To a Wreath of Snow

- 1818-1848

O transient voyager of heaven!
   O silent sign of winter skies!
What adverse wind thy sail has driven
   To dungeons where a prisoner lies?

Methinks the hands that shut the sun
   So sternly from this morning’s brow
Might still their rebel task have done
   And checked a thing so frail as thou.

They would have done it had they known
   The talisman that dwelt in thee,
For all the suns that ever shone
   Have never been so kind to me!

For many a week, and many a day
   My heart was weighed with sinking gloom
When morning rose in mourning grey
   And faintly lit my prison room

But angel like, when I awoke,
   Thy silvery form so soft and fair
Shining through darkness, sweetly spoke
   Of cloudy skies and mountains bare;

The dearest to a mountaineer
   Who, all life long has loved the snow
That crowned her native summits drear,
   Better, than greenest plains below.

And voiceless, soulless, messenger
   Thy presence waked a thrilling tone
That comforts me while thou art here
   And will sustain when thou art gone

Stanzas

Often rebuked, yet always back returning
    To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
    For idle dreams of things that cannot be:

To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;
    Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
    Bring the unreal world too strangely near.

I'll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
    And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
    The clouded forms of long-past history.

I'll walk where my own nature would be leading:
    It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the gray flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
    Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.

What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
    More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
    Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.

Remembrance

Cold in the earth—and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time's all-severing wave?

Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern leaves cover
Thy noble heart forever, ever more?

Cold in the earth—and fifteen wild Decembers,
From those brown hills, have melted into spring;
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!

Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world's tide is bearing me along;
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

No later light has lightened up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
All my life's bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life's bliss is in the grave with thee.

But, when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.

Then did I check the tears of useless passion—
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten 
Down to that tomb already more than mine.

And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory's rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?

Spellbound

The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me
And I cannot, cannot go.

The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow.
And the storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go.

Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me;
I will not, cannot go.

Related Poems

Habit

Last night when my work was done,
And my estranged hands
Were becoming mutually interested
In such forgotten things as pulses,
I looked out of a window
Into a glittering night sky.

And instantly
I began to feather-stitch a ring around the moon.

Prisoners

It is strange that I should want
this sight of your face—
we have had so much:
at any moment now I may pass,
stand near the gate,
do not speak—
only reach if you can, your face
half-fronting the passage
toward the light.

Fate—God sends this as a mark,
a last token that we are not forgot,
lost in this turmoil,
about to be crushed out,
burned or stamped out
at best with sudden death.

The spearsman who brings this
will ask for the gold clasp
you wear under your coat.
I gave all I had left.

Press close to the portal,
my gate will soon clang
and your fellow wretches
will crowd to the entrance—
be first at the gate.

Ah beloved, do not speak.
I write this in great haste—
do not speak,
you may yet be released.
I am glad enough to depart
though I have never tasted life
as in these last weeks.

It is a strange life,
patterned in fire and letters
on the prison pavement.
If I glance up
it is written on the walls,
it is cut on the floor,
it is patterned across
the slope of the roof.

I am weak—weak—
last night if the guard
had left the gate unlocked
I could not have ventured to escape,
but one thought serves me now
with strength.

As I pass down the corridor
past desperate faces at each cell,
your eyes and my eyes may meet.

You will be dark, unkempt,
but I pray for one glimpse of your face—
why do I want this?
I who have seen you at the banquet
each flower of your hyacinth-circlet
white against your hair.

Why do I want this,
when even last night
you startled me from sleep?
You stood against the dark rock,
you grasped an elder staff.

So many nights
you have distracted me from terror.
Once you lifted a spear-flower.
I remember how you stooped
to gather it—
and it flamed, the leaf and shoot
and the threads, yellow, yellow—
sheer till they burnt
to red-purple in the cup.

As I pass your cell-door
do not speak.
I was first on the list—
They may forget you tried to shield me
as the horsemen passed.

Snow

Brave Winter and I shall ever agree,
Though a stern and frowning gaffer is he.
I like to hear him, with hail and rain,
Come tapping against the window pane;
I joy to see him come marching forth
Begirt with the icicle gems of the north;
But I like him best when he comes bedight
In his velvet robes of stainless white.

A cheer for the snow—the drifting snow!
Smoother and purer than beauty’s brow!
The creature of thought scarce likes to tread
On the delicate carpet so richly spread.
With feathery wreaths the forest is bound,
And the hills are with glittering diadems crown’d;
’Tis the fairest scene we can have below.
Sing, welcome, then, to the drifting snow!

The urchins gaze with eloquent eye
To see the flakes go dancing by.
In the thick of the storm how happy are they
To welcome the first deep snowy day;
Shouting and pelting—what bliss to fall
Half-smother’d beneath the well-aim’d ball!
Men of fourscore, did ye ever know
Such sport as ye had in the drifting snow?

I’m true to my theme, for I loved it well.
When the gossiping nurse would sit and tell
The tale of the geese—though hardly believed—
I doubted and question’d the words that deceived.
I rejoice in it still, and love to see
The ermine mantle on tower and tree.
’Tis the fairest scene we can have below.
Hurrah! then, hurrah! for the drifting snow!