Stern Winter! stormy, sullen, cold, and dun,
Thou joyless outcast from the genial sun,
Thou gloomiest offspring of the rolling year,
With front forbidding, awful, and austere,-
I feel thy shadows round about me fall,
Heavy and silent, like a funeral pall;
And bow beneath thy season of decay,
As though my hopes of Spring had passed away.
Thou fierce disturber of the flight of time,
Pregnant with painful thoughts, and deeds of crime,
With every rush of the impetuous gale,
O’er the sad landscape comes thy voice of wail.
Thy threatenings look incessant from the skies,
Which seem to sicken in thy dark disguise,
And bend,-a mighty canopy of woe,-
O’er the blank features of the world below.
Mournful remembrancer! thy presence brings
A thousand pictures of distressful things
Within the town’s thick wilderness of walls,
Where want prevails, where wretchedness appals;
Of beings crowded in their sordid homes,
Where hope, nor joy, nor sunlight ever comes;
Where houseless vice, and houseless virtue, too,-
Prospective death and danger in their view,-
Lie down together on the cruel stones,
And stir the air with curses and with groans!
Even where Royalty, with graceful pride,
Hath spread its gardens, beautiful and wide;
Where smooth lakes slumber, and where fountains play
In curves of crystal in the face of day,
To please the ear, and sparkle in the eye
Of idle Fashion, as it flutters by;-
There, even there, when night holds solemn reign,
The heirs of wedded penury and pain,
The lost, the scorned, the trampled of their kind,-
Fellows in misery, if not in mind,-
Herd like the brutes, forgetfulness to win,
A hideous heap of indigence and sin!
Funereal month! thy cold oppressive frown,
Piercing the tangled byways of the town,
Shadows a thousand hearthstones, where the soul
Is warped and withered, by the stern control
Of such realities as almost seem
The dark distortions of a madman’s dream:
Fathers sit brooding o’er their wretched state,
With looks of anger, and with hearts of hate;
Mothers, with haggard and bewildered air,
Survey their little starvelings, and despair;
Children, grown prematurely old, decay
In apathetic squalor, day by day,
And still and stealthy cunning takes the place
Of childhood’s natural gaiety and grace;
While their harsh destiny implants such seeds
As rankly germinate in moral weeds,
Which thrust the flowers of gentleness apart,
And drain the dews of goodness from the heart.
Perchance within those lazar-dens of shame,
Insidious sickness worms the famished frame;
Pierces the vitals of its passive prey,
And drinks the life-blood, drop by drop, away.
Where is the yielding couch, the quiet room,
The constant taper-light to cheer the gloom,
The cleanly hearthstone, and the genial fire,
The cordial ready at the lips’ desire,
The kind hand, busy in its sad employ,
The gentle tongue that speaks of future joy,
The punctual visit of the skilful leech,
Who comes to practice patience, not to preach,
The Pastor, asking comfort from above,
The mild, anticipating looks of love,
Of those whose welcome presence has the power
To take some sadness from the dying hour?-
Alas! not there! No solace, no repose
In the lone lurking-place of many woes;
No cup of balm, no pillow softly laid,
No earthly hope, no spiritual aid;
But darkness, desolation, and despair,
With craving hunger’s selfish cries, are there:
While time, suspended on his weary wings,
Seems hovering like a nightmare, till he brings
Death, the dread waker from the sleep of life,-
The inevitable power which quells all mortal strife.
Strange contrast!-see, yon palace windows gleam
From rooms made gorgeous as an eastern dream,
Where Art hath brought her triumphs, rich and rare,
Where subtle perfumes hang upon the air;
Where mirrors shine with oft-reflected blaze,
And glowing canvas tempts the listless gaze;
Where splendid trifles strew the yielding floor,
Where lusty lacqueys loiter at the door;
Where costly dainties court the pampered taste,
And southern nectars run to wanton waste;
Where silken couches woo the languid form,
And all is bright, and indolent, and warm:
While mazy music, skilfully expressed,
Lulls Fortune’s weary idol into rest.
And yet, there are, within a Christian’s call,
Without the barrier of that stately wall,
Shapes of humanity, unhoused, unfed,
The sky their curtain, and the earth their bed,
Which writhe like vipers near the rich man’s feet,
Frenzied for food his dogs refuse to eat;
Or suffer uncomplainingly, and die,
‘Mid blessings broad and boundless as the sky!
In God’s own Book I read to understand-
“The poor shall never cease from out the land:”
But shall they pine, with sickening hope deferred,
For what kind Nature gives to brute and bird?
Shall they exist in darkness and distrust,
Doubting if God be merciful and just?
Formed with immortal faculties, by Him
Adored and circled by the Seraphim,
Him who has given the humblest worm a law,
Sustained the skies, and kept the stars in awe,-
Shall they, oppressed with famine and with fears,
Sow health and hope, and gather nought but tears?
Obey and toil, grow fretful and complain,
Reason, implore, grow mad,-and all in vain?
Forbid it, God, who gavest these creatures birth!
Forbid it, lovely and prolific earth!
Ye mild and moral principles of right,
Rise up against it with a face of light;
And all ye holier sympathies that lie
Hid in the depths of onr humanity,
Wake from your useless slumbers, and withstand
This growing griewance of our fatherland.
Strong Wealth, hast thou no largess to bestow
On the poor child of ignorance and woe?
Hast thou no slender sacrifice to make,
No self-denial for thy brother’s sake?
Thou hast the power,-oh! cultivate the will
To ‘meliorate the dire extent of ill
Which spreads and threatens, even at thy side,
Flinging reproach upon thy thoughtless pride.
Search for the truth, and thou shalt find a way
To hoard up comfort for a future day;
Search for the truth, and let the truth impart
A pure and generous impulse to thy heart;-
An impulse whose sweet exercise shall be
A tenfold blessing back again to thee!
(John Critchley Prince)
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Based on Keywords: quells, distressful, prospective, rankly, gloomiest, hearthstones, germinate, unhoused, threatenings, disturber, nectars