A WINTER'S DAY.
1 THE cock warm roosting 'mid his feathered mates,
2 Now lifts his beak and snuffs the morning air,
3 Stretches his neck and claps his heavy wings,
4 Gives three hoarse crows, and glad his task is done,
5 Low chuckling turns himself upon the roost,
6 Then nestles down again into his place.
7 The labouring hind,*
* Hind does not perfectly express the condition of the person here intended, who is somewhat above a common labourer, — the tenant of a very small farm, which he cultivates with his own hands, a few cows, perhaps a horse, and some six or seven sheep, being all the wealth he possessed. A class of men very common in the west of Scotland, ere political economy was thought of. who on his bed of straw
8 Beneath his home-made coverings, coarse but warm,
9 Locked in the kindly arms of her who spun them,[Page 2]
10 Dreams of the gain that next year's crop should bring;
11 Or at some fair, disposing of his wool,
12 Or by some lucky and unlooked-for bargain,
13 Fills his skin purse with store of tempting gold,
14 Now wakes from sleep at the unwelcome call,
15 And finds himself but just the same poor man
16 As when he went to rest.
17 He hears the blast against his window beat
18 And wishes to himself he were a laird,
19 That he might lie a-bed. It may not be:
20 He rubs his eyes and stretches out his arms;
21 Heigh ho! heigh ho! he drawls with gaping mouth,
22 Then, most unwillingly creeps from his lair,
23 And without looking-glass puts on his clothes.
24 With rueful face he blows the smothered fire,
25 And lights his candle at the reddening coal;
26 First sees that all be right among his cattle,
27 Then hies him to the barn with heavy tread,
28 Printing his footsteps on the new-fallen snow.
29 From out the heaped-up mow he draws his sheaves,
30 Dislodging the poor red-breast from his shelter[Page 3]
31 Where all the live-long night he slept secure;
32 But now, affrighted, with uncertain flight,
33 Flutters round walls, and roof, to find some hole
34 Through which he may escape.
35 Then whirling o'er his head, the heavy flail
36 Descends with force upon the jumping sheaves,
37 While every rugged wall and neighbouring cot
38 The noise re-echoes of his sturdy strokes.
39 The family cares call next upon the wife
40 To quit her mean but comfortable bed.
41 And first she stirs the fire and fans the flame,
42 Then from her heap of sticks for winter stored
43 An armful brings; loud crackling as they burn,
44 Thick fly the red sparks upward to the roof,
45 While slowly mounts the smoke in wreathy clouds.
46 On goes the seething pot with morning cheer,
47 For which some little wistful folk await,
48 Who, peeping from the bed-clothes, spy well pleased,
49 The cheery light that blazes on the wall,
50 And bawl for leave to rise.
51 Their busy mother knows not where to turn,[Page 4]
52 Her morning's work comes now so thick upon her.
53 One she must help to tie his little coat,
54 Unpin another's cap, or seek his shoe
55 Or hosen lost, confusion soon o'er-mastered!
56 When all is o'er, out to the door they run
57 With new-combed sleeky hair and glistening faces,
58 Each with some little project in his head.
59 His new-soled shoes one on the ice must try;
60 To view his well-set trap another hies,
61 In hopes to find some poor unwary bird,
62 (No worthless prize) entangled in his snare;
