The subject proposed. Address to the Earl of Wilmington. First approach of Winter. According to the natural course of the season, various storms described. Rain. Wind. Snow. The driving of the snows: a man perishing among them; whence reflections on the wants and miseries of human life. The wolves descending from the Alps and Apennines. A winter evening described: as spent by philosophers; by the country people; in the city. Frost. A view of Winter within the polar circle. A thaw. The whole concluding with moral reflections on a future state.
ee, Winter comes, to rule the varied year,
Sullen and sad, with all his rising train;
Vapours, and clouds, and storms. Be these my theme;
These, that exalt the soul to solemn thought,
And heavenly musing. Welcome, kindred glooms!
Cogenial horrors, hail! with frequent foot,
Pleas’d have I, in my cheerful morn of life,
When nurs’d by careless solitude I liv’d,
And sung of Nature with unceasing joy,
10 Pleas’d have I wander’d through your rough domain;246
Trod the pure virgin-snows, myself as pure;
Heard the winds roar, and the big torrent burst;
Or seen the deep fermenting tempest brew’d
In the grim evening-sky. Thus pass’d the time;
Till through the lucid chambers of the south
Look’d out the joyous Spring—look’d out and smil’d.
To thee, the patron of this first essay,
The muse, O Wilmington! renews her song.
Since has she rounded the revolving year:
20 Skimm’d the gay Spring; on eagle-pinions borne,
Attempted through the summer blaze to rise;
Then swept o’er Autumn with the shadowy gale;
And now among the wintry clouds again,
Roll’d in the doubling storm, she tries to soar;
To swell her note with all the rushing winds;
To suit her sounding cadence to the floods;
As is her theme, her numbers wildly great:
Thrice-happy! could she fill thy judging ear
With bold description, and with manly thought.
30 Nor art thou skill’d in awful schemes alone,
And how to make a mighty people thrive:
But equal goodness, sound integrity,247
A firm, unshaken, uncorrupted soul
Amid a sliding age, and burning strong,
Not vainly blazing, for thy country’s weal—
A steady spirit, regularly free;
These, each exalting each, the statesman light
Into the patriot; these, the public hope
And eye to thee converting, bid the muse
40 Record what envy dares not flattery call.
Now when the cheerless empire of the sky
To Capricorn the Centaur-Archer yields,
And fierce Aquarius stains the inverted year—
Hung o’er the farthest verge of heaven, the sun
Scarce spreads o’er ether the dejected day.
Faint are his gleams, and ineffectual shoot
His struggling rays, in horizontal lines,
Through the thick air; as cloth’d in cloudy storm,
Weak, wan, and broad, he skirts the southern sky;
50 And, soon descending, to the long dark night,
Wide-shading all, the prostrate world resigns.
Nor is the night unwish’d; while vital heat,
Light, life, and joy, the dubious day forsake.
Meantime, in sable cincture, shadows vast,248
Deep-ting’d and damp, and congregated clouds,
And all the vapoury turbulence of heaven,
Involve the face of things. Thus Winter falls,
A heavy gloom oppressive o’er the world,
Through nature shedding influence malign,
60 And rouses up the seeds of dark disease.
The soul of man dies in him, loathing life,
And black with more than melancholy views.
The cattle droop; and o’er the furrow’d land,
Fresh from the plough, the dun discolour’d flocks,
Untended spreading, crop the wholesome root.
Along the woods, along the moorish fens,
Sighs the sad genius of the coming storm;
And up among the loose disjointed cliffs,
And fractur’d mountains wild, the brawling brook
70 And cave, presageful, send a hollow moan,
Resounding long in listening fancy’s ear.
Then comes the father of the tempest forth,
Wrapt in black glooms. First, joyless rains obscure
Drive through the mingling skies with vapour foul,
Dash on the mountain’s brow, and shake the woods
That grumbling wave below. The unsightly plain249
Lies a brown deluge; as the low-bent clouds
Pour flood on flood, yet unexhausted still
Combine, and deepening into night shut up
80 The day’s fair face. The wanderers of heaven,
Each to his home, retire; save those that love
To take their pastime in the troubled air,
Or skimming flutter round the dimply pool.
The cattle from the untasted fields return,
And ask, with meaning low, their wonted stalls,
Or ruminate in the contiguous shade.
Thither the household feathery people crowd—
The crested cock, with all his female train,
Pensive and dripping; while the cottage-hind
90 Hangs o’er the enlivening blaze, and taleful there250
Recounts his simple frolic: much he talks,
And much he laughs, nor recks the storm that blows
Without, and rattles on his humble roof.
Wide o’er the brim, with many a torrent swell’d,
And the mix’d ruin of its banks o’erspread,
At last the rous’d-up river pours along:
Resistless, roaring, dreadful, down it comes,
From the rude mountain, and the mossy wild,
Tumbling through rocks abrupt, and sounding far;
100 Then o’er the sanded valley floating spreads,
Calm, sluggish, silent; till again, constrain’d
Between two meeting hills, it bursts a way,
Where rocks and woods o’erhang the turbid stream—
There gathering triple force, rapid and deep,
It boils, and wheels, and foams, and thunders through.
Nature! great parent! whose unceasing hand
Rolls round the Seasons of the changeful year,
How mighty, how majestic, are thy works!
With what a pleasing dread they swell the soul!
110 That sees astonish’d, and astonish’d sings!
Ye too, ye winds! that now begin to blow,
With boisterous sweep, I raise my voice to you.251
Where are your stores, ye powerful beings! say,
Where your aërial magazines reserv’d,
To swell the brooding terrors of the storm?
In what far-distant region of the sky,
Hush’d in deep silence, sleep you when ’tis calm?
When from the pallid sky the sun descends,
With many a spot, that o’er his glaring orb
120 Uncertain wanders, stain’d—red fiery streaks
Begin to flush around. The reeling clouds
Stagger with dizzy poise, as doubting yet
Which master to obey; while rising slow,
Blank, in the leaden-colour’d east, the moon
Wears a wan circle round her blunted horns.
Seen through the turbid, fluctuating air,
The stars obtuse emit a shivering ray;
Or frequent seem to shoot athwart the gloom,
And long behind them trail the whitening blaze.
130 Snatch’d in short eddies, plays the wither’d leaf;
And on the flood the dancing feather floats.
With broaden’d nostrils to the sky upturn’d,
The conscious heifer snuffs the stormy gale.
