Robin Redbreasts; Lambs and Sheep; Nightingale and Nestlings.
Various Flowers, Fruits, etc.
Scene: A Cottage with its Grounds.
[A room in a large comfortable cottage; a fire burning on the hearth; a table on which the breakfast things have been left standing. January discovered seated by the fire.]
Cold the day and cold the drifted snow,
Dim the day until the cold dark night.
[Stirs the fire.]
Crackle, sparkle, fagot; embers glow:
Some one may be plodding through the snow
Longing for a light,
For the light that you and I can show.
If no one else should come,
Here Robin Redbreast's welcome to a crumb,
And never troublesome:
Robin, why don't you come and fetch your crumb?
Here's butter for my hunch of bread,
And sugar for your crumb;
Here's room upon the hearthrug,
If you'll only come.
In your scarlet waistcoat,
With your keen bright eye,
Where are you loitering?
Wings were made to fly!
Make haste to breakfast,
Come and fetch your crumb,
For I'm as glad to see you
As you are glad to come.
[Two Robin Redbreasts are seen tapping with their beaks at the lattice, which January opens. The birds flutter in, hop about the floor, and peck up the crumbs and sugar thrown to them. They have scarcely finished their meal, when a knock is heard at the door. January hangs a guard in front of the fire, and opens to February, who appears with a bunch of snowdrops in her hand.]
Brother, joy to you!
I've brought some snowdrops; only just a few,
But quite enough to prove the world awake,
Cheerful and hopeful in the frosty dew
And for the pale sun's sake.
[She hands a few of her snowdrops to January, who retires into the background. While February stands arranging the remaining snowdrops in a glass of water on the window-sill, a soft butting and bleating are heard outside. She opens the door, and sees one foremost lamb, with other sheep and lambs bleating and crowding towards her.]
O you, you little wonder, come - come in,
You wonderful, you woolly soft white lamb:
You panting mother ewe, come too,
And lead that tottering twin
Bring all your bleating kith and kin,
Except the horny ram.
[February opens a second door in the background, and the little flock files through into a warm and sheltered compartment out of sight.]
The lambkin tottering in its walk
With just a fleece to wear;
The snowdrop drooping on its stalk
So slender, -
Snowdrop and lamb, a pretty pair,
Braving the cold for our delight,
[A rattling of doors and windows; branches seen without, tossing violently to and fro.]
How the doors rattle, and the branches sway!
Here's brother March comes whirling on his way
With winds that eddy and sing.
[She turns the handle of the door, which bursts open, and discloses March hastening up, both hands full of violets and anemones.]
Come, show me what you bring;
For I have said my say, fulfilled my day,
And must away.
[Stopping short on the threshold.]
I blow an arouse
Through the world's wide house
To quicken the torpid earth:
Grappling I fling
Each feeble thing,
But bring strong life to the birth.
I wrestle and frown,
And topple down;
I wrench, I rend, I uproot;
Yet the violet
Is born where I set
The sole of my flying foot,
[Hands violets and anemones to February, who retires into the background.]
And in my wake
Frail wind-flowers quake,
And the catkins promise fruit.
I drive ocean ashore
With rush and roar,
And he cannot say me nay:
My harpstrings all
Are the forests tall,
Making music when I play.
And as others perforce,
So I on my course
Run and needs must run,
With sap on the mount
And buds past count
And rivers and clouds and sun,
With seasons and breath
And time and death
And all that has yet begun.
[Before March has done speaking, a voice is heard approaching accompanied by a twittering of birds. April comes along singing, and stands outside and out of sight to finish her song.]
Pretty little three
Sparrows in a tree,
Light upon the wing;
Though you cannot sing
You can chirp of Spring:
Chirp of Spring to me,
Sparrows, from your tree.
Never mind the showers,
Chirp about the flowers
While you build a nest:
Straws from east and west,
Feathers from your breast,
Make the snuggest bowers
In a world of flowers.
You must dart away
From the chosen spray,
You intrusive third
Extra little bird;
Join the unwedded herd!
These have done with play,
And must work to-day.
[Appearing at the open door.]
Good-morrow and good-bye: if others fly,
Of all the flying months you're the most flying.
You're hope and sweetness, April.
Birth means dying,
As wings and wind mean flying;
So you and I and all things fly or die;
And sometimes I sit sighing to think of dying.
But meanwhile I've a rainbow in my showers,
And a lapful of flowers,
And these dear nestlings aged three hours;
And here's their mother sitting,
Their father's merely flitting
To find their breakfast somewhere in my bowers.
