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- Bitter-Sweet - 1/22 -


A Poem



* * * * *





The Question Stated and Argued


The Question Illustrated by Nature


The Question Illustrated by Experience


The Question Illustrated by Story


The Question Illustrated by the Denouement



Winter's wild birthnight! In the fretful East The uneasy wind moans with its sense of cold, And sends its sighs through gloomy mountain gorge, Along the valley, up the whitening hill, To tease the sighing spirits of the pines, And waste in dismal woods their chilly life. The sky is dark, and on the huddled leaves-- The restless, rustling leaves--sifts down its sleet, Till the sharp crystals pin them to the earth, And they grow still beneath the rising storm. The roofless bullock hugs the sheltering stack, With cringing head and closely gathered feet, And waits with dumb endurance for the morn. Deep in a gusty cavern of the barn The witless calf stands blatant at his chain; While the brute mother, pent within her stall, With the wild stress of instinct goes distraught, And frets her horns, and bellows through the night. The stream runs black; and the far waterfall That sang so sweetly through the summer eyes, And swelled and swayed to Zephyr's softest breath, Leaps with a sullen roar the dark abyss, And howls its hoarse responses to the wind. The mill is still. The distant factory, That swarmed yestreen with many-fingered life, And bridged the river with a hundred bars Of molten light, is dark, and lifts its bulk, With dim, uncertain angles, to the sky.

* * * * *

Yet lower bows the storm. The leafless trees Lash their lithe limbs, and, with majestic voice, Call to each other through the deepening gloom; And slender trunks that lean on burly boughs Shriek with the sharp abrasion; and the oak, Mellowed in fiber by unnumbered frosts, Yields to the shoulder of the Titan Blast, Forsakes its poise, and, with a booming crash, Sweeps a fierce passage to the smothered rocks, And lies a shattered ruin.

* * * * *

Other scene:-- Across the swale, half up the pine-capped hill, Stands the old farmhouse with its clump of barns-- The old red farmhouse--dim and dun to-night, Save where the ruddy firelights from the hearth Flap their bright wings against the window panes,-- A billowy swarm that beat their slender bars, Or seek the night to leave their track of flame Upon the sleet, or sit, with shifting feet And restless plumes, among the poplar boughs-- The spectral poplars, standing at the gate.

And now a man, erect, and tall, and strong, Whose thin white hair, and cheeks of furrowed bronze, And ancient dress, betray the patriarch, Stands at the window, listening to the storm; And as the fire leaps with a wilder flame-- Moved by the wind--it wraps and glorifies His stalwart frame, until it flares and glows Like the old prophets, in transfigured guise, That shape the sunset for cathedral aisles. And now it passes, and a sweeter shape Stands in its place. O blest maternity! Hushed on her bosom, in a light embrace, Her baby sleeps, wrapped in its long white robe; And as the flame, with soft, auroral sweeps, Illuminates the pair, how like they seem, O Virgin Mother! to thyself and thine! Now Samuel comes with curls of burning gold To hearken to the voice of God without: "Speak, mighty One! Thy little servant hears!" And Miriam, maiden, from her household cares Comes to the window in her loosened robe,-- Comes with the blazing timbrels in her hand,-- And, as the noise of winds and waters swells, It shapes the song of triumph to her lips: "The horse and he who rode are overthrown!" And now a man of noble port and brow, And aspect of benignant majesty, Assumes the vacant niche, while either side Press the fair forms of children, and I hear: "Suffer the little ones to come to me!"


Here dwells the good old farmer, Israel, In his ancestral home--a Puritan Who reads his Bible daily, loves his God, And lives serenely in the faith of Christ. For threescore years and ten his life has run Through varied scenes of happiness and woe; But, constant through the wide vicissitude, He has confessed the Giver of his joys, And kissed the hand that took them; and whene'er Bereavement has oppressed his soul with grief, Or sharp misfortune stung his heart with pain, He has bowed down in childlike faith, and said, "Thy will, O God--Thy will be done, not mine!" His gentle wife, a dozen summers since, Passed from his faithful arms and went to heaven; And her best gift--a maiden sweetly named-- His daughter Ruth--orders the ancient house, And fills her mother's place beside the board, And cheers his life with songs and industry. But who are these who crowd the house to-night-- A happy throng? Wayfaring pilgrims, who, Grateful for shelter, charm the golden hours With the sweet jargon of a festival? Who are these fathers? who these mothers? who These pleasant children, rude with health and joy?

It is the Puritan's Thanksgiving Eve; And gathered home, from fresher homes around, The old man's children keep the holiday-- In dear New England, since the fathers slept-- The sweetest holiday of all the year. John comes with Prudence and her little girls, And Peter, matched with Patience, brings his boys-- Fair boys and girls with good old Scripture names-- Joseph, Rebekah, Paul, and Samuel; And Grace, young Ruth's companion in the house, Till wrested from her last Thanksgiving Day By the strong hand of Love, brings home her babe And the tall poet David, at whose side She went away. And seated in the midst, Mary, a foster-daughter of the house, Of alien blood--self-aliened many a year-- Whose chastened face and melancholy eyes Bring all the wondering children to her knee, Weeps with the strange excess of happiness, And sighs with joy. What recks the driving storm Of such a scene as this? And what reck these Of such a storm? For every heavy gust That smites the windows with its cloud of sleet, And shakes the sashes with its ghostly hands, And rocks the mansion till the chimney's throat Through all its sooty caverns shrieks and howls, They give full bursts of careless merriment, Or songs that send it baffled on its way.

Bitter-Sweet - 1/22

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