I wander forth this chill December dawn.1
Frost and his tiny elves are out, I see,2
As busy as the fairy world can be,3
Clothing a world asleep with fleecy lawn ;4
’Mid the blue silence of the evening hours5
They glimmered duskly down from skyey bowers,6
And featly have they laboured all night long,7
Cheering their labour with a half-heard rhyme8
Low as the burthen of a shepherd’s song9
When Echo moans it over hills of thyme.10
There is a hush of music on the air11
The white-wing’d fairies faltering everywhere ;12
And here and there,13
Made by a sudden mingling as they fall,14
There comes a softer lullaby than all,15
Swept in upon the universal prayer.16
Mine eyes and heart are troubled with a motion17
Of music like the moving waves of ocean,18
When, out of hearing, o’er the harbour-bars19
They sigh toward the moon and jasper stars.20
The tiny squadrons waver down and thicken,21
Gathering numbers as they fly,22
Blinding the sky,23
And nearing earth their thick-set ranks they quicken,24
And swim in swarms to die !25
The music comes and goes and comes again,26
And flutters forward to a felt refrain,27
Whereon it faints away in pauses holy,28
Ere dropping to the Soul and rising slowly,29
It trembles outward through the blood and brain.30
But now, the clouds are winnowèd away ;31
The sky above is grey as glass, below32
The feeble twilight of the dreamy day33
Nets the long landskip hush’d beneath the snow.34
The arrowy frosts sting keenly as I stray35
Along the rutted lane or broad highway,36
Past wind-swept hedges sighing sharp and clear,37
Where half the sweetly changeful English year38
The scented summer loves to gleam and glow.39
The new-lain snowy carpet, ankle-deep,40
Crumbles beneath my footsteps as I pass,41
Revealing scanty blades of frozen grass ;42
On either side the chirping sparrows leap,43
And here and there a robin, friendly now,44
From naked bough to bough.45
That snow-clad homestead in the river’s arm46
Is haunted with the noisy rooks that fly47
Between its bending beeches and the sky,48
And hailing fast for yonder fallow farm,49
A solitary linnet plunges by.50
Light-muffled winds arising high among51
White hills deep brooding in their winter rest,52
Bear from the eastern winter to the west53
The muttered diapason of a song54
Made by the thunder on a mountain’s breast.55
Judge not King Winter as the easy do,56
Nor wrong him from a Christmas point of view.57
Rush out and meet him in his native air,58
Shaking the forests, locking up the flood,59
Stand ’neath his throne of mountains bleak and bare,60
Flanked by a round red sun, as I have stood :61
When the dim nights grow long and frozen air62
Takes burning motion down the tingling blood ;63
When little viewless fingers night and day64
Embroider stainless flowers of rare device65
On cottage panes to mimic flowers of May,66
And listening at the porch, I seem to hear67
The hush’d heart of the dumb and dawning Year68
Beating for summer under ribs of ice !69
Nature is always lovely, ever kind,70
An ever-new Messiah sad or sweet,71
And changes as she gladdens72
Strange as the fitful changes of the Mind,73
Which finds a girlond even at Sorrow’s feet,74
And makes an unborn pleasure when it saddens.75
Not only Spring, with dew-bespangled hair,76
And eyes that startle light from tears, is fair ;77
Not only the voluptuous-bosom’d June,78
Sitting embower’d ’mid roses and green leaves,79
Nor Autumn sighing under stars and moon80
’Mid her drain’d vintage and her slanted sheaves.81
The gruff swift season of the snow and frost82
Is part of the eternal Pentecost83
When Beauty smiles or grieves.84
Nature is always lovely, like the Soul ;85
She, like that hope of heaven, laughs or broods,86
And owns no blind control87
For she whose metaphor our life surrounds,88
Is moulded of as many changeful moods89
As harmony of sounds !90
The sun is hanging in a purple globe,91
Mid yellow mists that stir with silver breath ;92
The little landskip slumbers, white as death,93
Amid its naked fields and woody wolds,94
Wearing the winter as a stainless robe,95
Low trailing in a fall of fleecy folds.96
By pasture-gates the mottled cattle swarm,97
Thick’ning the misty air, with piteous eyes98
Fixed ever on the tempest-breeding skies,99
And watch the lingering traces of the storm.100
A feeble sunbeam kisses and illumes101
Yon whitened spire that hints a hidden town,102
And flickering for a space it darkens down103
Above the silence of forgotten tombs.104
I gain the shoulder of a plantain now,105
A fledgling’s flutter from a small hill’s brow.106
I see the hamlet, half a mile below,107
With dripping gables and with darkened panes ,108
And watch the urchins in the narrow lanes109
Below the school-house, shouting in the snow.110
The whitened coach comes swiftly round the road,111
With horns to which a dozen hills reply,112
And rattling onward with its laughing load,113
Halts steaming at the little hostelry.114
Hard by the lonely woodman pants and glows,115
And wrapt in leather-stockings to the thigh,116
Toils with an icicle beneath his nose.117
In yonder field an idle shepherd blows118
His frozen fingers into tingling flame ;119
The gaunt old farmer as he canters by,120
Reins in to greet the country clowns by name ;121
That chestnut pony in the yellow fly122
Draws the plump parson and his leaner dame.123
I loiter down the road, and feel the ground124
Like iron ’neath my heel ; the noisy air125
Has fallen in a sound.126
Frost follows in its path without a sound,127
And plies his nimble fingers everywhere,128
Under my eyelids and beneath my hair.129
Yon mountain dons once more its helm of cloud,130
The air grows dark and dim as if in wonder ;131
Once more the heaven is winnow’d, and the crowd132
Of silken fairies flock with music under133
A sky that flutters like a wind-swept shroud.134
Through gloomy dimbles, clad with new-fall’n snow,135
Back to my little cottage home I go.136
But once again I roam by field and flood,137
Stung into heat where hoar-frosts melt and bite,138
What time the fog-wrapt sun drops red as blood,139
And the white star is tingling into sight.140
Down the cold darkness of the whistling dell,141
Past rifts of frozen marl and trodden clay,142
The little river that I love so well,143
Moans in a torrent on its seaward way.144
Why haste you, little river, so to-night,145
From buried boulder-glens where winter raves ?146
Have you some summer message, sweet and bright,147
For Ocean, where she trails her long sea waves148
Of green and shadowy purple splash’d with light ?149
Art thou a messenger of Spring, between150
The olden mountains and their restless daughter ?151
Hast tidings of a maiden, sweet of mien,152
With dewy bluebells in her kirtle green,153
Wedding, by some sweet magic Heaven has taught
In one rich sleep the summer earth and water ?155
The yellow moonlight steams on snowy mountains,156
While Dian in the misty brightness bathes ;157
I watch, with motions of the Soul’s felt fountains,158
The woolly clouds a-swim in silver swathes.159
The stars take kindred with my eager blood,160
And in my heart of hearts a sweet sense grows,161
Still and imperfect as the yellow bud,162
Hush’d in the centre of a full-blown rose.163