The cock, warm roosting 'midst his feather'd dames,
Now lifts his beak and snuffs the morning air,
Stretches his neck and claps his heavy wings,
Gives three hoarse crows, and glad his talk is done;
Low, chuckling, turns himself upon the roost,
Then nestles down again amongst his mates.
The lab'ring hind, who on his bed of straw,
Beneath his home-made coverings, coarse, but warm,
Lock'd in the kindly arms of her who spun them,
Dreams of the gain that next year's crop should bring;
Or at some fair disposing of his wool,
Or by some lucky and unlook'd-for bargain.
Fills his skin purse with heaps of tempting gold,
Now wakes from sleep at the unwelcome call,
And finds himself but just the same poor man
As when he went to rest.
He hears the blast against his window beat,
And wishes to himself he were a lord,
That he might lie a-bed.
He rubs his eyes, and stretches out his arms;
Heigh ho! heigh ho! he drawls with gaping mouth,
Then most unwillingly creeps out of bed,
And without looking-glass puts on his clothes.
With rueful face he blows the smother'd fire,
And lights his candle at the red'ning coal;
First sees that all be right amongst his cattle,
Then hies him to the barn with heavy tread,
Printing his footsteps on the new fall'n snow.
From out the heap of corn he pulls his sheaves,
Dislodging the poor red-breast from his shelter,
Where all the live-long night he slept secure;
But now afrighted, with uncertain flight
He flutters round the walls, to seek some hole,
At which he may escape out to the frost.
And now the flail, high whirling o'er his head,
Descends with force upon the jumping sheave,
Whilst every rugged wall, and neighboring cot
Re-echoes back the noise of his strokes.
The fam'ly cares call next upon the wife
To quit her mean but comfortable bed.
And first she stirs the fire, and blows the flame,
Then from her heap of sticks, for winter stor'd,
An armful brings; loud crackling as they burn,
Thick fly the red sparks upward to the roof,
While slowly mounts the smoke in wreathy clouds.
On goes the seething pot with morning cheer,
For which some little wishful hearts await,
Who, peeping from the bed-clothes, spy, well pleas'd,
The cheery light that blazes on the wall,
And bawl for leave to rise.
Their busy mother knows not where to turn,
Her morning work comes now so thick upon her.
One she must help to tye his little coat,
Unpin his cap, and seck another's shoe.
When all is o'er, out to the door they run,
With new comb'd sleeky hair, and glist'ning cheeks,
Each with some little project in his head.
One on the ice must try his new sol'd shoes:
To view his well-set trap another hies,
In hopes to find some poor unwary bird
(No worthless prize) entangled in his snare;
Whilst one, less active, with round rosy face,
Spreads out his purple fingers to the fire,
And peeps, most wishfully, into the pot.
But let us leave the warm and cheerful house,
To view the bleak and dreary scene without,
And mark the dawning of a winter day.
For now the morning vapour, red and grumly,
Rests heavy on the hills; and o'er the heav'ns
Wide spreading forth in lighter gradual fliades,
Just faintly colours the pale muddy sky.
Then slowly from behind the southern hills,
Inlarg'd and ruddy looks the rising sun,
Shooting his beams askance the hoary waste,
Which gild the brow of ev'ry swelling height,
And deepen every valley with a shade.
The crusted window of each scatter'd cot,
The icicles that fringe the thatched roof,
The new swept slide upon the frozen pool,
All lightly glance, new kindled with his rays;
And e'en the rugged face of scowling Winter
Looks somewhat gay. But for a little while
He lifts his glory o'er the bright'ning earth,
Then hides his head behind a misty cloud,
The birds now quit their holes and lurking sheds,
Most mute and melancholy, where thro' night
All nestling close to keep each other warm,
In downy sleep they had forgot their hardships;
But not to chant and carol in the air,
Or lightly swing upon some waving bough,
And merrily return each other's notes;
No; silently they hop from bush to bush,
Yet find no seeds to stop their craving want,
Then bend their flight to the low smoking cot,
Chirp on the roof, or at the window peck,
To tell their wants to those who lodge within.