Even as the matron, at her nightly task,252
With pensive labour draws the flaxen thread,
The wasted taper and the crackling flame
Foretell the blast. But chief the plumy race,
The tenants of the sky, its changes speak.
Retiring from the downs, where all day long
140 They pick’d their scanty fare, a blackening train
Of clamorous rooks thick-urge their weary flight,
And seek the closing shelter of the grove.
Assiduous, in his bower, the wailing owl
Plies his sad song. The cormorant on high
Wheels from the deep, and screams along the land.
Loud shrieks the soaring hern; and with wild wing253
The circling sea-fowl cleave the flaky clouds.
Ocean, unequal press’d, with broken tide
And blind commotion heaves; while from the shore,
150 Eat into caverns by the restless wave,
And forest-rustling mountain, comes a voice,
That solemn-sounding bids the world prepare.
Then issues forth the storm with sudden burst,
And hurls the whole precipitated air
Down in a torrent. On the passive main
Descends the ethereal force, and with strong gust
Turns from its bottom the discolour’d deep.
Through the black night that sits immense around,
Lash’d into foam, the fierce conflicting brine
160 Seems o’er a thousand raging waves to burn.
Meantime the mountain-billows, to the clouds
In dreadful tumult swell’d, surge above surge,
Burst into chaos with tremendous roar,
And anchor’d navies from their stations drive,
Wild as the winds across the howling waste
Of mighty waters: now the inflated wave
Straining they scale, and now impetuous shoot
Into the secret chambers of the deep,254
The wintry Baltic thundering o’er their head.
170 Emerging thence again, before the breath
Of full-exerted heaven they wing their course,
And dart on distant coasts; if some sharp rock,
Or shoal insidious, break not their career,
And in loose fragments fling them floating round.
Nor less at land the loosen’d tempest reigns.
The mountain thunders; and its sturdy sons
Stoop to the bottom of the rocks they shade.
Lone on the midnight steep, and all aghast,
The dark wayfaring stranger breathless toils,
180 And, often falling, climbs against the blast.
Low waves the rooted forest, vex’d, and sheds
What of its tarnish’d honours yet remain;
Dash’d down, and scatter’d, by the tearing wind’s
Assiduous fury, its gigantic limbs.
Thus struggling through the dissipated grove,
The whirling tempest raves along the plain;
And on the cottage thatch’d, or lordly roof,
Keen-fastening, shakes them to the solid base.
Sleep frighted flies; and round the rocking dome,
190 For entrance eager, howls the savage blast.255
Then too, they say, through all the burden’d air,
Long groans are heard, shrill sounds, and distant sighs,
That, utter’d by the demon of the night,
Warn the devoted wretch of woe and death.
Huge uproar lords it wide. The clouds, commix’d
With stars swift-gliding, sweep along the sky.
All nature reels: till nature’s King, who oft
Amid tempestuous darkness dwells alone,
And on the wings of the careering wind
200 Walks dreadfully serene, commands a calm;
Then straight air, sea, and earth, are hush’d at once.
As yet ’tis midnight deep. The weary clouds,
Slow-meeting, mingle into solid gloom.
Now, while the drowsy world lies lost in sleep,
Let me associate with the serious night,
And contemplation her sedate compeer;
Let me shake off the intrusive cares of day,
And lay the meddling senses all aside.
Where now, ye lying vanities of life!
210 Ye ever-tempting, ever-cheating train!
Where are you now? and what is your amount?
Vexation, disappointment, and remorse.256
Sad, sickening thought! and yet deluded man,
A scene of crude disjointed visions past,
And broken slumbers, rises still resolv’d,
With new-flush’d hopes, to run the giddy round.
Father of light and life! thou Good Supreme!
Oh teach me what is good! teach me Thyself!
Save me from folly, vanity, and vice,
220 From every low pursuit; and feed my soul
With knowledge, conscious peace, and virtue pure—
Sacred, substantial, never-fading bliss!
The keener tempests come; and fuming dun
From all the livid east, or piercing north,
Thick clouds ascend—in whose capacious womb
A vapoury deluge lies, to snow congeal’d.
Heavy they roll their fleecy world along;
And the sky saddens with the gather’d storm.
Through the hush’d air the whitening shower descends,
230 At first thin-wavering; till at last the flakes
Fall broad, and wide, and fast, dimming the day
With a continual flow. The cherish’d fields
Put on their winter robe of purest white.
’Tis brightness all; save where the new snow melts217
Along the mazy current. Low, the woods
Bow their hoar head; and, ere the languid sun
Faint from the west emits his evening ray,
Earth’s universal face, deep-hid and chill,
Is one wild dazzling waste, that buries wide
240 The works of man. Drooping, the labourer-ox
Stands cover’d o’er with snow, and then demands
The fruit of all his toil. The fowls of heaven,
Tam’d by the cruel season, crowd around
The winnowing store, and claim the little boon
Which Providence assigns them. One alone,
The redbreast, sacred to the household-gods,
Wisely regardful of the embroiling sky,
In joyless fields and thorny thickets leaves
His shivering mates, and pays to trusted man
250 His annual visit. Half-afraid, he first
Against the window beats; then, brisk, alights
On the warm hearth; then, hopping o’er the floor,
Eyes all the smiling family askance,
And pecks, and starts, and wonders where he is—
Till, more familiar grown, the table-crumbs
Attract his slender feet. The foodless wilds258
Pour forth their brown inhabitants. The hare,
Though timorous of heart, and hard beset
By death in various forms, dark snares, and dogs,
260 And more unpitying men, the garden seeks,
Urg’d on by fearless want. The bleating kind
Eye the bleak heaven, and next the glistening earth,
With looks of dumb despair; then, sad-dispers’d,
Dig for the wither’d herb through heaps of snow.
Now, shepherds, to your helpless charge be kind;
Baffle the raging year, and fill their pens
With food at will; lodge them below the storm,
And watch them strict: for from the bellowing east,
In this dire season, oft the whirlwind’s wing
270 Sweeps up the burden of whole wintry plains
In one wide waft, and o’er the hapless flocks,
Hid in the hollow of two neighbouring hills,
The billowy tempest whelms; till, upward urg’d,
The valley to a shining mountain swells,
Tipp’d with a wreath high-curling in the sky.
