The First Quarter

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein



Shaggy with skins of frost-furred gray and drab,
Harsh, hoary hair framing a bitter face,
He bends above the dead Year's fireplace
Nursing the last few embers of its slab
To sullen glow: from pinched lips, cold and crab,
The starved flame shrinks; his breath, like a menĂ¡ce,
Shrieks in the flue, fluttering its sooty lace,
Piercing the silence like an icy stab.
From rheum-gnarled knees he rises, slow with cold,
And to the frost-bound window, muttering, goes,
With iron knuckles knocking on the pane;
And, lo! outside, his minions manifold
Answer the summons: wolf-like shapes of woes,
Hunger and suffering, trooping to his train.



Gray-muffled to his eyes in rags of cloud,
His whip of winds forever in his hand,
Driving the herded storms along the land,
That shake the wild sleet from wild hair and crowd
Heaven with tumultuous bulks, he comes, lowbrowed
And heavy-eyed; the hail, like stinging sand,
Whirls white behind, swept backward by his band
Of wild-hoofed gales that o'er the world ring loud.
All day the tatters of his dark cloak stream
Congealing moisture, till in solid ice
The forests stand; and, clang on thunderous clang,
All night is heard, as in the moon's cold gleam
Tightens his grip of frost, his iron vise,
The boom of bursting boughs that icicles fang.



This is the tomboy month of all the year,
March, who comes shouting o'er the winter hills,
Waking the world with laughter, as she wills,
Or wild halloos, a windflower in her ear.
She stops a moment by the half-thawed mere
And whistles to the wind, and straightway shrills
The hyla's song, and hoods of daffodils
Crowd golden 'round her, leaning their heads to hear.
Then through the woods, that drip with all their eaves,
Her mad hair blown about her, loud she goes
Singing and calling to the naked trees,
And straight the oilets of the little leaves
Open their eyes in wonder, rows on rows,
And the first bluebird bugles to the breeze.

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