J.G. Whittier: Snow-Bound

“As the Spirits of Darkness be stronger in the dark, so Good Spirits which be Angels of Light are augmented not only by the Divine Light of the Sun,
but also by our common Wood fire: and as the celestial Fire drives away dark spirits, so also this our Fire of Wood doth the same.”
COR. AGRIPPA, Occult Philosophy, Book I. chap. v.
“Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow; and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight; the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.”
EMERSON.

The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.
The wind blew east; we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air.

Meanwhile we did our nightly chores, —
Brought in the wood from out of doors,
Littered the stalls, and from the mows
Raked down the herd’s-grass for the cows;
Heard the horse whinnying for his corn;
And, sharply clashing horn on horn,
Impatient down the stanchion rows
The cattle shake their walnut bows;
While, peering from his early perch
Upon the scaffold’s pole of birch,
The cock his crested helmet bent
And down his querulous challenge sent.

Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wingàd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.

So all night long the storm roared on:
The morning broke without a sun;
In tiny spherule traced with lines
Of Nature’s geometric signs,
And, when the second morning shone,
We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own.
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of the firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below, —
A universe of sky and snow!
The old familiar sights of ours
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
Or garden-wall, or belt of wood;
A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
A fenceless drift what once was road;
The bridle-post an old man sat
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
And even the long sweep, high aloof,
In its slant spendor, seemed to tell
Of Pisa’s leaning miracle.

 

FULL POEM

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Eighteen Hundred And Thirty

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788–1879)

We bring no earthly wreath for Time;
To man th’immortal Time was given—
Years should be marked by deeds sublime,
That elevate his soul to heaven.
Thou proudly passing year—thy name
Is registered in mind’s bright flame,
And louder than the roar of waves,
Thundering from ocean’s prison caves,
Comes the glad shout that hallows thee
The Year of Freedom’s Jubilee!
‘Tis strange how mind has been chained down,
And reason scourged like branded sin!
How man has shrunk before man’s frown,
And darkened heaven’s own fire within!
But Freedom breathed-the flame burst forth—
Wo to the spoilers of the earth,
Who would withstand its lightning stroke,
And heavier forge the galling yoke;—
As well the breaking reed might dare
The cataract’s rush—the whirlwind’s war!
Ay, thrones must crumble—even as clay,
Searched by the scorching sun and wind!
And crushed be Superstition’s sway
That would with writing scorpions bind
The terror-stricken conscience down
Beneath anointed monarch’s frown;
Till Truth is in her temple sought,
The soul’s unbribed, unfettered thought,
That, science-guided, soars unawed,
And reading Nature rests on God!
This must be-is-the passing year
Has rent the veil, and despots stand
In the keen glance of Truth severe,
With craven brow and palsied hand:—
Ye, who would make man’s spirit free,
And change the Old World’s destiny,
Bring forth from Learning’s halls the light,
And watch, that Virtue’s shield be bright;
Then to the ‘God of order’ raise
The vow of faith, the song of praise,
And on-and sweep Oppression’s chains,
Like ice beneath the vernal rains!
My Country, ay, thy sons are proud,
True heirs of Freedom’s glorious dower;
For never here has knee been bowed
In homage to a mortal power:
No, never here has tyrant reigned,
And never here has thought been chained!
Then who would follow Europe’s sickly light,
When here the soul may put forth all her might,
And show the nations, as they gaze in awe,
That Wisdom dwells with Liberty and Law!
O, when will Time his holiest triumph bring—
‘Freedom o’er all the earth, and Christ alone reigns King!’

Loose-Reined Careers of Poetry

selection: Elegy on the Death of Thomas Shepard
Urian Oakes (1631–1681)

OH! that I were a Poet now in grain!
How would I invocate the Muses all
To deign their presence, lend their flowing Vein,
And help to grace dear Shepard’s Funeral!
How would I paint our griefs, and succours borrow
From Art and Fancy, to limn out our sorrow!

Now could I wish (if wishing would obtain)
The sprightli’est Efforts of Poetick Rage,
To vent my Griefs, make others feel my pain,
For this loss of the Glory of our Age.
Here is a subject for the loftiest Verse
That ever waited on the bravest Hearse.

And could my Pen ingeniously distill
The purest Spirits of a sparkling wit
In rare conceits, the quintessence of skill
In Elegiack Strains; none like to it:
I should think all too little to condole
The fatal loss (to us) of such a Soul

Could I take highest Flights of Fancy, soar
Aloft; If Wits Monopoly were mine:
All would be much too low, too light, too poor,
To pay due tribute to this great Divine.
Ah! Wit avails not, when th’Heart’s like to break,
Great griefs are Tongue ti’ed, when the lesser speak.

Away loose rein’d Careers of Poetry,
The celebrated Sisters may be gone;
We need no Mourning Womens Elegy,
No forc’d, affected, artificial Tone.
Great and good Shepard’s Dead! Ah! this alone
Will set our eyes abroach, dissolve a stone.

Poetick Raptures are of no esteem,
Daring Hyperboles have here no place,
Luxuriant Wits on such a copious Theme,
Would shame themselves, and blush to shew their face
Here’s worth enough to overmatch the skill
Of the most stately Poet Laureat’s Quill.