out the sun—or to some threshing-floor.

There with the scraps of songs, and laugh, and tale,

He lightens annual toil, while merry ale

Goes round, and glads some old man’s heart to praise

The threadbare customs of his early days:

How the high bowl was in the middle set

At breakfast time, when clippers yearly met,

Fill’d full of furmety, where dainty swum

The streaking sugar and the spotting plum.                                             50

The maids could never to the table bring

The bowl, without one rising from the ring

To lend a hand; who, if ’twere ta’en amiss,

Would sell his kindness for a stolen kiss.

The large stone pitcher in its homely trim,

56        And clouded pint-horn with its copper rim,

57   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Were there; from which were drunk, with spirits high,   

Healths of the best the cellar could supply;

While sung the ancient swains, in uncouth rhymes,

Songs that were pictures of the good old times.                                     60

Thus will the old man ancient ways bewail,

Till toiling shears gain ground upon the tale,

And break it off—for now the timid sheep,

His fleece shorn off, starts with a fearful leap,

Shaking his naked skin with wond’ring joys,

While others are brought in by sturdy boys.

 

   Though fashion’s haughty frown hath thrown aside

Half the old forms simplicity supplied,

Yet there are some pride’s winter deigns to spare,

Left like green ivy when the trees are bare.                                            70

And now, when shearing of the flocks is done,

Some ancient customs, mix’d with harmless fun,

Crown the swain’s merry toils. The timid maid,

Pleased to be praised, and yet of praise afraid,

Seeks the best flowers; not those of woods and fields,

57         But such as every farmer’s garden yields—

58   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Fine cabbage-roses, painted like her face;                    

The shining pansy, trimm’d with golden lace;

The tall topp’d larkheels, feather’d thick with flowers;

The woodbine, climbing o’er the door in bowers;                                  80

The London tufts, of many a mottled hue;

The pale pink pea, and monkshood darkly blue:

The white and purple gilliflowers, that stay

Ling’ring, in blossom, summer half away;

The single blood-walls, of a luscious smell,

Old-fashion’d flowers which housewives love so well;

The columbines, stone-blue, or deep night-brown,

Their honeycomb-like blossoms hanging down,

Each cottage-garden’s fond adopted child,

Though heaths still claim them, where they yet grow wild;

With marjoram knots, sweet-brier, and ribbon-grass,                            90

And lavender, the choice of ev’ry lass,

And sprigs of lad’s-love—all familiar names,

Which every garden through the village claims.

These the maid gathers with a coy delight,

58        And ties them up, in readiness for night;

59   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Then gives to ev’ry swain, ’tween love and shame,                   

Her “clipping posies” as his yearly claim.

He rises, to obtain the custom’d kiss:—

With stifled smiles, half hankering after bliss,

She shrinks away, and blushing, calls it rude;                                         100

Yet turns to smile, and hopes to be pursued;

While one, to whom the hint may be applied,

Follows to gain it, and is not denied.

The rest the loud laugh raise, to make it known,—

She blushes silent, and will not disown!

Thus ale, and song, and healths, and merry ways,

Keep up a shadow still of former days;

But the old beechen bowl, that once supplied

The feast of furmety, is thrown aside;

And the old freedom that was living then,                                               110

When masters made them merry with their men;

When all their coats alike were russet brown,

And his rude speech was vulgar as their own—

All this is past, and soon will pass away

59         The time-torn remnant of the holiday.

      …………………………………………………………………………….……..

         

         JULY.

                      ____

 

JULY, the month of Summer’s prime,

Again resumes his busy time;

Scythes tinkle in each grassy dell,

Where solitude was wont to dwell;

And meadows, they are mad with noise

Of laughing maids and shouting boys,

Making up the withering hay

With merry hearts as light as play.

The very insects on the ground

So nimbly bustle all around,                                           10

Among the grass, or dusty soil,

They seem partakers in the toil.