63 While one, less active, with round rosy cheeks,
64 Spreads out his purple fingers to the fire,
65 And peeps most wishfully into the pot.
66 But let us leave the warm and cheerful house
67 To view the bleak and dreary scene without,
68 And mark the dawning of a Winter day.
69 The morning vapour rests upon the heights
70 Lurid and red, while growing gradual shades
71 Of pale and sickly light spread o'er the sky.
72 Then slowly from behind the southern hills[Page 5]
73 Enlarged and ruddy comes the rising sun,
74 Shooting askance the hoary waste his beams
75 That gild the brow of every ridgy bank,
76 And deepen every valley with a shade.
77 The crusted window of each scattered cot,
78 The icicles that fringe the thatched roof,
79 The new-swept slide upon the frozen pool,
80 All keenly glance, new kindled with his rays;
81 And even the rugged face of scowling Winter
82 Looks somewhat gay. But only for a time
83 He shews his glory to the brightening earth,
84 Then hides his face behind a sullen cloud.
85 The birds now quit their holes and lurking sheds,
86 Most mute and melancholy, where through night,
87 All nestling close to keep each other warm,
88 In downy sleep they had forgot their hardships;
89 But not to chant and carol in the air,
90 Or lightly swing upon some waving bough,
91 And merrily return each other's notes;
92 No; silently they hop from bush to bush,
93 Can find no seeds to stop their craving want,[Page 6]
94 Then bend their flight to the low smoking cot,
95 Chirp on the roof, or at the window peck,
96 To tell their wants to those who lodge within.
97 The poor lank hare flies homeward to his den,
98 But little burthened with his nightly meal
99 Of withered colworts from the farmer's garden;
100 A wretched scanty portion, snatched in fear;
101 And fearful creatures, forced abroad by hunger,
102 Are now to every enemy a prey.
103 The husbandman lays by his heavy flail,
104 And to the house returns, where for him wait
105 His smoking breakfast and impatient children,
106 Who, spoon in hand, and ready to begin,
107 Toward the door cast many an eager look
108 To see their Dad come in.
109 Then round they sit, a cheerful company;
110 All quickly set to work, and with heaped spoons
111 From ear to ear besmear their rosy cheeks.
112 The faithful dog stands by his master's side
113 Wagging his tail and looking in his face;
114 While humble puss pays court to all around,[Page 7]
115 And purs and rubs them with her furry sides,
116 Nor goes this little flattery unrewarded.
117 But the laborious sit not long at table;
118 The grateful father lifts his eyes to heaven
119 To bless his God, whose ever bounteous hand
120 Him and his little ones doth daily feed,
121 Then rises satisfied to work again.
122 The varied rousing sounds of industry
123 Are heard through all the village.
124 The humming wheel, the thrifty housewife's tongue,
125 Who scolds to keep her maidens to their work,
126 The wool-card's grating most unmusical!
127 Issue from every house.
128 But hark! the sportsman from the neighbouring hedge
129 His thunder sends! loud bark the village curs;
130 Up from her cards or wheel the maiden starts
131 And hastens to the door; the housewife chides,
132 Yet runs herself to look, in spite of thrift,
133 And all the little town is in a stir.
134 Strutting before, the cock leads forth his train,
135 And chuckling near the barn-door 'mid the straw,
136 Reminds the farmer of his morning's service.
137 His grateful master throws a liberal handful;
138 They flock about it, while the hungry sparrows,
139 Perched on the roof, look down with envious eye,
140 Then, aiming well, amidst the feeders light,
141 And seize upon the feast with greedy bill,
142 Till angry partlets peck them off the field.
143 But at a distance, on the leafless tree,
144 All woe-begone, the lonely blackbird sits;
145 The cold north wind ruffles his glossy feathers;
146 Full oft he looks, but dare not make approach,
147 Then turns his yellow beak to peck his side
148 And claps his wings close to' his sharpened breast.
149 The wandering fowler from behind the hedge,
150 Fastens his eye upon him, points his gun,
151 And firing wantonly, as at a mark,
152 Of life bereaves him in the cheerful spot
153 That oft hath echoed to his summer's song.
154 The mid-day hour is near, the pent-up kine
155 Are driven from their stalls to take the air.
156 How stupidly they stare! and feel how strange!
157 They open wide their smoking mouths to low,
158 But scarcely can their feeble sound be heard,
159 Then turn and lick themselves, and step by step,
160 Move, dull and heavy, to their stalls again.
161 In scattered groups the little idle boys
162 With purple fingers moulding in the snow
163 Their icy ammunition, pant for war;
164 And drawing up in opposite array,
165 Send forth a mighty shower of well-aimed balls,
166 Each tiny hero tries his growing strength,
167 And burns to beat the foe-men off the field.
168 Or on the well-worn ice in eager throngs,
169 After short race, shoot rapidly along,
170 Trip up each other's heels and on the surface
171 With studded shoes draw many a chalky line.
172 Untired and glowing with the healthful sport
173 They cease not till the sun hath run his course
174 And threatening clouds, slow rising from the north,[Page 10]
175 Spread leaden darkness o'er the face of heaven;
176 Then by degrees they scatter to their homes,
177 Some with a broken head or bloody nose,
178 To claim their mother's pity, who most skilful!
179 Cures all their troubles with a bit of bread.
180 The night comes on apace —
181 Chill blows the blast and drives the snow in wreaths;
182 Now every creature looks around for shelter,
183 And whether man or beast, all move alike
184 Towards their homes, and happy they who have
185 A house to skreen them from the piercing cold!
186 Lo, o'er the frost a reverend form advances!
187 His hair white as the snow on which he treads,
188 His forehead marked with many a care-worn furrow,
189 Whose feeble body bending o'er a staff,
190 Shews still that once it was the seat of strength,