[As she speaks April shows March her apron full of flowers and nest full of birds. March wanders away into the grounds. April, without entering the cottage, hangs over the hungry nestlings watching them.]
What beaks you have, you funny things,
What voices shrill and weak;
Who'd think that anything that sings
Could sing through such a beak?
Yet you'll be nightingales one day,
And charm the country-side,
When I'm away and far away
And May is queen and bride.
[May arrives unperceived by April, and gives her a kiss. April starts and looks round.]
Ah May, good-morrow May, and so good-bye.
That's just your way, sweet April, smile and sigh:
Your sorrow's half in fun,
Begun and done
And turned to joy while twenty seconds run.
I've gathered flowers all as I came along,
At every step a flower
Fed by your last bright shower, -
[She divides an armful of all sorts of flowers with April, who strolls away through the garden.]
And gathering flowers I listened to the song
Of every bird in bower.
The world and I are far too full of bliss
To think or plan or toil or care;
The sun is waxing strong,
The days are waxing long,
And all that is,
Here are my buds of lily and of rose,
And here's my namesake-blossom, may;
And from a watery spot
See here forget-me-not,
With all that blows
Hark to my linnets from the hedges green,
Blackbird and lark and thrush and dove,
And every nightingale
And cuckoo tells its tale,
And all they mean
[June appears at the further end of the garden, coming slowly towards May, who, seeing her, exclaims]
Surely you're come too early, sister June.
Indeed I feel as if I came too soon
To round your young May moon
And set the world a-gasping at my noon.
Yet come I must. So here are strawberries
Sun-flushed and sweet, as many as you please;
And here are full-blown roses by the score,
More roses, and yet more.
[May, eating strawberries, withdraws among the flower beds.]
The sun does all my long day's work for me,
Raises and ripens everything;
I need but sit beneath a leafy tree
And watch and sing.
[Seats herself in the shadow of a laburnum.]
Or if I'm lulled by note of bird and bee,
Or lulled by noontide's silence deep,
I need but nestle down beneath my tree
And drop asleep.
[June falls asleep; and is not awakened by the voice of July, who behind the scenes is heard half singing, half calling.]
[Behind the scenes.]
Blue flags, yellow flags, flags all freckled,
Which will you take? yellow, blue, speckled!
Take which you will, speckled, blue, yellow,
Each in its way has not a fellow.
[Enter July, a basket of many-colored irises slung upon his shoulders, a bunch of ripe grass in one hand, and a plate piled full of peaches balanced upon the other. He steals up to June, and tickles her with the grass. She wakes.]
What, here already?
Nay, my tryst is kept;
The longest day slipped by you while you slept.
I've brought you one curved pyramid of bloom,
[Hands her the plate.]
Not flowers, but peaches, gathered where the bees,
As downy, bask and boom
In sunshine and in gloom of trees.
But get you in, a storm is at my heels;
The whirlwind whistles and wheels,
Lightning flashes and thunder peals,
Flying and following hard upon my heels.
[June takes shelter in a thickly-woven arbor.]
The roar of a storm sweeps up
From the east to the lurid west,
The darkening sky, like a cup,
Is filled with rain to the brink;
The sky is purple and fire,
Blackness and noise and unrest;
The earth, parched with desire,
Opens her mouth to drink.
Send forth thy thunder and fire,
Turn over thy brimming cup,
O sky, appease the desire
Of earth in her parched unrest;
Pour out drink to her thirst,
Her famishing life lift up;
Make thyself fair as at first,
With a rainbow for thy crest.
Have done with thunder and fire,
O sky with the rainbow crest;
O earth, have done with desire,
Drink, and drink deep, and rest.
[Enter August, carrying a sheaf made up of different kinds of grain.]
Hail, brother August, flushed and warm
And scatheless from my storm.
Your hands are full of corn, I see,
As full as hands can be:
And earth and air both smell as sweet as balm
In their recovered calm,
And that they owe to me.
[July retires into a shrubbery.]
Wheat sways heavy, oats are airy,
Barley bows a graceful head,
Short and small shoots up canary,
Each of these is some one's bread;
Bread for man or bread for beast,
Or at very least
A bird's savory feast.
Men are brethren of each other,
One in flesh and one in food;
And a sort of foster brother
Is the litter, or the brood,
Of that folk in fur or feather,
Who, with men together,
Breast the wind and weather.