The landscape even reels with life,

            While ’mid the busy stir and strife

61   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

 

Of industry, the shepherd still

Enjoys his summer dreams at will;

Bent o’er his hook, or listless laid

Beneath the pasture’s willow shade,

Whose foliage shines so cool and gray

Amid the sultry hues of day,                                          20

As if the morning’s misty veil

Yet linger’d in its shadows pale;

Or lolling in a musing mood

On mounds where Saxon castles stood,

Upon whose deeply-buried walls

The ivy’d oak’s dark shadow falls,

He oft picks up with wond’ring gaze

Some little thing of other days,

Saved from the wrecks of time—as beads,

Or broken pots among the weeds,                                30

Of curious shapes—and many a stone

From Roman pavements thickly strown,

Oft hoping, as he searches round,

That buried riches may be found,

Though, search as often as he will,

61         His hopes are disappointed still;

62   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Or watching, on his mossy seat,

The insect world beneath his feet,

In busy motion here and there

Like visitors to feast or fair,                                           40

Some climbing up the rush’s stem,

A steeple’s height or more to them,

With speed, that sees no fear to stop,

Till perch’d upon its spiry top,

Where they awhile the view survey,

Then prune their wings, and flit away,—

And others journeying to and fro

Among the grassy woods below,

Musing, as if they felt and knew

The pleasant scenes they wander’d through,                  50

Where each bent round them seems to be

Huge as a giant timber-tree.

Shaping the while their dark employs

To his own visionary joys,

He pictures such a life as their’s,

As free from Summer’s sultry cares,

And only wishes that his own

62         Could meet with joys so thickly sown:

63   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Sport seems the all that they pursue,

And play the only work they do.                                   60

 

   The cow-boy still cuts short the day,

By mingling mischief with his play;

Oft in the pond, with weeds o’ergrown,

Hurling quick the plashing stone

To cheat his dog, who watching lies,

And instant plunges for the prize;

And though each effort proves in vain,

He shakes his coat, and dives again,

Till, wearied with the fruitless play,

He drops his tail, and sneaks away,                               70

Nor longer heeds the bawling boy,

Who seeks new sports with added joy:

Now on some bank’s o’erhanging brow

Beating the wasp’s nest with a bough,

Till armies from the hole appear,

And threaten vengeance in his ear

With such determined hue-and-cry

63         As makes the bold besieger fly;

64   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Then, pelting with excessive glee

The squirrel on the woodland-tree,                                80

Who nimbles round from grain to grain,

And cocks his tail, and peeps again,

Half-pleased, as if he thought the fray

Which mischief made, was meant for play,

Till scared and startled into flight,

He instant tumbles out of sight.

Thus he his leisure hour employs,

And feeds on busy meddling joys,

While in the willow-shaded pool

His cattle stand, their hides to cool.                               90

 

   Loud is the Summer’s busy song,

The smallest breeze can find a tongue,

While insects of each tiny size

Grow teazing with their melodies,

Till noon burns with its blistering breath

Around, and day dies still as death.

The busy noise of man and brute

64         Is on a sudden lost and mute;

65   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Even the brook that leaps along

Seems weary of its bubbling song,                                 100

And, so soft its waters creep,

Tired silence sinks in sounder sleep.

The cricket on its banks is dumb,

The very flies forget to hum;

And, save the waggon rocking round,

The landscape sleeps without a sound.

The breeze is stopt, the lazy bough

Hath not a leaf that dances now;

The tottergrass upon the hill,

And spiders’ threads, are standing still;                          110

The feathers dropt from moorhen’s wing,

Which to the water’s surface cling,

Are steadfast, and as heavy seem

As stones beneath them in the stream;

Hawkweed and groundsel’s fanning downs

Unruffled keep their seedy crowns;

And in the oven-heated air,

Not one light thing is floating there,

Save that to the earnest eye,

65         The restless heat seems twittering by.                             120

66   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Noon swoons beneath the heat it made,

And flowers e’en wither in the shade,

Until the sun slopes in the west,

Like weary traveller, glad to rest,

On pillowed clouds of many hues;

Then nature’s voice its joy renews,

And chequer’d field and grassy plain

Hum, with their summer songs again,

A requiem to the day’s decline,

Whose setting sunbeams coolly shine,                            130

As welcome to day’s feeble powers

As falling dews to thirsty flowers.

 

   Now to the pleasant pasture dells,

Where hay from closes sweetly smells,

Adown the pathway’s narrow lane

The milking maiden hies again,

With scraps of ballads never dumb,

And rosy cheeks of happy bloom,

Tann’d brown by Summer’s rude embrace,

66         Which adds new beauties to her face,                             140

67   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

And red lips never pale with sighs,

And flowing hair, and laughing eyes

That o’er full many a heart prevail’d,

And swelling bosom loosely veiled,

White as the love it harbours there,

Unsullied with the taunts of care.

