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?)