[August descries September toiling across the lawn.]
My harvest home is ended; and I spy
September drawing nigh
With the first thought of Autumn in her eye,
And the first sigh
Of Autumn wind among her locks that fly.
[September arrives, carrying upon her head a basket heaped high with fruit]
Unload me, brother. I have brought a few
Plums and these pears for you,
A dozen kinds of apples, one or two
Melons, some figs all bursting through
Their skins, and pearled with dew
These damsons violet-blue.
[While September is speaking, August lifts the basket to the ground, selects various fruits, and withdraws slowly along the gravel walk, eating a pear as he goes.]
My song is half a sigh
Because my green leaves die;
Sweet are my fruits, but all my leaves are dying;
And well may Autumn sigh,
And well may I
Who watch the sere leaves flying.
My leaves that fade and fall,
I note you one and all;
I call you, and the Autumn wind is calling,
Lamenting for your fall,
And for the pall
You spread on earth in falling.
And here's a song of flowers to suit such hours:
A song of the last lilies, the last flowers,
Amid my withering bowers.
In the sunny garden bed
Lilies look so pale,
Lilies droop the head
In the shady grassy vale;
If all alike they pine
In shade and in shine,
If everywhere they grieve,
Where will lilies live?
[October enters briskly, some leafy twigs bearing different sorts of nuts in one hand, and a long ripe hop-bine trailing after him from the other. A dahlia is stuck in his buttonhole.]
Nay, cheer up, sister. Life is not quite over,
Even if the year has done with corn and clover,
With flowers and leaves; besides, in fact it's true,
Some leaves remain and some flowers too.
For me and you.
Now see my crops:
[Offering his produce to September.]
I've brought you nuts and hops;
And when the leaf drops, why, the walnut drops.
[October wreaths the hop-bine about September's neck, and gives her the nut twigs. They enter the cottage together, but without shutting the door. She steps into the background: he advances to the hearth, removes the guard, stirs up the smouldering fire, and arranges several chestnuts ready to roast.]
Crack your first nut and light your first fire,
Roast your first chestnut crisp on the bar;
Make the logs sparkle, stir the blaze higher;
Logs are cheery as sun or as star,
Logs we can find wherever we are.
Spring one soft day will open the leaves,
Spring one bright day will lure back the flowers;
Never fancy my whistling wind grieves,
Never fancy I've tears in my showers;
Dance, nights and days! and dance on, my hours!
[Sees November approaching.]
Here comes my youngest sister, looking dim
With dismal ways.
What cheer, November?
[Entering and shutting the door.]
Nought have I to bring,
Tramping a-chill and shivering,
Except these pine-cones for a blaze, -
Except a fog which follows,
And stuffs up all the hollows, -
Except a hoar frost here and there, -
Except some shooting stars
Which dart their luminous cars
Trackless and noiseless through the keen night air.
[October, shrugging his shoulders, withdraws into the background, while November throws her pine cones on the fire, and sits down listlessly.]
The earth lies fast asleep, grown tired
Of all that's high or deep;
There's nought desired and nought required
Save a sleep.
I rock the cradle of the earth,
I lull her with a sigh;
And know that she will wake to mirth
By and by.
[Through the window December is seen running and leaping in the direction of the door. He knocks.]
[Calls out without rising.]
Ah, here's my youngest brother come at last:
Come in, December.
[He opens the door and enters, loaded with evergreens in berry, etc.]
Come, and shut the door,
For now it's snowing fast;
It snows, and will snow more and more;
Don't let it drift in on the floor.
But you, you're all aglow; how can you be
Rosy and warm and smiling in the cold?
Nay, no closed doors for me,
But open doors and open hearts and glee
To welcome young and old.
Dimmest and brightest month am I;
My short days end, my lengthening days begin;
What matters more or less sun in the sky,
When all is sun within?
[He begins making a wreath as he sings.]
Ivy and privet dark as night,
I weave with hips and haws a cheerful show,
And holly for a beauty and delight,
And milky mistletoe.
While high above them all I set
Yew twigs and Christmas roses pure and pale;
Then Spring her snowdrop and her violet
May keep, so sweet and frail;
May keep each merry singing bird,
Of all her happy birds that singing build:
For I've a carol which some shepherds heard
Once in a wintry field.
[While December concludes his song all the other Months troop in from the garden, or advance out of the background.
The Twelve join hands in a circle, and begin dancing round to a stately measure as the Curtain falls.]