 

   The mower now gives labour o’er,

And on his bench beside the door

Sits down to see his children play,

Smoking a leisure hour away:                                        150

While from her cage the blackbird sings,

That on the woodbine arbour hings;

And all with soothing joys receive

67         The quiet of a Summer’s eve.

      …………………………………………………………………………….……..

 

AUGUST.

   ____

 

Harvest approaches with its busy day;                                   
The wheat tans brown, and barley bleaches grey;
In yellow garb the oatland intervenes,
And tawny glooms the valley throng’d with beans.
Silent the village grows,—wood-wandering dreams
Seem not so lonely as its quiet seems;
Doors are shut up as on a winter’s day,
And not a child about them lies at play;
The dust that winnows ’neath the breeze’s feet
Is all that stirs about the silent street:                                         
10
Fancy might think that desert-spreading Fear
Had whisper’d terrors into Quiet’s ear,
Or plundering armies past the place had come

            And drove the lost inhabitants from home.

69   ……………………………………………………………………………….……..

 

The fields now claim them, where a motley crew
Of old and young their daily tasks pursue.
The reapers leave their rest before the sun,
And gleaners follow in the toils begun
To pick the litter’d ear the reaper leaves,
And glean in open fields among the sheaves.                             
20
The ruddy child, nursed in the lap of Care,
In Toil’s rude strife to do its little share,
Beside its mother poddles o’er the land,
Sunburnt, and stooping with a weary hand,
Picking its tiny glean of corn or wheat,
While crackling stubbles wound its little feet;
Full glad it often is to sit awhile
Upon a smooth green bank to ease its toil,
And fain would spend an idle hour in play
With insects, strangers to the moiling day,                                 
30
Creeping about each rush and grassy stem,
And often wishes it were one of them:
Meanwhile the expecting mother stops to tie
Her handful up, and, waiting his supply,
Misses the idle younker from her side;

69         Then shouts of rods, and morts of threats beside

70   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Picture harsh truths in his unpractised breast,—
How they, who idle in the harvest rest,
Shall well-deserving in the winter pine,
Or hunt the hedges with the birds and swine.                            
40
In vain he wishes that the rushes’ height
Were tall as trees to hide him from her sight.
Leaving his pleasant seat, he sighs and rubs
His legs, and shows scratch’d wounds from piercing stubs,
To make excuse for play; but she disdains
His little wounds, and smiles while he complains;
And as he stoops adown in troubles sore,
She sees his grief, and bids him mourn no more,
For by and by, on the next Sabbath-day,
He shall have well-earn’d pence as well as play,                       
50
When he may buy, almost without a stint,
Sweet candied horehound, cakes, and peppermint,
At the gay shop, within whose window lie
Things of all sorts to tempt his eager eye:
Rich sugar-plums in phials shining bright,
In every hue, young fancies to delight;
Coaches and ladies of gilt gingerbread;

70         And downy plums, and apples streak’d with red.

71   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Such promises all sorrow soon displace,
And smiles are instant kindled in his face;                                  
60
Scorning the troubles which he felt before,
He picks the trailing ears, and mourns no more.

    The fields are all alive with sultry noise
Of labour’s sounds, and insects’ busy joys.
The reapers o’er their glittering sickles stoop,
Startling full oft the partridge coveys up;
Some o’er the rustling scythe go bending on;
And shockers follow where their toils have gone,
Heaping the swaths that rustle in the sun,
Where mice from Terror’s dangers nimbly run,                         
70
Leaving their tender young in fear’s alarm
Lapt up in nests of chimbled grasses warm,
Hoping for safety from their flight in vain;
While the rude boy, or churlish-hearted swain,
Pursues with lifted weapons o’er the ground,
And spreads an instant murder all around.
In vain the anxious maiden’s tender prayer
Urges the clown their little lives to spare;
She sighs, while trailing the long rake along,

71         At scenes so cruel, and forgets her song.                                    80

72   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

    When the Sun stoops to meet the western sky,
And Noon’s hot hours have wander’d weary by,
Seeking a hawthorn bush or willow-tree
For resting-places that the coolest be,
Where baskets heaped and unbroached bottles lie,
Which dogs in absence watch’d with wary eye,
They catch their breath awhile, and share the boon
Which bevering-time allows their toil at noon.
Next to her favour’d swain the maiden steals,
Blushing at kindness which his love reveals;                              
90
Making a seat for her of sheaves around,
He drops beside her on the naked ground.
Then from its cool retreat the beer they bring,
And hand the stout-hoop’d bottle round the ring.
Each swain soaks hard; the maiden, ere she sips,
Shrieks at the bold wasp settling on her lips,
That seems determined only her’s to greet,
As if it fancied they were cherries sweet!
The dog foregoes his sleep awhile, or play,
Springing at frogs that rustling jump away,                                
100
To watch each morsel carelessness bestows,

72         Or wait the bone or crust the shepherd throws;

73   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

For shepherds are no more of ease possest,
But share in harvest-labours with the rest.