As thus the snows arise, and foul and fierce
All Winter drives along the darken’d air,
In his own loose-revolving fields the swain259
Disaster’d stands; sees other hills ascend,
280 Of unknown joyless brow; and other scenes,
Of horrid prospect, shag the trackless plain;
Nor finds the river, nor the forest, hid
Beneath the formless wild; but wanders on
From hill to dale, still more and more astray—
Impatient flouncing through the drifted heaps,
Stung with the thoughts of home: the thoughts of home
Rush on his nerves, and call their vigour forth
In many a vain attempt. How sinks his soul!
What black despair, what horror fills his heart!
290 When for the dusky spot which fancy feign’d
His tufted cottage, rising through the snow,
He meets the roughness of the middle waste,
Far from the track, and blest abode of man;
While round him night resistless closes fast,
And every tempest, howling o’er his head,
Renders the savage wilderness more wild.
Then throng the busy shapes into his mind,
Of cover’d pits, unfathomably deep,
A dire descent! beyond the power of frost;
300 Of faithless bogs; of precipices huge,260
Smooth’d up with snow; and, what is land unknown,
What water, of the still unfrozen spring,
In the loose marsh or solitary lake,
Where the fresh fountain from the bottom boils.
These check his fearful steps; and down he sinks
Beneath the shelter of the shapeless drift,
Thinking o’er all the bitterness of death,
Mix’d with the tender anguish nature shoots
Through the wrung bosom of the dying man—
310 His wife, his children, and his friends, unseen.
In vain for him the officious wife prepares
The fire fair-blazing, and the vestment warm;
In vain his little children, peeping out
Into the mingling storm, demand their sire,
With tears of artless innocence. Alas!
Nor wife, nor children, more shall he behold,
Nor friends, nor sacred home. On every nerve
The deadly Winter seizes; shuts up sense;
And, o’er his inmost vitals creeping cold,
320 Lays him along the snow a stiffen’d corse—
Stretch’d out, and bleaching in the northern blast.
Ah! little think the gay licentious proud,
Whom pleasure, power, and affluence, surround;
They, who their thoughtless hours in giddy mirth,
And wanton, often cruel, riot waste;
Ah! little think they, while they dance along,
How many feel this very moment death,
And all the sad variety of pain.
How many sink in the devouring flood,
330 Or more devouring flame. How many bleed,
By shameful variance betwixt man and man.
How many pine in want, and dungeon-glooms;262
Shut from the common air, and common use
Of their own limbs. How many drink the cup
Of baleful grief, or eat the bitter bread
Of misery. Sore pierc’d by wintry winds,
How many shrink into the sordid hut
Of cheerless poverty. How many shake
With all the fiercer tortures of the mind,
340 Unbounded passion, madness, guilt, remorse;
Whence tumbled headlong from the height of life,
They furnish matter for the tragic muse.
Even in the vale, where wisdom loves to dwell,
With friendship, peace, and contemplation join’d,
How many, rack’d with honest passions, droop
In deep retir’d distress. How many stand
Around the death-bed of their dearest friends,
And point the parting anguish. Thought fond man
Of these, and all the thousand nameless ills,
350 That one incessant struggle render life,
One scene of toil, of suffering, and of fate,
Vice in his high career would stand appall’d,
And heedless rambling impulse learn to think;
The conscious heart of charity would warm,263
And her wide wish benevolence dilate;
And social tear would rise, the social sigh;
And into clear perfection, gradual bliss,
Refining still, the social passions work.
And here can I forget the generous band1,
360 Who, touch’d with human woe, redressive search’d
Into the horrors of the gloomy jail?
Unpitied, and unheard, where misery moans;
Where sickness pines; where thirst and hunger burn,
And poor misfortune feels the lash of vice.
While in the land of liberty, the land
Whose every street and public meeting glow
With open freedom, little tyrants rag’d:
Snatch’d the lean morsel from the starving mouth;
Tore from cold wintry limbs the tatter’d weed;
370 Even robb’d them of the last of comforts, sleep;
The free-born Briton to the dungeon chain’d,
Or, as the lust of cruelty prevail’d,
At pleasure mark’d him with inglorious stripes;
And crush’d out lives, by secret barbarous ways,
That for their country would have toil’d, or bled.
Oh great design! if executed well,264
With patient care, and wisdom-temper’d zeal.
Ye sons of mercy! yet resume the search;
Drag forth the legal monsters into light,
380 Wrench from their hands oppression’s iron rod,
And bid the cruel feel the pains they give.
Much still untouch’d remains; in this rank age,
Much is the patriot’s weeding hand requir’d.
The toils of law, (what dark insidious men
Have cumbrous added to perplex the truth,
And lengthen simple justice into trade)
How glorious were the day that saw these broke,
And every man within the reach of right!
By wintry famine rous’d, from all the tract
390 Of horrid mountains which the shining Alps,
And wavy Apennines, and Pyrénées,
Branch out stupendous into distant lands—
Cruel as death, and hungry as the grave!
Burning for blood! bony, and gaunt, and grim!
Assembling wolves in raging troops descend;
And, pouring o’er the country, bear along,
Keen as the north-wind sweeps the glossy snow.
All is their prize. They fasten on the steed,265
Press him to earth, and pierce his mighty heart.
400 Nor can the bull his awful front defend,
Or shake the murdering savages away.
Rapacious, at the mother’s throat they fly,
And tear the screaming infant from her breast.
The godlike face of man avails him nought.
Even beauty, force divine! at whose bright glance
The generous lion stands in soften’d gaze,
Here bleeds, a hapless undistinguish’d prey.
But if, appris’d of the severe attack,
The country be shut up—lur’d by the scent,
410 On church-yards drear (inhuman to relate!)
The disappointed prowlers fall, and dig
The shrouded body from the grave; o’er which,
Mix’d with foul shades, and frighted ghosts, they howl.
Among those hilly regions, where embrac’d
In peaceful vales the happy Grisons dwell,
Oft, rushing sudden from the loaded cliffs,
Mountains of snow their gathering terrors roll.
From steep to steep, loud-thundering, down they come,
A wintry waste in dire commotion all;
420 And herds, and flocks, and travellers, and swains,266
And sometimes whole brigades of marching troops,
Or hamlets sleeping in the dead of night,
Are deep beneath the smothering ruin whelm’d.
