hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

December 19, 2013

'Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyll'


The Haverhill Gazette

---- — This is the season for traditions and giving. And one of the Gazette’s traditions is to present to readers at Christmastime, in place of the usual editorial, the opening of the poem that made Haverhill’s beloved native poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, famous and led to the preservation of his birthplace by his hometown.

The sun that brief December day

Rose cheerless over hills of gray,

And, darkly circled, gave at noon

A sadder light than waning moon.

Slow tracing down the thickening sky

Its mute and ominous prophecy,

A portent seeming less than threat,

It sank from sight before it set.

A chill no coat, however stout.

Of homespun stufif could quite shut out, lo

A hard, dull bitterness of cold.

That checked, mid- vein, the circling race

Of life-blood in the sharpened face.

The coming of the snow-storm told.

The wind blew east; we heard the roar

Of Ocean on his wintry shore.

And felt the strong pulse throbbing there

Beat with low rhythm our inland air.

Meanwhile we did our nightly chores —

Brought in the wood from out-of-doors,

Littered the stalls, and from the mows

Raked down the herd’s grass for the cows:

Heard the horse whinnying for his corn ;

And, sharply clashing horn on horn.

Impatient down the stanchion rows

The cattle shake their walnut bows:

While, peering from his early perch

Upon the scaffold’s pole of birch.

The cock his crested helmet bent

And down his querulous challenge sent.

Unwarmed by any sunset light,

The gray day darkened into night,

A night made hoary with the swarm

And whirl-dance of the blinding storm.

As zigzag wavering to and fro

Crossed and recrossed the winged snow:

And ere the early bed-time came

The white drift piled the window-frame.

And through the glass the clothes-line posts

Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.

So all night long the storm roared on :

The morning broke without a sun ;

In tiny spherule traced with lines

Of Nature’s geometric signs,

In starry flake, and pellicle,

All day the hoary meteor fell;

And, when the second morning shone,

We looked upon a world unknown.

On nothing we could call our own.

Around the glistening wonder bent

The blue walls of the firmament.

No cloud above, no earth below —

A universe of sky and snow!

The old familiar sights of ours

Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers

Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,

Or garden wall, or belt of wood;

A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,

A fenceless drift what once was road;

The bridle-post an old man sat 60

With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;

The well-curb had a Chinese roof;

And even the long sweep, high aloof,

In its slant splendor, seemed to tell

Of Pisa’s leaning miracle.

A prompt, decisive man, no breath

Our father wasted: “Boys, a path!”

Well pleased (for when did farmer boy

Count such a summons less than joy?)