    When day declines and others meet repose,
The bawling boy his evening journey goes;
At toil’s unwearied call the first and last,
He drives his horses to their night’s repast,
In dewy close or meadow to sojourn;
And often ventures, on his still return,                                       
110
O’er garden pales, or orchard walls, to hie,
When sleep’s safe key hath lock’d up danger’s eye,
All but the mastiff watching in the dark,
Who snuffs and knows him, and forbears to bark.
With fearful haste he climbs each loaded tree,
And picks for prizes, that the ripest be;
While the pale moon, creeping with jealous light,
Fills empty shadows with the power to fright;
And, from the barn-hole, pops and hurries by,
The grey owl, screaming with a fearful cry;—                           
120
He hears the noise, and, hastening to escape,

73         Thinks each thing grows around a dismal shape.

74   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Quick tumbling o’er the mossy mould’ring wall,
He loses half his booty in the fall;
Where, soon as ever Morning opes its eyes,
The restless hogs will happen on the prize,
And crump adown the mellow and the green,
Making all seem as nothing e’er had been.

    Amid the broils of harvest’s weary reign,
How sweet the Sabbath wakes its rest again!                           
130
And on each weary mind what rapture dwells,
To hear once more the pleasant chiming bells,
That from each steeple, peeping here and there,
Murmur a soothing lullaby to care.
The shepherd, journeying on his morning rounds,
Pauses awhile to hear the pleasing sounds,
While the glad children, free from toil’s employ,
Mimic the "ding dong" hums, and laugh for joy.
The fields themselves seem happy to be free,
Where insects chatter with unusual glee;                                   
140
While Solitude, the grass and stubs among,
Appears to muse and listen to the song.
In quiet peace awakes the welcome morn;

74         Men tired, and children with their gleaning worn,

75   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Weary and stiff, lie round doors all day,
To rest themselves, with little heart for play.
In calm delight the Sabbath wears along;
Yet round the Cross, at noon, a tempted throng
Of little younkers, with their pence, repair
To buy the downy plum and luscious pear                                
150
That melts i’ th’ mouth, which gardeners never fail,
For gain’s strong impulse, to expose for sale;
Placed on the circling Cross-steps in the sun,
What time the parson has his sermon done.
There, soon the boy his sore-earn’d penny spends;
And he the while, that pennyless attends,
In sullen, silent mood, approaching nigh,
Full often drops a keen, desiring eye
Upon each loaded basket, to perceive
What makes his little fingers itch to thieve;—                            
160
But, close at hand, the stocks in terror shine,
And temptings strong, to stronger fears resign.
Thus Sunday’s leisure passes swiftly by
In rest, soft peace, and home-tranquility,
Till Monday morning doth its cares pursue,

75         Rousing the harvest’s busy toils anew.

      …………………………………………………………………………….……..

 

SEPTEMBER.

       ____

 

Harvest awakes the morning still,
And toil’s rude groups the valleys fill;
Deserted is each cottage hearth
To all life, save the cricket’s mirth;
Each burring wheel its sabbath meets,
Nor walks a gossip in the streets;
The bench beneath the eldern bough,
Lined o’er with grass, is empty now,
Where blackbirds, caged from out the sun,
Would whistle while their mistress spun:                                    
10
All haunt the thronged fields, to share
The harvest’s lingering bounty there.

    As yet, no meddling boys resort

            About the streets in idle sport;

77   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

The butterfly enjoys its hour, 
And flirts, unchased, from flower to flower;
The humming bees, which morning calls
From out the low hut’s mortar walls,
And passing boy no more controls—
Fly undisturb’d about their holes;                                              
20
The sparrows in glad chirpings meet,
Unpelted in the quiet street.
None but imprison’d children now
Are seen, where dames with angry brow
Threaten each younker to his seat,
Who, through the window, eyes the street;
Or from his hornbook turns away,
To mourn for liberty and play.