Now, all amid the rigours of the year,
In the wild depth of Winter, while without
The ceaseless winds blow ice, be my retreat,
Between the groaning forest and the shore,
Beat by the boundless multitude of waves,
A rural, shelter’d, solitary scene;
430 Where ruddy fire and beaming tapers join267
To cheer the gloom. There studious let me sit,
And hold high converse with the mighty dead;
Sages of ancient time, as gods rever’d,
As gods beneficent, who bless’d mankind
With arts and arms, and humanis’d a world.
Rous’d at the inspiring thought, I throw aside
The longliv’d volume; and, deep-musing, hail
The sacred shades, that slowly rising pass
Before my wondering eyes. First Socrates,
440 Who, firmly good in a corrupted state,
Against the rage of tyrants single stood,
Invincible! calm reason’s holy law,
That voice of God within the attentive mind,
Obeying, fearless, or in life or death:
Great moral teacher! wisest of mankind!
Solon the next, who built his commonweal
On equity’s wide base; by tender laws
A lively people curbing, yet undamp’d
Preserving still that quick peculiar fire,
450 Whence in the laurell’d field of finer arts,
And of bold freedom, they unequall’d shone—
The pride of smiling Greece, and human-kind.268
Lycurgus then, who bow’d beneath the force
Of strictest discipline, severely wise,
All human passions. Following him, I see,
As at Thermopylæ he glorious fell,
The firm devoted chief2, who prov’d by deeds
The hardest lesson which the other taught.
Then Aristides lifts his honest front;
460 Spotless of heart, to whom the unflattering voice
Of freedom gave the noblest name of Just;
In pure majestic poverty rever’d;
Who, even his glory to his country’s weal
Submitting, swell’d a haughty rival’s3 fame.
Rear’d by his care, of softer ray, appears
Cimon sweet-soul’d; whose genius, rising strong,
Shook off the load of young debauch; abroad
The scourge of Persian pride, at home the friend
Of every worth and every splendid art—
470 Modest, and simple, in the pomp of wealth.
Then the last worthies of declining Greece,
Late-call’d to glory, in unequal times,
Pensive, appear. The fair Corinthian boast,
Timoleon, temper’d happy, mild and firm,269
Who wept the brother while the tyrant bled.
And, equal to the best, the Theban pair,4
Whose virtues, in heroic concord join’d,
Their country rais’d to freedom, empire, fame.
He too, with whom Athenian honour sunk,
480 And left a mass of sordid lees behind,
Phocion the good; in public life severe,
To virtue still inexorably firm;
But when, beneath his low illustrious roof,
Sweet peace and happy wisdom smooth’d his brow,
Not friendship softer was, nor love more kind.
And he, the last of old Lycurgus’ sons,
The generous victim to that vain attempt,
To save a rotten state, Agis, who saw
Even Sparta’s self to servile avarice sunk.
490 The two Achæan heroes close the train.
Aratus, who a while relum’d the soul
Of fondly lingering liberty in Greece;
And he her darling as her latest hope,
The gallant Philopœmen, who to arms
Turn’d the luxurious pomp he could not cure:
Or, toiling in his farm, a simple swain;270
Or, bold and skilful, thundering in the field.
Of rougher front, a mighty people come!
A race of heroes! in those virtuous times
500 Which knew no stain, save that with partial flame
Their dearest country they too fondly lov’d.
Her better founder first, the light of Rome,
Numa, who soften’d her rapacious sons.
Servius, the king who laid the solid base
On which o’er earth the vast republic spread.
Then the great consuls venerable rise.
The public father5 who the private quell’d,
As on the dread tribunal sternly sad.
He whom his thankless country could not lose,
510 Camillus, only vengeful to her foes.
Fabricius, scorner of all-conquering gold;
And Cincinnatus, awful from the plough.
Thy willing victim6, Carthage, bursting loose
From all that pleading nature could oppose;
From a whole city’s tears, by rigid faith
Imperious call’d, and honour’s dire command.
Scipio, the gentle chief, humanely brave,
Who soon the race of spotless glory ran;271
And, warm in youth, to the poetic shade
520 With friendship and philosophy retir’d.
Tully, whose powerful eloquence a while
Restrained the rapid fate of rushing Rome.
Unconquer’d Cato, virtuous in extreme.
And thou, unhappy Brutus, kind of heart,
Whose steady arm, by awful virtue urg’d,
Lifted the Roman steel against thy friend.
Thousands, besides, the tribute of a verse
Demand; but who can count the stars of heaven?
Who sing their influence on this lower world?
530 Behold, who yonder comes! in sober state,
Fair, mild, and strong, as is a vernal sun:272
’Tis Phœbus’ self, or else the Mantuan swain!
Great Homer too appears, of daring wing,
Parent of song! and equal by his side,
The British muse; join’d hand in hand they walk,
Darkling, full up the middle steep to fame.
Nor absent are those shades whose skilful touch
Pathetic drew the impassion’d heart, and charm’d
Transported Athens with the moral scene;
540 Nor those who, tuneful, wak’d the enchanting lyre.
First of your kind! society divine!
Still visit thus my nights, for you reserv’d,
And mount my soaring soul to thoughts like yours.
Silence, thou lonely power! the door be thine;
See on the hallow’d hour that none intrude,
Save a few chosen friends, who sometimes deign
To bless my humble roof, with sense refin’d,
Learning digested well, exalted faith,
Unstudied wit, and humour ever gay.
550 Or from the muses’ hill will Pope descend,
To raise the sacred hour, to bid it smile,
And with the social spirit warm the heart:
For though not sweeter his own Homer sings,273
Yet is his life the more endearing song.
Where art thou, Hammond? thou the darling pride,
The friend and lover of the tuneful throng!
Ah! why, dear youth, in all the blooming prime
Of vernal genius, where disclosing fast
Each active worth, each manly virtue lay,
560 Why wert thou ravish’d from our hope so soon?
What now avails that noble thirst of fame,
Which stung thy fervent breast? that treasur’d store
Of knowledge, early gain’d? that eager zeal
To serve thy country, glowing in the band
Of youthful patriots, who sustain her name?
What now, alas! that life-diffusing charm
Of sprightly wit? that rapture for the muse,
That heart of friendship, and that soul of joy,
Which bade with softest light thy virtues smile?
570 Ah! only show’d, to check our fond pursuits,
And teach our humble hopes that life is vain!
