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
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
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
The muffled pipe of many a passing bird,
High over hut and hall,
Straining to southward with unresting wing.
And then they come with colder feet, and fret
The winds with snow, and tuck the streams to sleep
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
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-curlèd shreds
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,
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 ribbèd icicles
In many a beard-like row.
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.
And when 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
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,
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 his antique eyes,
Gray-chill with frosty-lidded reveries,
The silvery moonshine fall
In misty wedges through his girth of pines.
Poor mortals haste and hide away: creep soon
Into your icy beds: the embers die;
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
And slays you with a smile
Upon his silvery lips, of glinting mockery.