Thomson’s Seasons

Thomson’s Seasons:



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;


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,


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,


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 plain


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 there


Recounts his simple frolic: much he talks,

And much he laughs, nor recks the storm that blows

Without, and rattles on his humble roof.

family around a fireside

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.


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,


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.

shrieking hern, aloft

Loud shrieks the soaring hern; and with wild wing


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,


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.


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.


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 melts


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 wilds


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 swain


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.

large family crowded into one dim room


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,


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;


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,


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,


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,


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,


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 join


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.


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,


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;


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;


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?

three men declaiming in togas

530 Behold, who yonder comes! in sober state,

Fair, mild, and strong, as is a vernal sun:


’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,


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 frame


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,


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,


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,


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.


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)


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,


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,


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,


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;


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,


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.

men and boys skating on a pond

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,


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,


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 drives


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 they


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 tribe


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,


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;


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!


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,


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 then


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,


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 endure


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,


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 hopes


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’d


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,


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.

snow-covered churchyard




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.


Note 2. Line 457. p. 268.

I see,

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.


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.]


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,

Notes and Corrections: Winter

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—whether one is talking about popularity or merit.]

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.