Thus in some deep retirement would I pass
The winter glooms, with friends of pliant soul,
Or blithe, or solemn, as the theme inspir’d:
With them would search, if Nature’s boundless frame274
Was call’d late-rising from the void of night,
Or sprung eternal from the Eternal Mind;
Its life, its laws, its progress, and its end.
Hence larger prospects of the beauteous whole
580 Would, gradual, open on our opening minds;
And each diffusive harmony unite,
In full perfection, to the astonish’d eye.
Then would we try to scan the moral world;
Which, though to us it seems embroil’d, moves on
In higher order—fitted, and impell’d,
By Wisdom’s finest hand, and issuing all
In general good. The sage historic muse
Should next conduct us through the deeps of time:
Show us how empire grew, declin’d, and fell,
590 In scatter’d states; what makes the nations smile,
Improves their soil, and gives them double suns;
And why they pine beneath the brightest skies,
In Nature’s richest lap. As thus we talk’d,
Our hearts would burn within us, would inhale
That portion of divinity, that ray
Of purest heaven, which lights the public soul
Of patriots, and of heroes. But if doom’d,275
In powerless humble fortune, to repress
These ardent risings of the kindling soul—
600 Then, even superior to ambition, we
Would learn the private virtues; how to glide
Through shades and plains, along the smoothest stream
Of rural life; or snatch’d away by hope,
Through the dim spaces of futurity,
With earnest eye anticipate those scenes
Of happiness, and wonder—where the mind,
In endless growth and infinite ascent,
Rises from state to state, and world to world.
But when with these the serious thought is foil’d,
610 We, shifting for relief, would play the shapes
Of frolic fancy; and incessant form
Those rapid pictures, that assembled train
Of fleet ideas, never join’d before,
Whence lively wit excites to gay surprise—
Or folly-painting humour, grave himself,
Calls laughter forth, deep-shaking every nerve.
Meantime the village rouses up the fire:
While, well-attested and as well believ’d,
Heard solemn, goes the goblin-story round,276
620 Till superstitious horror creeps o’er all.
Or, frequent in the sounding hall, they wake
The rural gambol. Rustic mirth goes round:
The simple joke that takes the shepherd’s heart,277
Easily pleas’d; the long loud laugh, sincere;
The kiss, snatch’d hasty from the sidelong maid,
On purpose guardless, or pretending sleep;
The leap, the slap, the haul; and, shook to notes
Of native music, the respondent dance.
Thus jocund fleets with them the winter night.
630 The city swarms intense. The public haunt,
Full of each theme, and warm with mix’d discourse,
Hums indistinct. The sons of riot flow
Down the loose stream of false enchanted joy,
To swift destruction. On the rankled soul
The gaming fury falls; and in one gulf
Of total ruin, honour, virtue, peace,
Friends, families, and fortune, headlong sink.
Up springs the dance along the lighted dome,
Mix’d, and evolv’d, a thousand sprightly ways.
640 The glittering court effuses every pomp;
The circle deepens; beam’d from gaudy robes,
Tapers, and sparkling gems, and radiant eyes,
A soft effulgence o’er the palace waves:
While, a gay insect in his summer shine,
The fop, light-fluttering, spreads his mealy wings.278
Dread o’er the scene, the ghost of Hamlet stalks;
Othello rages; poor Monimia mourns;
And Belvidera pours her soul in love.
Terror alarms the breast; the comely tear
650 Steals o’er the cheek: or else the comic muse
Holds to the world a picture of itself,
And raises sly the fair impartial laugh.
Sometimes she lifts her strain, and paints the scenes
Of beauteous life; whate’er can deck mankind,
Or charm the heart, in generous Bevil7 show’d.
O thou whose wisdom, solid yet refin’d,
Whose patriot virtues, and consummate skill
To touch the finer springs that move the world,
Join’d to whate’er the graces can bestow,
660 And all Apollo’s animating fire,
Give thee, with pleasing dignity, to shine
At once the guardian, ornament, and joy,
Of polish’d life—permit the rural muse,
O Chesterfield, to grace with thee her song!
Ere to the shades again she humbly flies,
Indulge her fond ambition, in thy train,
(For every muse has in thy train a place)279
To mark thy various full-accomplish’d mind:
To mark that spirit, which, with British scorn,
670 Rejects the allurements of corrupted power;
That elegant politeness, which excels,
Even in the judgment of presumptuous France,
The boasted manners of her shining court;
That wit, the vivid energy of sense,
The truth of nature, which, with Attic point,
And kind well-temper’d satire, smoothly keen,
Steals through the soul, and without pain corrects.
Or, rising thence with yet a brighter flame,
Oh let me hail thee on some glorious day,
680 When to the listening senate, ardent, crowd
Britannia’s sons to hear her pleaded cause.
Then drest by thee, more amiably fair,
Truth the soft robe of mild persuasion wears:
Thou to assenting reason giv’st again
Her own enlighten’d thoughts; call’d from the heart,
The obedient passions on thy voice attend;
And even reluctant party feels a while
Thy gracious power—as through the varied maze
Of eloquence, now smooth, now quick, now strong,280
690 Profound and clear, you roll the copious flood.
To thy lov’d haunt return, my happy muse:
For now, behold, the joyous winter-days,
Frosty, succeed; and through the blue serene,
For sight too fine, the ethereal nitre flies—
Killing infectious damps, and the spent air
Storing afresh with elemental life.
Close crowds the shining atmosphere; and binds
Our strengthen’d bodies in its cold embrace,
Constringent; feeds, and animates our blood;
700 Refines our spirits, through the new-strung nerves,
In swifter sallies darting to the brain—
Where sits the soul, intense, collected, cool,
Bright as the skies, and as the season keen.
All nature feels the renovating force
Of Winter, only to the thoughtless eye
In ruin seen. The frost-concocted glebe
Draws in abundant vegetable soul,
And gathers vigour for the coming year.
A stronger glow sits on the lively cheek
710 Of ruddy fire: and luculent along
The purer rivers flow; their sullen deeps,281
Transparent, open to the shepherd’s gaze,
And murmur hoarser at the fixing frost.
What art thou, frost? and whence are thy keen stores
Deriv’d, thou secret all-invading power,
Whom even the illusive fluid cannot fly?