The poor lank hare flies homeward to his den,
But little burthen'd with his nightly meal
Of wither'd greens grubb'd from the farmer's garden;
A poor and scanty portion snatch'd in fear;
And fearful creatures, forc'd abroad by want,
Are now to ev'ry enemy a prey.
The husbandman lays bye his heavy flail,
And to the house returns, where on him wait
His smoking breakfast and impatient children;
Who, spoon in hand, and longing to begin,
Towards the door cast many a weary look
To see their dad come in.
Then round they sit, a chearful company,
All eagerly begin, and with heap'd spoons
Besmear from ear to ear their rosy cheeks.
The faithful dog stands by his matter's side
Wagging his tail, and looking in his face;
While humble puss pays court to all around,
And purs and rubs them with her furry sides;
Nor goes this little flattery unrewarded.
But the laborious sit not long at table;
The grateful father lifts his eyes to heav'n
To bless his God, whose ever bounteous hand
Him and his little ones doth daily feed;
Then rises satisfied to work again.
The chearful rousing noise of industry
Is heard, with varied sounds, thro' all the village.
The humming wheel, the thrifty housewife's tongue,
Who scolds to keep her maidens at their work,
Rough grating cards, and voice of squaling children
Issue from every house.
But, hark!the sportsman from the neighb'ring hedge
His thunder sends!loud bark each village cur;
Up from her wheel each curious maiden starts,
And hastens to the door, whilst matrons chide,
Yet run to look themselves, in spite of thrift,
And all the little town is in a stir.
Strutting before, the cock leads forth his train,
And, chuckling near the barn among the straw,
Reminds the farmer of his morning's service;
His grateful master throws a lib'ral handful;
They flock about it, whilst the hungry sparrows
Perch'd on the roof, look down with envious eye,
Then, aiming well, amidst the feeders light,
And seize upon the feast with greedy bill,
Till angry partlets peck them off the field.
But at a distance, on the leafless tree,
All woe be gone, the lonely blackbird sits;
The cold north wind ruffles his glossy feathers;
Full oft' he looks, but dare not make approach;
Then turns his yellow bill to peck his side,
And claps his wings close to his sharpen'd breast.
The wand'ring fowler, from behind the hedge,
Fastens his eye upon him, points his gun,
And firing wantonly as at a mark,
E'en lays him low in that same cheerful spot
Which oft' hath ccho'd with his ev'ning's song.
The day now at its height, the pent-up kine
Are driven from their flails to take the air.
How stupidly they stare! and feel how strange!
They open wide their smoking mouths to low,
But scarcely can their feeble sound be heard;
Then turn and lick themselves, and step by step
Move dull and heavy to their flails again.
In scatter'd groups the little idle boys
With purple fingers, moulding in the snow
Their icy ammunition, pant for war;
And, drawing up in opposite array,
Send forth a mighty fliower of well aim'd balls,
Whilst little hero's try their growing flrength,
And burn to beat the en'my off the field.
Or on the well worn ice in eager throngs,
Aiming their race, shoot rapidly along,
Trip up each other's heels, and on the surface
With knotted shoes, draw many a chalky line.
Untir'd of play, they never cease their sport
Till the faint sun has almost run his course,
And threat'ning clouds, slow rising from the north,
Spread grumly darkness o'er the face of heav'n;
Then, by degrees, they scatter to their homes,
With many a broken head and bloody nose,
To claim their mothers' pity, who, most skilful,
Cures all their troubles with a bit of bread.
The night comes on a pace
Chill blows the blast, and drives the snow in wreaths.
Now ev'ry creature looks around for shelter,
And, whether man or beast, all move alike
Towards their several homes; and happy they
Who have a house to screen them from the cold!
Lo, o'er the frost a rev'rend form advances!
His hair white as the snow on which he treads,
His forehead mark'd with many a care-worn furrow,
Whose feeble body, bending o'er a staff,
Still shew that once it was the seat of strength,
Tho' now it shakes like some old ruin'd tow'r,
Cloth'd indeed, but not disgrac'd with rags,
He still maintains that decent dignity
Which well becomes those who have serv'd their country.