    Yet loud are morning’s early sounds;
The farm or cottage yard abounds                                            
30
With creaking noise of opening gate,
And clanking pumps, where boys await
With idle motion, to supply
The thirst of cattle crowding nigh. 
Upon the dovecote’s mossy slates,

77         The pigeons coo around their mates;

78   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

And close beside the stable wall,
Where morning sunbeams earliest fall,
The basking hen, in playful rout,
Flaps the powdery dust about.                                                 
40 
Within the barn-hole sits the cat
Watching to seize the thirsty rat,
Who oft at morn its dwelling leaves
To drink the moisture from the eaves;
The red-breast, with his nimble eye,
Dares scarcely stop to catch the fly,
That, tangled in the spider’s snare,
Mourns in vain for freedom there.
The dog beside the threshold lies,
Mocking sleep, with half-shut eyes—                                       
50
With head crouch’d down upon his feet,
Till strangers pass his sunny seat—
Then quick he pricks his ears to hark,
And bustles up to growl and bark;
While boys in fear stop short their song,
And sneak in startled speed along;
And beggar, creeping like a snail,

78         To make his hungry hopes prevail

79   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

O’er the warm heart of charity,
Leaves his lame halt and hastens by.                                         
60

 

    The maid afield now leaves the farm,
With dinner basket on her arm,
Loitering unseen in narrow lane,
To be o’ertook by following swain,
Who, happy thus her truth to prove,
Carries the load and talks of love.
Soon as the dew is off the ground,
Rumbling like distant thunder round,
The waggons haste the corn to load,
And hurry down the dusty road;                                               
70
While driving boy with eager eye
Watches the church clock passing by—
Whose gilt hands glitter in the sun—
To see how far the hours have run;
Right happy, in the breathless day,
To see time wearing fast away.
But now and then a sudden shower

79         Will bring to toil a resting hour;

80   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Then, under sheltering shocks, a crowd
Of merry voices mingle loud,                                                    
80
Draining, with leisure’s laughing eye,
Each welcome, bubbling bottle dry;
Till peeping suns dry up the rain,
Then off they start to toil again.

 

   Anon the fields are getting clear,
And glad sounds hum in labour’s ear;
When children halloo “Here they come!”
And run to meet the Harvest Home,
Cover’d with boughs, and throng’d with boys,
Who mingle loud a merry noise,                                               
90
And, when they meet the stack-throng’d yard
Cross-buns and pence their shouts reward.
Then comes the harvest-supper night,
Which rustics welcome with delight;
When merry game and tiresome tale,
And songs, increasing with the ale,
Their mingled uproar interpose,

80         To crown the harvest’s happy close;

81   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

While Mirth, that at the scene abides,
Laughs, till she almost cracks her sides.                                    
100

 

   Now harvest’s busy hum declines,
And labour half its help resigns.
Boys, glad at heart, to play return;
The shepherds to their peace sojourn,
Rush-bosom’d solitudes among,
Which busy toil disturb’d so long.
The gossip, happy all is o’er,
Visits again her neighbour’s door,
On scandal’s idle tales to dwell,
Which harvest had no time to tell;                                             
110
And free from all its sultry strife,
Enjoys once more her idle life.
A few, whom waning toil reprieves,
Thread the forest’s sea of leaves,
Where the pheasant loves to hide,
And the darkest glooms abide,
Beneath the old oaks moss’d and grey,

81         Whose shadows seem as old as they;

82   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Where time hath many seasons won,
Since aught beneath them saw the sun;                                     
120
Within these brambly solitudes,
The ragged, noisy boy intrudes,
To gather nuts, that, ripe and brown,
As soon as shook will patter down.

 

   Thus harvest ends its busy reign,
And leaves the fields their peace again;
Where Autumn’s shadows idly muse
And tinge the trees in many hues:
Amid whose scenes I’m fain to dwell,
And sing of what I love so well.                                                
130
But hollow winds, and tumbling floods,
And humming showers, and moaning woods,
All startle into sudden strife,
And wake a mighty lay to life;
Making, amid their strains divine,

82         Unheard a song so mean as mine.

      …………………………………………………………………………….……..

 

OCTOBER.

