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.
The Battle Autumn of 1862
The flags of war like storm-birds fly,
The charging trumpets blow;
Yet rolls no thunder in the sky,
No earthquake strives below.
And, calm and patient, Nature keeps
Her ancient promise well,
Though o’er her bloom and greenness sweeps
The battle’s breath of hell.
And still she walks in golden hours
Through harvest-happy farms,
And still she wears her fruits and flowers
Like jewels on her arms.
What mean the gladness of the plain,
This joy of eve and morn,
The mirth that shakes the beard of grain
And yellow locks of corn?
Ah! eyes may well be full of tears,
And hearts with hate are hot;
But even-paced come round the years,
And Nature changes not.
She meets with smiles our bitter grief,
With songs our groans of pain;
She mocks with tint of flower and leaf
The war-field’s crimson stain.
Still, in the cannon’s pause, we hear
Her sweet thanksgiving-psalm;
Too near to God for doubt or fear,
She shares the eternal calm.
She knows the seed lies safe below
The fires that blast and burn;
For all the tears of blood we sow
She waits the rich return.
She sees with clearer eye than ours
The good of suffering born,—
The hearts that blossom like her flowers,
And ripen like her corn.
Oh, give to us, in times like these,
The vision of her eyes;
And make her fields and fruited trees
Our golden prophecies!
Oh, give to us her finer ear!
Above this stormy din,
We too would hear the bells of cheer
Ring peace and freedom in.