191 Though now it shakes like some old ruined tower.
192 Clothed indeed, but not disgraced with rags,
193 He still maintains that decent dignity
194 Which well becomes those who have served their country. [Page 11]
195 With tottering steps he gains the cottage door:
196 The wife within, who hears his hollow cough,
197 And pattering of his stick upon the threshold,
198 Sends out her little boy to see who's there.
199 The child looks up to mark the stranger's face,
200 And, seeing it enlightened with a smile,
201 Holds out his tiny hand to lead him in.
202 Round from her work, the mother turns her head,
203 And views them, not ill pleased.
204 The stranger whines not with a piteous tale,
205 But only asks a little to relieve
206 A poor old soldier's wants.
207 The gentle matron brings the ready chair
208 And bids him sit to rest his weary limbs,
209 And warm himself before her blazing fire.
210 The children full of curiosity,
211 Flock round, and with their fingers in their mouths
212 Stand staring at him, while the stranger, pleased,
213 Takes up the youngest urchin on his knee.
214 Proud of its seat, it wags its little feet,
215 And prates and laughs and plays with his white locks.
216 But soon a change comes o'er the soldier's face;[Page 12]
217 His thoughtful mind is turned on other days,
218 When his own boys were wont to play around him,
219 Who now lie distant from their native land
220 In honourable but untimely graves:
221 He feels how helpless and forlorn he is,
222 And big, round tears course down his withered cheeks.
223 His toilsome daily labour at an end,
224 In comes the wearied master of the house,
225 And marks with satisfaction his old guest,
226 In the chief seat, with all the children round him.
227 His honest heart is filled with manly kindness,
228 He bids him stay and share their homely meal,
229 And take with them his quarters for the night.
230 The aged wanderer thankfully accepts,
231 And by the simple hospitable board,
232 Forgets the by-past hardships of the day.
233 When all are satisfied, about the fire
234 They draw their seats and form a cheerful ring.
235 The thrifty house-wife turns her spinning wheel;
236 The husband, useful even in his hour[Page 13]
237 Of ease and rest, a stocking knits, belike,
238 Or plaits stored rushes, which with after skill
239 Into a basket formed may do good service,
240 With eggs or butter filled at fair or market.
241 Some idle neighbours now come dropping in,
242 Draw round their chairs and widen out the circle;
243 And every one in his own native way,
244 Does what he can to cheer the social group.
245 Each tells some little story of himself,
246 That constant subject upon which mankind
247 Whether in court or country, love to dwell.
248 How, at a fair, he saved a simple clown
249 From being tricked in buying of a cow;
250 Or laid a bet on his own horse's head
251 Against his neighbour's bought at twice his price,
252 Which failed not to repay his better skill;
253 Or on a harvest day bound in an hour
254 More sheaves of corn than any of his fellows,
255 Though e'er so stark, could do in twice the time;
256 Or won the bridal race with savoury bruise
257 And first kiss of the bonny bride, though all[Page 14]
258 The fleetest youngsters of the parish strove
259 In rivalry against him.
260 But chiefly the good man, by his own fire,
261 Hath privilege of being listened to,
262 Nor dare a little pratling tongue presume
263 Though but in play, to break upon his story.
264 The children sit and listen with the rest;
265 And should the youngest raise its lisping voice,
266 The careful mother, ever on the watch,
267 And ever pleased with what her husband says,
268 Gives it a gentle tap upon the fingers,
269 Or stops its ill-timed prattle with a kiss.
270 The soldier next, but not unasked, begins
271 His tale of war and blood. They gaze upon him,
272 And almost weep to see the man so poor
273 So bent and feeble, helpless and forlorn,
274 Who has undaunted stood the battle's brunt
275 While roaring cannons shook the quaking earth,
276 And bullets hissed round his defenceless head.
277 Thus passes quickly on the evening hour,
278 Till sober folks must needs retire to rest,
279 Then all break up, and, by their several paths,[Page 15]
280 Hie homeward, with the evening pastime cheered
281 Far more, belike, than those who issue forth
282 From city theatre's gay scenic show,
283 Or crowded ball-room's splendid moving maze.
284 But where the song and story, joke and gibe
285 So lately circled, what a solemn change
286 In little time takes place!
287 The sound of psalms, by mingled voices raised
288 Of young and old, upon the night-air borne,
289 Haply to some benighted traveller,
290 Or the late parted neighbours on their way,
291 A pleasing notice gives that, those whose sires
292 In former days on the bare mountain's side,
293 In deserts, heaths, and caverns, praise and prayer,
294 At peril of their lives, in their own form
295 Of covenanted worship offered up,
296 In peace and safety in their own quiet home
297 Are — (as in quaint and modest phrase is termed)
298 Are now engaged in evening exercise*
* In the first edition of the Winter Day nothing regarding family worship was mentioned: a great omission, for which I justly take shame to myself. "The Evening exercise," as it was called, prevailed in every house over the simple country parts of the West of Scotland; and I have often heard the sound of it passing through the twilight air, in returning from a late walk.
299 But long accustomed to observe the weather,
300 The farmer cannot lay him down in peace
301 Till he has looked to mark what bodes the night.
302 He lifts the latch, and moves the heavy door,
303 Sees wreaths of snow heaped up on every side,
304 And black and dismal all above his head.
305 Anon the norther blast begins to rise,
306 He hears its hollow growling from afar,
307 Which, gathering strength, rolls on with doubled might
308 And raves and bellows o'er his head. The trees
309 Like pithless saplings bend. He shuts his door
310 And, thankful for the roof that covers him,
311 Hies him to bed.