     ____

 

NATURE now spreads around, in dreary hue,

A pall to cover all that summer knew;

Yet, in the poet’s solitary way,

Some pleasing objects for his praise delay;

Something that makes him pause and turn again,

As every trifle will his eye detain:—

The free horse rustling through the stubble field;

And cows at lair in rushes, half conceal’d;

With groups of restless sheep who feed their fill,

O’er clear’d fields rambling wheresoe’er they will;                     10

The hedger stopping gaps, amid the leaves,

Which time, o’er-head, in every colour weaves;

The milkmaid pausing with a timid look,

            From stone to stone, across the brimming brook;

84   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

The cotter journeying with his noisy swine,

Along the wood-side where the brambles twine,

Shaking from mossy oaks the acorns brown,

Or from the hedges red haws dashing down;

The nutters, rustling in the yellow woods,

Who teaze the wild things in their solitudes;                                20

The hunters, from the thicket’s avenue,

In scarlet jackets, startling on the view,

Skimming a moment o’er the russet plain,

Then hiding in the motley woods again;

The plopping gun’s sharp, momentary shock,

Which echo bustles from her cave to mock;

The bawling song of solitary boys,

Journeying in rapture o’er their dreaming joys,

Haunting the hedges in their reveries,

For wilding fruit that shines upon the trees;                                 30

The wild wood music from the lonely dell,

Where merry Gipseys o’er their raptures dwell,   

Haunting each common’s wild and lonely nook,

Where hedges run as crooked as the brook,

Shielding their camps beneath some spreading oak,

84         And but discovered by the circling smoke

85   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Puffing, and peeping up, as wills the breeze,

Between the branches of the coloured trees:—

Such are the pictures that October yields,

To please the poet as he walks the fields;                                  40

While Nature—like fair woman in decay,

Whom pale consumption hourly wastes away—

Upon her waning features, winter chill,

Wears dreams of beauty that seem lovely still.

Among the heath-furze still delights to dwell,

Quaking, as if with cold, the harvest bell;

And mushroom-buttons each moist morning brings,

Like spots of snow-shine in dark fairy rings.

Wild shines each hedge in autumn’s gay parade;

And, where the eldern trees to autumn fade,                              50

The glossy berry picturesquely cleaves

Its swarthy bunches ’mid the yellow leaves,

On which the tootling robin feeds at will,

And coy hedge-sparrow stains its little bill.

The village dames, as they get ripe and fine,

Gather the bunches for their “eldern wine;”

Which, bottled up, becomes a rousing charm,

85         To kindle winter’s icy bosom warm;

86   …………………………………………………………………………….……..

And, with its merry partner, nut-brown beer,

Makes up the peasant’s Christmas-keeping cheer.                     60

 

   Like to a painted map the landscape lies;

And wild above, shine the cloud-thronged skies,

That chase each other on with hurried pace,

Like living things, as if they ran a race.

The winds, that o’er each sudden tempest brood,

Waken like spirits in a startled mood;

Flirting the sear leaves on the bleaching lea,

That litter under every fading tree;

And pausing oft, as falls the patting rain;

Then gathering strength, and twirling them again,                        70

Till drops the sudden calm :—the hurried mill

Is stopt at once, and every noise is still;

Save crows, that from the oak trees quawking spring,

Dashing the acorns down with beating wing,

Waking the wood’s short sleep in noises low,

Patting the crimpt brakes withering brown below;

And whirr of starling crowds, that dim the light

86         With mimic darkness, in their numerous flight;

87  …………………………………………………………………………….……..

Or shrilly noise of puddocks’ feeble wail,

As in slow circles round the woods they sail;                             80

While huge black beetles, revelling alone,

In the dull evening hum their heavy drone.

These trifles linger through the shortening day,

To cheer the lone bard’s solitary way;

Till surly Winter comes with biting breath,

And strips the woods, and numbs the scene with death;

Then all is still o’er wood and field and plain,

87          As nought had been, and nought would be again.

     …………………………………………………………………………….……..

 

NOVEMBER.

­­       ____

 

THE landscape sleeps in mist from morn till noon;

   And, if the sun looks through, ’tis with a face

   Beamless and pale and round, as if the moon,

   When done the journey of her nightly race,

   Had found him sleeping, and supplied his place.

   For days the shepherds in the fields may be,

   Nor mark a patch of sky—blindfold they trace,

   The plains, that seem without a bush or tree,

            Whistling aloud by guess, to flocks they cannot see.

89 …………………………………………………………………………………………….

