Culture: December 2008 Archives

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by John Greenleaf Whittier


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 stuff could quite shut out,

    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 your 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 wing├Ęd 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.

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As night drew on, and, from the crest

Of wooded knolls that ridged the west,

The sun, a snow-blown traveller, sank

From sight beneath the smothering bank,

We piled, with care, our nightly stack

Of wood against the chimney-back,--

The oaken log, green, huge, and thick,

And on its top the stout back-stick;

The knotty forestick laid apart,

And filled between with curious art

The ragged brush; then, hovering near,

We watched the first red blaze appear,

Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam

On whitewashed wall and sagging beam,

Until the old, rude-furnished room

Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom;

While radiant with a mimic flame

Outside the sparkling drift became,

And through the bare-boughed lilac-tree

Our own warm hearth seemed blazing free.

The crane and pendent trammels showed,

The Turks' heads on the andirons glowed;

While childish fancy, prompt to tell

The meaning of the miracle,

Whispered the old rhyme: "Under the tree,

When fire outdoors burns merrily,

There the witches are making tea."

The moon above the eastern wood

Shone at its full; the hill-range stood

Transfigured in the silver flood,

Its blown snows flashing cold and keen,

Dead white, save where some sharp ravine

Took shadow, or the somber green

Of hemlocks turned to pitchy black

Against the whiteness at their back.

For such a world and such a night

Most fitting that unwarming light,

Which only seemed where'er it fell

To make the coldness visible.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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This page is a archive of entries in the Culture category from December 2008.

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