Among the Millet

by Archibald Lampman




The long days came and went; the riotous bees
    Tore the warm grapes in many a dusty vine,
And men grew faint and thin with too much ease,
        And Winter gave no sign:
But all the while beyond the northmost woods                              5
    He sat and smiled and watched his spirits play
    In elfish dance and eery roundelay,
        Tripping in many moods
With snowy curve and fairy crystal shine.

But now the time is come: with southward speed                      10
    The elfin spirits pass: a secret sting
Hath fallen and smitten flower and fruit and weed,
        And every leafy thing.
The wet woods moan: the dead leaves break and fall;
    In still night-watches wakeful men have heard                        15
    The muffled pipe of many a passing bird,
        High over hut and hall,
Straining to southward and unresting wing.

And then they come with colder feet, and fret
    The winds with snow, and tuck the streams to sleep             20
With icy sheet and gleaming coverlet,
        And fill the valleys deep
With curvèd drifts, and a strange music raves
    Among the pines, sometimes in wails, and then
    In whistled laughter, till affrighted men                                    25
        Draw close, and into caves
And earthy holes the blind beasts curl and creep.

And so all day above the toiling heads
    Of men’s poor chimneys, full of impish freaks,
Tearing and twisting in tight-curled shreds                                30
        The vain unnumbered reeks,
The Winter speeds his fairies forth and mocks
    Poor bitten men with laughter icy cold,
    Turning the brown of youth to white and old
        With hoary-woven locks,                                                     35
And grey men young with roses in their cheeks.

And after thaws, when liberal water swells
    The bursting eaves, he biddeth drip and grow
The curly horns of ribbed icicles
        In many a beard-like row.                                                   40
In secret moods of mercy and soft dole,
    Old warpèd wrecks and things of mouldering death
    That summer scorns and man abandoneth
        His careful hands console
With lawny robes and draperies of snow.                                 45

And when the night comes, his spirits with chill feet,
    Winged with white mirth and noiseless mockery,
Across men’s pallid windows peer and fleet,
        And smiling silverly
Draw with mute fingers on the frosted glass                             50
    Quaint fairy shapes of icèd witcheries,
    Pale flowers and glinting ferns and frigid trees
        And meads of mystic grass,
Graven in many an austere phantasy.

But far away the Winter dreams alone,                                     55
    Rustling among his snow-drifts, and resigns
Cold fondling ears to hear the cedars moan
        In dusky-skirted lines
Strange answers of an ancient runic call;
    Or somewhere watches with antique eyes,                          60
    Gray-chill with frosty-lidded reveries,
        The silvery moonshine fall
In misty wedges through the girth of pines.

Poor mortals haste and hide away: creep soon
    Into your icy beds: the embers die:                                        65
And on your frosted panes the pallid moon
      Is glimmering brokenly.
Mutter faint prayers that spring will come e’erwhile,
    Scarring with thaws and dripping days and nights
    The shining majesty of him that smites                                70
        And slays you with a smile
Upon his silvery lips, of glinting mockery.