The timid hare seems half its fears to lose,                                              10

   Crouching and sleeping ’neath its grassy lair,

   And scarcely startles, tho’ the shepherd goes

   Close by its home, and dogs are barking there;

   The wild colt only turns around to stare

   At passer by, then knaps his hide again;

   And moody crows beside the road, forbear

   To fly, tho’ pelted by the passing swain;

Thus day seems turn’d to night, and tries to wake in vain.

 

The owlet leaves her hiding-place at noon,

   And flaps her grey wings in the doubling light;                                     20

   The hoarse jay screams to see her out so soon,

   And small birds chirp and startle with affright;

   Much doth it scare the superstitious wight,

   Who dreams of sorry luck, and sore dismay;

   While cow-boys think the day a dream of night,

   And oft grow fearful on their lonely way,

89          Fancying that ghosts may wake, and leave their graves by day.

90 …………………………………………………………………..…………………………………

Yet but awhile the slumbering weather flings

   Its murky prison round—then winds wake loud;

   With sudden stir the startled forest sings                                             30

   Winter’s returning song—cloud races cloud,

   And the horizon throws away its shroud,

   Sweeping a stretching circle from the eye;

   Storms upon storms in quick succession crowd,

   And o’er the sameness of the purple sky

Heaven paints, with hurried hand, wild hues of every dye.

 

At length it comes among the forest oaks,

   With sobbing ebbs, and uproar gathering high;

   The scared, hoarse raven on its cradle croaks,

   And stockdove-flocks in hurried terrors fly,                                        40

   While the blue hawk hangs o’er them in the sky.—

   The hedger hastens from the storm begun,

   To seek a shelter that may keep him dry;

   And foresters low bent, the wind to shun,

90          Scarce hear amid the strife the poacher’s muttering gun.

91 …………………………………………………………………..…………………………………

The ploughman hears its humming rage begin,

   And hies for shelter from his naked toil;

   Buttoning his doublet closer to his chin,

   He bends and scampers o’er the elting soil,

   While clouds above him in wild fury boil,                                            50

   And winds drive heavily the beating rain;

   He turns his back to catch his breath awhile,

   Then ekes his speed and faces it again,

To seek the shepherd’s hut beside the rushy plain.

 

The boy, that scareth from the spiry wheat

   The melancholy crow—in hurry weaves,

   Beneath an ivied tree, his sheltering seat,

   Of rushy flags and sedges tied in sheaves,

   Or from the field a shock of stubble thieves.

   There he doth dithering sit, and entertain                                             60

   His eyes with marking the storm-driven leaves;

   Oft spying nests where he spring eggs had ta’en,

91          And wishing in his heart ’twas summer-time again.

92 …………………………………………………………………..…………………………………

Thus wears the month along, in checker’d moods,

   Sunshine and shadows, tempests loud, and calms;

   One hour dies silent o’er the sleepy woods,

   The next wakes loud with unexpected storms;

   A dreary nakedness the field deforms—

   Yet many a rural sound, and rural sight,

   Lives in the village still about the farms,                                               70

   Where toil’s rude uproar hums from morn till night

Noises, in which the ears of Industry delight.

 

At length the stir of rural labour’s still,

   And Industry her care awhile foregoes;

   When Winter comes in earnest to fulfil

   His yearly task, at bleak November’s close,

   And stops the plough, and hides the field in snows;

   When frost locks up the stream in chill delay,

   And mellows on the hedge the jetty sloes,

   For little birds—then Toil hath time for play,                                       80

92          And nought but threshers’ flails awake the dreary day.

   …………………………………………………………………..…………………………………

 

DECEMBER.

      ____

 

GLAD Christmas comes, and every hearth

   Makes room to give him welcome now,

E’en want will dry its tears in mirth,

   And crown him with a holly bough;

Though tramping ’neath a winter sky,

   O’er snowy paths and rimy stiles,

The housewife sets her spinning by

   To bid him welcome with her smiles.

 

Each house is swept the day before,

   And windows stuck with ever-greens,                                    10

The snow is besom’d from the door,

               And comfort crowns the cottage scenes.

94 ………………………………………………………………………………

Gilt holly, with its thorny pricks,

   And yew and box, with berries small,

These deck the unused candlesticks,

   And pictures hanging by the wall.