Is not thy potent energy, unseen,
Myriads of little salts, or hook’d, or shap’d
Like double wedges, and diffus’d immense
720 Through water, earth, and ether? Hence at eve,
Steam’d eager from the red horizon round,
With the fierce rage of Winter deep suffus’d,
An icy gale, oft shifting, o’er the pool
Breathes a blue film, and in its mid-career
Arrests the bickering stream. The loosen’d ice,
Let down the flood, and half-dissolv’d by day,
Rustles no more; but to the sedgy bank
Fast grows, or gathers round the pointed stone—
A crystal pavement, by the breath of heaven
730 Cemented firm; till, seiz’d from shore to shore,
The whole imprison’d river growls below.
Loud rings the frozen earth, and hard reflects
A double noise; while, at his evening watch,282
The village dog deters the nightly thief;
The heifer lows; the distant water-fall
Swells in the breeze; and, with the hasty tread
Of traveller, the hollow-sounding plain
Shakes from afar. The full ethereal round,
Infinite worlds disclosing to the view,
740 Shines out intensely keen; and, all one cope
Of starry glitter, glows from pole to pole.
From pole to pole the rigid influence falls,
Through the still night, incessant, heavy, strong,
And seizes nature fast. It freezes on;283
Till morn, late-rising o’er the drooping world,
Lifts her pale eye unjoyous. Then appears
The various labour of the silent night:
Prone from the dripping eave, and dumb cascade,
Whose idle torrents only seem to roar,
750 The pendent icicle; the frost-work fair,
Where transient hues, and fancied figures, rise;
Wide-spouted o’er the hill, the frozen brook,
A livid tract, cold-gleaming on the morn;
The forest bent beneath the plumy wave;
And by the frost refin’d the whiter snow,
Incrusted hard, and sounding to the tread
Of early shepherd, as he pensive seeks
His pining flock, or from the mountain top,
Pleas’d with the slippery surface, swift descends.
760 On blithesome frolics bent, the youthful swains,
While every work of man is laid at rest,
Fond o’er the river crowd, in various sport
And revelry dissolv’d; where mixing glad,
Happiest of all the train! the raptur’d boy
Lashes the whirling top. Or, where the Rhine
Branch’d out in many a long canal extends,284
From every province swarming, void of care,
Batavia rushes forth; and as they sweep,
On sounding skates, a thousand different ways,
770 In circling poise, swift as the winds, along,
The then gay land is madden’d all to joy.
Nor less the northern courts, wide o’er the snow,
Pour a new pomp. Eager, on rapid sleds,
Their vigorous youth in bold contention wheel
The long-resounding course. Meantime, to raise
The manly strife, with highly blooming charms,
Flush’d by the season, Scandinavia’s dames,285
Or Russia’s buxom daughters, glow around.
Pure, quick, and sportful, is the wholesome day;
780 But soon elaps’d. The horizontal sun,
Broad o’er the south, hangs at his utmost noon;
And, ineffectual, strikes the gelid cliff.
His azure gloss the mountain still maintains,
Nor feels the feeble touch. Perhaps the vale
Relents a while to the reflected ray;
Or from the forest falls the cluster’d snow,
Myriads of gems, that in the waving gleam
Gay-twinkle as they scatter. Thick around
Thunders the sport of those who with the gun,
790 And dog impatient bounding at the shot,
Worse than the season, desolate the fields;
And, adding to the ruins of the year,
Distress the footed or the feather’d game.
But what is this? our infant Winter sinks,
Divested of his grandeur, should our eye
Astonish’d shoot into the frigid zone;
Where, for relentless months, continual night
Holds o’er the glittering waste her starry reign.
There, through the prison of unbounded wilds,286
800 Barr’d by the hand of Nature from escape,
Wide-roams the Russian exile. Nought around
Strikes his sad eye, but deserts lost in snow;
And heavy-loaded groves; and solid floods,
That stretch, athwart the solitary vast,
Their icy horrors to the frozen main;
And cheerless towns far-distant, never bless’d,
Save when its annual course the caravan
Bends to the golden coast of rich Cathay,8
With news of human-kind. Yet there life glows;
810 Yet cherish’d there, beneath the shining waste,
The furry nations harbour: tipp’d with jet,
Fair ermines, spotless as the snows they press;
Sables, of glossy black; and dark-embrown’d,
Or beauteous freak’d with many a mingled hue,
Thousands besides, the costly pride of courts.
There, warm together press’d, the trooping deer
Sleep on the new-fall’n snows; and, scarce his head
Rais’d o’er the heapy wreath, the branching elk
Lies slumbering sullen in the white abyss.
820 The ruthless hunter wants nor dogs nor toils,
Nor with the dread of sounding bows he drives287
The fearful flying race; with ponderous clubs,
As weak against the mountain-heaps they push
Their beating breast in vain, and piteous bray,
He lays them quivering on the ensanguin’d snows,
And with loud shouts rejoicing bears them home.
There through the piny forest half-absorpt,
Rough tenant of these shades, the shapeless bear,
With dangling ice all horrid, stalks forlorn;
830 Slow-pac’d, and sourer as the storms increase,
He makes his bed beneath the inclement drift,
And, with stern patience, scorning weak complaint,
Hardens his heart against assailing want.
Wide o’er the spacious regions of the north,
That see Boötes urge his tardy wain,
A boisterous race, by frosty caurus9 pierc’d,
Who little pleasure know and fear no pain,
Prolific swarm. They once relum’d the flame
Of lost mankind in polish’d slavery sunk,
840 Drove martial horde on horde10, with dreadful sweep
Resistless rushing o’er the enfeebled south,
And gave the vanquish’d world another form.
Not such the sons of Lapland: wisely they288
Despise the insensate barbarous trade of war:
They ask no more than simple nature gives;
They love their mountains and enjoy their storms.
No false desires, no pride-created wants,
Disturb the peaceful current of their time;
And, through the restless ever-tortur’d maze
850 Of pleasure, or ambition, bid it rage.
Their rein-deer form their riches. These their tents,
Their robes, their beds, and all their homely wealth
Supply, their wholesome fare, and cheerful cups.
Obsequious at their call, the docile tribe289
Yield to the sled their necks, and whirl them swift
O’er hill and dale, heap’d into one expanse
Of marbled snow, or far as eye can sweep
With a blue crust of ice unbounded glaz’d.
