Page images

(So Grecian fable sung), he dips his orb;
Now half immersed; and now a golden curve
Gives one bright glance, then total disappears.

Confessed from yonder slow-extinguished clouds
All ether softening, sober evening takes
Her wonted station in the middle air;
A thousand shadows at her beck. First this
She sends on earth ; then that of deeper dye
Steals soft behind; and then a deeper still,
In circle following circle, gathers round,
To close the face of things. A fresher gale
Begins to wave the wood, and stir the stream,
Sweeping with shadowy gust the fields of corn:
While the quail clamours for his running mate.
Wide o'er the thistly lawn, as swells the breeze,
A whitening shower of vegetable down
Amusive floats. The kind impartial care
Of nature nought disdains : thoughtful to feed
Her lowest sons, and clothe the coming year,
From field to field the feathered seeds she wings.

His folded flock secure, the shepherd home Hies merry-hearted; and by turns relieves The ruddy milkmaid of her brimming pail; The beauty whom perhaps his witless heart Unknowing what the joy-mixed anguish means Sincerely loves, by that best language shown Of cordial glances, and obliging deeds. Onward they pass o'er many a panting height, And valley sunk, and unfrequented; where At fall of eve the fairy people throng, In various game and revelry, to pass The summer night, as village stories tell.

But far about they wander from the grave
Of him whom his ungentle fortune urged
Against his own sad breast to lift the hand
Of impious violence. The lonely tower
Is also shunned; whose mournful chambers hold
So night-struck fancy dreams — the yelling ghost. .

Among the crooked lanes, on every hedge,
The glowworm lights his gem: and through the dark
A moving radiance twinkles. Evening yields
The world to night; not in her winter robe
Of massy Stygian woof, but loose arrayed
In mantle dun. A faint erroneous ray,
Glanced from the imperfect surfaces of things,
Flings half an image on the straining eye;
While wavering woods, and villages, and streams,
And rocks, and mountain-tops, that long retained
The ascending gleain, are all one swimming scene,
Uncertain if beheld. Sudden to heaven
Thence weary vision turns; where, leading soft
The silent hours of love, with purest ray
Sweet Venus shines; and from her genial rise,
When daylight sickens till it springs afresh,
Unrivalled reigns, the fairest lamp of night.


Through the hushed air the whitening shower descende, At first thin-wavering, till at last the flakes Fall broad and wide and fast, dimming the day With a continual flow. The cherished fields Put on their winter robe of purest white: "T is brightness all, save where the new snow meits

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 wide dazzling waste, that buries wide
The works of man. Drooping, the labourer-ox
Stands covered o'er with snow, and then demands
The fruit of all his toil. The fowls of heaven,
Tamed by the cruel season, crowd around
The winnowing store, and claim the little boon
Which Providence assigns them. One alone,
The red-breast, 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
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,
And more unpitying men, the garden seeks,
Urged on by fearless want. The bleating kine
Eye the bleak heaven, and next, the glistening earth,
With looks of dumb despair; then, sad dispersed,
Dig for the withered herb through heaps of snow.

As thus the snows arise, and foul and fierce
All winter drives along the darkened air,

In his own loose revolving fields the swain
Disa stered stands; sees other hills ascend,
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 a lonna
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!
When for the dusky spot which fancy feigned
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 covered pits, unfathomably deep,
A dire descent! beyond the power of frost ;
Of faithless bogs; of precipices huge


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,
Mixed with the tender anguish nature shoots
Through the wrung bosom of the dying man,

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,
Lays him along the snows a stiffened corse,
Stretched out, and bleaching on the northern blast


William COLLINS (1720-1756), did not write much, but what little he did write is of such a character as to have secured to him a high place among English poets. His Odes, in the opinion of Mr. Southey, are the best in the language.


When Music, heavenly maid ! was young,
While yet in early Greece she sung,
The Passions oft, to hear her shell,
Thronged around her magic cell;

« PreviousContinue »