With tott'ring steps he to the cottage moves:
The wife within, who hears his hollow cough,
And patt'ring of iris stick upon the threshold,
Sends out her little boy to see who's there.
The child looks up to view the stranger's face,
And seeing it enlighten'd with a smile,
Holds out his little hand to lead him in.
Rous'd from her work, the mother turns her head,
And sees them, not ill-pleas'd.
The stranger whines not with a piteous tale,
But only asks a little, to relieve
A poor old soldier's wants.
The gentle matron brings the ready chair,
And bids him sit, to rest his wearied limbs,
And warm himself before her blazing fire.
The children, full of curiosity,
Flock round, and with their fingers in their mouths,
Stand staring at him; whilst the stranger, pleas'd,
Takes up the youngest boy upon his knee.
Proud of its seat, it wags its little feet,
And prates, and laughs, and plays with his white locks.
But soon the soldier's face lays off its smiles;
His thoughtful mind is turn'd on other days,
When his own boys were wont to play around him,
Who now lie distant from their native land
In honourable, but untimely graves.
He feels how helpless and forlorn he is,
And bitter tears gush from his dim-worn eyes.
His toilsome daily labour at an end,
In comes the wearied master of the house,
And marks with satisfaction his old guest,
With all his children round.
His honest heart is fill'd with manly kindness;
He bids him stay, and share their homely meal,
And take with them his quarters for the night.
The weary wanderer thankfully accepts,
And, seated with the cheerful family,
Around the plain but hospitable board,
Forgets the many hardships he has pass'd.
When all are satisfied, about the fire
They draw their seats, and form a cheerful ring.
The thrifty housewife turns her spinning wheel;
The husband, useful even in his rest,
A little basket weaves of willow twigs,
To bear her eggs to town on market days;
And work but serves t'enliven conversation.
Some idle neighbours now come straggling in,
Draw round their chairs, and widen out the circle.
Without a glass the tale and jest go round;
And every one, in his own native way,
Does what he can to cheer the merry group.
Each tells some little story of himself,
That constant subject upon which mankind,
Whether in court or country, love to dwell.
How at a fair he sav'd a simple clown
From being tricked in buying of a cow;
Or laid a bet upon his horse's head
Against his neighbour's, bought for twice his price,
Which fail'd not to repay his better skill:
Or on a harvest day, bound in an hour
More sheaves of corn than any of his fellows,
Tho' ne'er so keen, could do in twice the time.
But chief the landlord, at his own fire-side,
Doth claim the right of being listen'd to;
Nor dares a little bawling tongue be heard,
Tho' but in play, to break upon his story.
The children sit and listen with the rest;
And should the youngest raise its little voice,
The careful mother, ever on the watch,
And always pleas'd with what her husband says,
Gives it a gentle tap upon the fingers,
Or stops its ill tim'd prattle with a kiss.
The soldier next, but not unask'd, begins,
And tells in better speech what he has seen;
Making his simple audience to shrink
With tales of war and blood. They gaze upon him,
And almost weep to see the man so poor,
So bent and feeble, helpless and forlorn,
That oft' has stood undaunted in the battle
Whilst thund'ring cannons shook the quaking earth,
And showering bullets hiss'd around his head.
With little care they pass away the night,
Till time draws on when they should go to bed;
Then all break up, and each retires to rest
With peaceful mind, nor torn with vexing cares,
Nor dancing with the unequal beat of pleasure.
But long accustom'd to observe the weather,
The labourer cannot lay him down in peace
Till he has look'd to mark what bodes the night,
He turns the heavy door, thrusts out his head,
Sees wreathes of snow heap'd up on ev'ry side,
And black and grimily all above his head,
Save when a red gleam shoots along the waste
To make the gloomy night more terrible
Loud blows the northern blast
He hears it hollow grumbling from afar,
Then, gath'ring strength, roll on with doubl'd might,
And break in dreadful bellowings o'er his head;
Like pithless saplings bend the vexed trees,
And their wide branches crack. He shuts the door,
And, thankful for the roof that covers him,
Hies him to bed.
Joanna Baillie (Scottish Poet)