By dancing meteors then, that ceaseless shake
860 A waving blaze refracted o’er the heavens,
And vivid moons, and stars that keener play
With doubled lustre from the radiant waste,
Even in the depth of polar night, they find
A wondrous day—enough to light the chase,
Or guide their daring steps to Finland fairs.
Wish’d Spring returns; and from the hazy south,
While dim aurora slowly moves before,
The welcome sun, just verging up at first,
By small degrees extends the swelling curve;
870 Till seen at last for gay rejoicing months,
Still, round and round, his spiral course he winds,
And as he nearly dips his flaming orb
Wheels up again, and re-ascends the sky.
In that glad season, from the lakes and floods,
Where pure Niëmi’s11 fairy mountains rise,
And fring’d with roses Tenglio12 rolls his stream,290
They draw the copious fry. With these, at eve,
They cheerful-loaded to their tents repair;
Where, all day long in useful cares employ’d,
880 Their kind unblemish’d wives the fire prepare.
Thrice-happy race! by poverty secur’d
From legal plunder and rapacious power:
In whom fell interest never yet has sown
The seeds of vice; whose spotless swains ne’er knew
Injurious deed; nor, blasted by the breath
Of faithless love, their blooming daughters woe.
Still pressing on, beyond Tornéa’s lake,
And Hecla flaming through a waste of snow,
And farthest Greenland, to the pole itself,
890 Where, failing gradual, life at length goes out,
The muse expands her solitary flight;
And, hovering o’er the wild stupendous scene,
Beholds new seas beneath another sky.13
Thron’d in his palace of cerulean ice,
Here Winter holds his unrejoicing court;
And through his airy hall the loud misrule
Of driving tempest is for ever heard:
Here the grim tyrant meditates his wrath;291
Here arms his winds with all-subduing frost;
900 Moulds his fierce hail, and treasures up his snows,
With which he now oppresses half the globe.
Thence winding eastward to the Tartar’s coast,
She sweeps the howling margin of the main;
Where undissolving, from the first of time,
Snows swell on snows amazing to the sky—
And icy mountains high on mountains pil’d
Seem to the shivering sailor from afar,
Shapeless and white, an atmosphere of clouds.
Projected huge, and horrid, o’er the surge,
910 Alps frown on alps; or rushing hideous down,
As if old chaos was again return’d,
Wide-rend the deep, and shake the solid pole.
Ocean itself no longer can resist
The binding fury; but, in all its rage
Of tempest taken by the boundless frost,
Is many a fathom to the bottom chain’d,
And bid to roar no more: a bleak expanse,
Shagg’d o’er with wavy rocks, cheerless, and void
Of every life, that from the dreary months
920 Flies conscious southward. Miserable they!292
Who, here entangled in the gathering ice,
Take their last look of the descending sun;
While, full of death, and fierce with tenfold frost,
The long, long night, incumbent o’er their heads,
Falls horrible. Such was the Briton’s fate14,
As with first prow (what have not Britons dar’d!)
He for the passage sought, attempted since
So much in vain, and seeming to be shut
By jealous Nature with eternal bars.
930 In these fell regions, in Arzina caught,
And to the stony deep his idle ship
Immediate seal’d, he with his hapless crew,
Each full-exerted at his several task,
Froze into statues; to the cordage glued
The sailor, and the pilot to the helm.
Hard by these shores, where scarce his freezing stream
Rolls the wild Oby, live the last of men;
And, half-enliven’d by the distant sun,
That rears and ripens man, as well as plants,
940 Here human nature wears its rudest form.
Deep from the piercing season sunk in caves,
Here by dull fires, and with unjoyous cheer,293
They waste the tedious gloom. Immers’d in furs,
Doze the gross race. Nor sprightly jest, nor song,
Nor tenderness, they know; nor aught of life,
Beyond the kindred bears that stalk without.
Till morn at length, her roses drooping all,
Sheds a long twilight brightening o’er their fields,
And calls the quiver’d savage to the chase.
950 What cannot active government perform,
New-moulding man? Wide-stretching from these shores,
A people savage from remotest time,
A huge neglected empire—one vast mind,
By Heaven inspir’d, from Gothic darkness call’d.
Immortal Peter! first of monarchs! He
His stubborn country tam’d, her rocks, her fens,
Her floods, her seas, her ill-submitting sons;
And while the fierce barbarian he subdu’d,
To more exalted soul he rais’d the man.
960 Ye shades of ancient heroes, ye who toil’d
Through long successive ages to build up
A labouring plan of state, behold at once
The wonder done! behold the matchless prince!
Who left his native throne, where reign’d till then294
A mighty shadow of unreal power;
Who greatly spurn’d the slothful pomp of courts;
And roaming every land—in every port
His sceptre laid aside, with glorious hand
Unwearied plying the mechanic tool—
970 Gather’d the seeds of trade, of useful arts,
Of civil wisdom, and of martial skill.
Charg’d with the stores of Europe, home he goes!
Then cities rise amid the illumin’d waste;
O’er joyless deserts smiles the rural reign;
Far-distant flood to flood is social join’d;
The astonish’d Euxine hears the Baltic roar;
Proud navies ride on seas that never foam’d
With daring keel before; and armies stretch
Each way their dazzling files—repressing here
980 The frantic Alexander of the north,
And awing there stern Othman’s shrinking sons.
Sloth flies the land, and ignorance, and vice,
Of old dishonour proud: it glows around,
Taught by the royal hand that rous’d the whole,
One scene of arts, of arms, of rising trade—
For what his wisdom plann’d, and power enforc’d,295
More potent still, his great example show’d.
Muttering, the winds at eve, with blunted point,
Blow hollow-blustering from the south. Subdu’d,
990 The frost resolves into a trickling thaw.
Spotted the mountains shine; loose sleet descends,
And floods the country round. The rivers swell,
Of bonds impatient. Sudden from the hills,
O’er rocks and woods, in broad brown cataracts,
A thousand snow-fed torrents shoot at once;
And, where they rush, the wide-resounding plain
Is left one slimy waste. Those sullen seas,
That wash the ungenial pole, will rest no more
Beneath the shackles of the mighty north;
1000 But, rousing all their waves, resistless heave—
And, hark! the lengthening roar continuous runs
Athwart the rifted deep: at once it bursts,
And piles a thousand mountains to the clouds.