 

Neighbours resume their annual cheer,

   Wishing, with smiles and spirits high,

Glad Christmas and a happy year,

   To every morning passer-by;                                                  20

Milkmaids their Christmas journeys go,

   Accompanied with favour’d swain;

And children pace the crumping snow,

   To taste their granny’s cake again.

 

The shepherd, now no more afraid,

   Since custom doth the chance bestow,

Starts up to kiss the giggling maid

   Beneath the branch of misletoe

That ’neath each cottage beam is seen,

   With pearl-like berries shining gay;                                         30

The shadow still of what hath been,

94             Which fashion yearly fades away.

95 …………………………………………………………………………

The singing wates, a merry throng,

   At early morn, with simple skill,

Yet imitate the angels song,

   And chant their Christmas ditty still;

And, ’mid the storm that dies and swells

   By fits—in hummings softly steals

The music of the village bells,

   Ringing round their merry peals.                                             40

 

When this is past, a merry crew,

   Bedeck’d in masks and ribbons gay,

The “Morris-dance,” their sports renew,

   And act their winter evening play.

The clown turn’d king, for penny-praise,

   Storms with the actor’s strut and swell;

And Harlequin, a laugh to raise,

   Wears his hunch-back and tinkling bell.

 

And oft for pence and spicy ale,

   With winter nosegays pinn’d before,                                       50

The wassail-singer tells her tale,

95             And drawls her Christmas carols o’er.

96 ………………………………………………………………..……………

While ’prentice boy, with ruddy face,

   And rime-bepowder’d, dancing locks,

From door to door with happy pace,

   Runs round to claim his “Christmas box.”

 

The block upon the fire is put,

   To sanction custom’s old desires;

And many a fagot's bands are cut,

   For the old farmers’ Christmas fires;                                       60

Where loud-tongued Gladness joins the throng,

   And Winter meets the warmth of May,

Till feeling soon the heat too strong,

   He rubs his shins, and draws away.

 

While snows the window-panes bedim,

   The fire curls up a sunny charm,

Where, creaming o’er the pitcher’s rim,

   The flowering ale is set to warm;

Mirth, full of joy as summer bees,

   Sits there, its pleasures to impart,                                           70

And children, ’tween their parent’s knees,

96             Sing scraps of carols o’er by heart.

97 …………………………………………..…………………………………

And some, to view the winter weathers,

   Climb up the window-seat with glee,

Likening the snow to falling feathers,

   In Fancy’s infant ecstasy;

Laughing, with superstitious love,

   O’er visions wild that youth supplies,

Of people pulling geese above,

   And keeping Christmas in the skies.                                       80

 

As tho’ the homestead trees were drest,

   In lieu of snow, with dancing leaves;

As tho’ the sun-dried martin’s nest,

   Instead of i’cles hung the eaves;

The children hail the happy day—

   As if the snow were April’s grass,

And pleas’d, as ’neath the warmth of May,

   Sport o’er the water froze to glass.

 

Thou day of happy sound and mirth,

   That long with childish memory stays,                                     90

How blest around the cottage hearth

97             I met thee in my younger days!

98 ……………………………………………………………………………

Harping, with rapture’s dreaming joys,

   On presents which thy coming found,

The welcome sight of little toys,

   The Christmas gift of cousins round.

 

The wooden horse with arching head,

   Drawn upon wheels around the room;

The gilded coach of gingerbread,

   And many-colour’d sugar plum;                                             100

Gilt cover’d books for pictures sought,

   Or stories childhood loves to tell,

With many an urgent promise bought,

   To get to-morrow’s lesson well.

 

And many a thing, a minute’s sport,

   Left broken on the sanded floor,

When we would leave our play, and court

   Our parents’ promises for more.

Tho’ manhood bids such raptures die,

   And throws such toys aside as vain,                                       110

Yet memory loves to turn her eye,

98             And count past pleasures o’er again.

99 ……………………………………………………………………………

Around the glowing hearth at night,

   The harmless laugh and winter tale

Go round, while parting friends delight

   To toast each other o’er their ale;

The cotter oft with quiet zeal

   Will musing o’er his Bible lean;

While in the dark the lovers steal

   To kiss and toy behind the screen.                                          120

 

Old customs! Oh! I love the sound,

   However simple they may be:

Whate’er with time hath sanction found,

   Is welcome, and is dear to me.

Pride grows above simplicity,

   And spurns them from her haughty mind,

And soon the poet’s song will be

99             The only refuge they can find.

   ………………………………………………………………………………