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 your 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 wingèd snow: And ere the early bed-time came The white drift piled the window-frame, And through the glass the clothes-line posts Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts. * As night drew on, and, from the crest Of wooded knolls that ridged the west, The sun, a snow-blown traveller, sank From sight beneath the smothering bank, We piled, with care, our nightly stack Of wood against the chimney-back,-- The oaken log, green, huge, and thick, And on its top the stout back-stick; The knotty forestick laid apart, And filled between with curious art The ragged brush; then, hovering near, We watched the first red blaze appear, Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam On whitewashed wall and sagging beam, Until the old, rude-furnished room Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom; While radiant with a mimic flame Outside the sparkling drift became, And through the bare-boughed lilac-tree Our own warm hearth seemed blazing free. The crane and pendent trammels showed, The Turks' heads on the andirons glowed; While childish fancy, prompt to tell The meaning of the miracle, Whispered the old rhyme: "Under the tree, When fire outdoors burns merrily, There the witches are making tea." The moon above the eastern wood Shone at its full; the hill-range stood Transfigured in the silver flood, Its blown snows flashing cold and keen, Dead white, save where some sharp ravine Took shadow, or the somber green Of hemlocks turned to pitchy black Against the whiteness at their back. For such a world and such a night Most fitting that unwarming light, Which only seemed where'er it fell To make the coldness visible.
John Greenleaf Whittier - 1807-1892
Abraham Davenport [excerpt]
In the old days (a custom laid aside With breeches and cocked hats) the people sent Their wisest men to make the public laws. And so, from a brown homestead, where the Sound Drinks the small tribute of the Mianas, Waved over by the woods of Rippowams, And hallowed by pure lives and tranquil deaths, Stamford sent up to the councils of the State Wisdom and grace in Abraham Davenport. 'T was on a May-day of the far old year Seventeen hundred eighty, that there fell Over the bloom and sweet life of the Spring Over the fresh earth and the heaven of noon, A horror of great darkness, like the night In day of which the Norland sagas tell,— The Twilight of the Gods. The low-hung sky Was black with ominous clouds, save where its rim Was fringed with a dull glow, like that which climbs The crater's sides from the red hell below. Birds ceased to sing, and all the barnyard fowls Roosted; the cattle at the pasture bars Lowed, and looked homeward; bats on leathern wings Flitted abroad; the sounds of labor died; Men prayed, and women wept; all ears grew sharp To hear the doom-blast of the trumpet shatter The black sky, that the dreadful face of Christ Might look from the rent clouds, not as he looked A loving guest at Bethany, but stern As Justice and inexorable Law. Meanwhile in the old State-House, dim as ghosts, Sat the lawgivers of Connecticut, Trembling beneath their legislative robes. "It is the Lord's Great Day! Let us adjourn," Some said; and then, as if with one accord, All eyes were turned to Abraham Davenport. He rose, slow cleaving with his steady voice The intolerable hush. "This well may be The Day of Judgment which the world awaits; But be it so or not, I only know My present duty, and my Lord's command To occupy till He come. So at the post Where he hast set me in His providence, I choose, for one, to meet Him face to face,— No faithless servant frightened from my task, But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls; And therefore, with all reverence, I would say, Let God do His work, we will see to ours. Bring in the candles." And they brought them in. Then by the flaring lights the Speaker read, Albeit with husky voice and shaking hands, An act to amend an act to regulate The shad and alewive fisheries, Whereupon Wisely and well spake Abraham Davenport, Straight to the question, with no figures of speech Save the ten Arab signs, yet not without The shrewd dry humor natural to the man: His awe-struck colleagues listening all the while, Between the pauses of his argument, To hear the thunder of the wrath of God Break from the hollow trumpet of the cloud. And there he stands in memory to this day, Erect, self-poised, a rugged face, half seen Against the background of unnatural dark, A witness to the ages as they pass, That simple duty hath no place for fear.