Ill fares the bark with trembling wretches charg’d,
That, toss’d amid the floating fragments, moors
Beneath the shelter of an icy isle,
While night o’erwhelms the sea, and horror looks
More horrible. Can human force endure296
The assembled mischiefs that besiege them round?
1010 Heart-gnawing hunger, fainting weariness,
The roar of winds and waves, the crush of ice,
Now ceasing, now renew’d with louder rage,
And in dire echoes bellowing round the main.
More to embroil the deep, leviathan
And his unwieldy train, in dreadful sport,
Tempest the loosen’d brine; while through the gloom,
Far, from the bleak inhospitable shore,
Loading the winds, is heard the hungry howl
Of famish’d monsters, there awaiting wrecks.
1020 Yet Providence, that ever-waking eye,
Looks down with pity on the feeble toil
Of mortals lost to hope, and lights them safe
Through all this dreary labyrinth of fate.
’Tis done!—Dread Winter spreads his latest glooms,
And reigns tremendous o’er the conquer’d year.
How dead the vegetable kingdom lies!
How dumb the tuneful! Horror wide extends
His desolate domain. Behold, fond man!
See here thy pictur’d life; pass some few years—
1030 Thy flowering Spring, thy Summer’s ardent strength,297
Thy sober Autumn fading into age,
And pale concluding Winter comes at last,
And shuts the scene. Ah! whither now are fled
Those dreams of greatness? those unsolid hopes298
Of happiness? those longings after fame?
Those restless cares? those busy bustling days?
Those gay-spent, festive nights? those veering thoughts,
Lost between good and ill, that shar’d thy life?
All now are vanish’d! Virtue sole survives,
1040 Immortal, never-failing friend of man,
His guide to happiness on high.—And see!
’Tis come, the glorious morn! the second birth
Of heaven and earth! Awakening nature hears
The new-creating word, and starts to life,
In every heighten’d form, from pain and death
For ever free. The great eternal scheme
Involving all, and in a perfect whole
Uniting, as the prospect wider spreads,
To reason’s eye refin’d clears up apace.
1050 Ye vainly wise! ye blind presumptuous! now,
Confounded in the dust, adore that Power
And Wisdom oft arraign’d: see now the cause
Why unassuming worth in secret liv’d,
And died, neglected; why the good man’s share
In life was gall and bitterness of soul;
Why the lone widow and her orphans pin’d299
In starving solitude—while luxury,
In palaces, lay straining her low thought
To form unreal wants; why heaven-born truth,
1060 And moderation fair, wore the red marks
Of superstition’s scourge; why licens’d pain,
That cruel spoiler, that embosom’d foe,300
Embitter’d all our bliss. Ye good distress’d!
Ye noble few! who here unbending stand
Beneath life’s pressure, yet bear up a while;
And what your bounded view, which only saw
A little part, deem’d evil is no more:
The storms of wintry time will quickly pass,
And one unbounded Spring encircle all.
Note 1. Line 359. p. 263.
The generous band,
Who, touched with human woe, redressive searched
Into the horrors of the gloomy jail?
The jail committee, in the year 1729.318
Note 2. Line 457. p. 268.
As at Thermopylæ he glorious fell,
The firm devoted chief.
Note 3. Line 464. p. 268.
A haughty rival’s fame.
Note 4. Line 476. p. 269.
The Theban pair,
Whose virtues, in heroic concord join’d,
Their country raised to freedom.
Pelopidas and Epaminondas.
Note 5. Line 507. p. 270.
The public father, who the private quell’d.
Marcus Junius Brutus.
Note 6. Line 513. p. 270.
Thy willing victim, Carthage, bursting loose
From all that pleading nature could oppose.
Note 7. Line 655. p. 278.
Whate’er can deck mankind,
Or charm the heart, in generous Bevil show’d.
A character in the Conscious Lovers, written by Sir Richard Steele.319
Note 8. Line 808. p. 286.
The golden coast of rich Cathay.
The old name for China.
Note 9. Line 836. p. 287.
By frosty caurus pierc’d.
The north-west wind.
Note 10. Line 840. p. 287.
They once relum’d the flame
Of lost mankind in polish’d slavery sunk,
Drove martial horde on horde.
The wandering Scythian clans.
Note 11. Line 875. p. 289.
Where pure Niëmi’s fairy mountains rise.
M. de Maupertuis, in his book on The Figure of the Earth, after having described the beautiful lake and mountain of Niemi, in Lapland, says: “From this height we had occasion several times to see these vapours rise from the lake, which the people of the country call Haltios, and which they deem to be the guardian spirits of the mountains. We had been frighted with stories of bears that haunted this place, but saw none. It seemed rather a place of resort for fairies and genii than for bears.” [London, 1738. 8vo. p. 56.]
Note 12. Line 876. p. 289.
And fringed with roses Tenglio rolls his stream.
The same author observes: “I was surprised to see, upon the banks of this river (the Tenglio), roses of as lively a red as any that are in our gardens.” [p. 56.]320
Note 13. Line 893. p. 290.
Beholds new seas beneath another sky.
The other hemisphere.
Note 14. Line 925. p. 292.
Such was the Briton’s fate,
As with first prow (what have not Britons dar’d!)
He for the passage sought, attempted since
So much in vain.
Sir Hugh Willoughby, sent by queen Elizabeth to discover the north-east passage.
Spottiswoode and Shaw,
17 To thee, the patron of this first essay
[Winter was published first, although it ended up last.]
521 Tully, whose powerful eloquence
[The question of whether to refer to any given Roman by his nomen or his cognomen—never the praenomen, because there were only twelve to choose from—is a complicated one. In the case of Marcus Tullius Cicero, scholars changed their minds later in the 19th century.]
555 Where art thou, Hammond?
[Good question. James Hammond (1710–1742) had an even shorter life than James Thomson, and his best-known work was published posthumously, so “flash in the pan” would seem to cover it. The fact that Johnson labeled it “worthless” probably didn’t help either. On the other hand, Hammond’s four-line, ABAB verse form may have influenced Gray’s Elegy, so there is that.]
647-48 poor Monimia mourns; / And Belvidera pours her soul
[Monimia is the title character of Thomas Otway’s splendidly cheesy 1680 play The Orphan; Belvidera came along two years later in the same author’s Venice Preserv’d. Though neither name had the wild success of “Pamela”, you do find the occasional Monimia in later fiction. But it has been a good many years since Otway could be mentioned in the same breath as Shakespeare—
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.