1823
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

American Sketches. The Winter Evening.

American Sketches. The Winter Evening.

Rev. Thomas Cogswell Upham


34 Spenserians, anonymously published. The nostalgic tone is shared in common with a number of Scottish imitations of Beattie and Burns published in the 1820s, poems that mark the passing of simpler and more heroic times: "Shame on the grovelling and ignoble soul, | That loves not, thinks not of the olden time, | Before whose mind, its circles never roll, | Who sneers to see its heroes live in rhyme!" p. 86. The general model for The Winter Evening is James Thomson's Winter, from The Seasons, though several passages recall earlier poems written in Spenserian stanzas: James Beattie's The Minstrel for the character of Dick, Robert Burns's Cotter's Saturday Night for the description of the cotter, and Thomas Campbell's Gertrude of Wyoming for the Indian episodes. Goldsmith's Deserted Village, a great favorite in New England, is also a source. The pamphelt appears to be scarce; the poem also appeared in a New Hampshire periodical devoted to antiquarian matters.

The Winter Evening relates the grisly death of Richard Walderne (1615 ca.-1689), an early settler and Indian trader who was murdered for attempting to sell some Indian refugees into slavery, and recalls the Indian fighter John Lovewell (1691-1725) whose exploits had been the subject of several early ballads. A description of the hunter dying in the snow is adapted from a similar passage in James Thomson's Winter. The poem concludes with an account of the fantastic exploits of the Indian chief Passaconaway. Stanza 22 is short a line in the original printing.

Headnote in American Cottage Life: "The Winter Evening constitutes in the farmer's life, more truly and emphatically than in the life of any other class of persons, a period by itself, — a select season, a portion of time known and recognized by its distinctive traits, and blessed with its peculiar pleasures. It is a season of the year when there is, to a considerable extent, a relaxation from that constant toil which occupied him in the more genial months. He is at home, in the bosom of his family; and in the exercise and interchange of domestic feelings enjoys a degree of humble happiness, which the wealthy and luxurious have but little conception of. We have here, therefore, a distinct and interesting subject, which poetry, coming from a heart that can understand and fully sympathize with rural life, may properly and successfully adopt as its own" (1850) p. 31.



The twinkling fires, that gild the ethereal arch,
From pole to pole, resume their stellar round,
Along the burning galaxy they march,
And through its realms, their countless host is found.
Anon expanding o'er them with a bound,
The Northern-light shines in the central skies.
In yonder moss-grown tree, (ill-boding sound!)
The famished owl begins his nightly cries,
And through the dreary wild, the wolf on errand hies.

Along Cocheco's cold and icy face,
On Holland skates, and some, fosooth, without,
The village lads each other gaily chace;
And, ever and anon, the laugh, the shout
Of those, who tire their boon companions out,
Or pass them in the race, bursts to the sky.
And there is noise and revelry about,
Some neighbor lads their wits at jesting try,
Some tell a jocund tale, some laugh out merrily.

Yes, it is true, stern Winter has a charm,
E'en when he comes in tempest and in cloud,
And through his trumpet pours the wild alarm.
His step is on the mountains; white the shroud,
That wraps him, and where'er he treads, aloud
The forests roar, the shaken villas reel.
And yet I love thee, Winter! and am proud,
To revel in thy madness, and to feel
New thoughts, emotions new, through all my spirit steal.

It seems the solemn knell of parted days,
What time I hear thee, sighing from thy cave;
Then saddening memory on my spirit preys,
And shades of gloomy cypress o'er me wave.
Of days and years, now sunk into their grave,
The vision hastes around; and thought on thought,
Burning returns till heart and fancy rave,
And feel an inward tempest, which is fraught,
With elements as wild, as thou thyself hast brought.

This night thou comest in peace! How pure the glow
That decks the brow of evening's pensive queen!
A pile of silver seem the hills of snow,
Climbing in light, and loveliness serene.
Far in the dreary distance, may be seen
The hoary forests, and the mountain pile;
Shut to the door! The wintry breeze is keen
And 'neath the Cottage roof repose awhile,
Where, round its blazing hearth, the happy inmates smile.

The fire is heaped with logs and limbs of trees,
And o'er the walls, the dancing shadows play.
Without, unheeded is the vagrant breeze,
But many gird the hearth's protecting ray.
The Patriarch of the cot! His locks of gray,
In many a twine, are round his shoulders spread.
His eye beams not, as in his younger day,
And there's a polished baldness on his head.
Yet is he cheerful, wise, in men and things well read.

His wife a woman was, "made out of fire,"
And round and round, her rapid wheel did flee,
She seemed not born to wear out, or to tire,
Though she in years, as numerous was as he,
A paragon of talk and industry.
Among the number was a neighbor lad,
Bound out to service, as seemed best to be;
His mother, she was poor, and gone, his dad,
And here Dick toiled by day, and here his dwelling had.

And there were sons, and daughters, in that hall,
Far in the mountains wild, in youth they grew,
One heart, one love, one feeling had they all.
With tress of glossy shade, that clustering flew
Around a neck, which matched the snow in hue,
The eldest of the sister train was there.
And round the hearth, both sons and daughters drew,
Of looms and distaffs these, whate'er their care,
Those spake of huntings, wilds, and mountains drear and bare.

And soon, full soon, a wild and, fearful tale,
Of cinctured chiefs, of ancient times, of all
The burnings, scalpings, ambush, shrieks, and wail,
Of old, that on the helpless could befal,
Doth shroud their minds with darkness, as a pall,
And fills the melting eye with tears of woe,
That cruel foes should murder or enthral,
And bid the weak and half-expiring go,
Where other mountains rise, and other rivers flow.

Each heart was hushed; the sigh, the starting tear
Declared, the story was not told in vain,
Which taught the listener, when in bright career,
The burning stars were in their midnight reign,
How rose the war-shout, how the ambushed train
Rushed forth to burn, to murder, and to bind.
As leaves, when winds at autumn sweep the plain,
So fell the old and young of human kind,
Where through the Dover hills, Cocheco's waters wind.

He, who hath strayed on Dover's hills and vales,
Hath marked the windings of her walled tide,
The weary gondolier, the distant sails,
The uplands, stretching from the river side,
Where art and nature have together vied,
To deck the rural edifice, will deem
The spot, where foemen fought and Waldron died,
As yet unsung, no unbefitting theme,
For bard's immortal verse and all-creating dream.

A braver heart than Waldron's none could bear;
Professing love, and shunning open fight,
The red-men trapped the lion in his lair.
Had they but given his veteran sword its right,
They would not thus have conquered on that night.
Mesandowit first one gash across his breast,
Oped with his polished axe, (a fearful sight!)
The smoking blood hot from the opening pressed,
The deed the chief had done was practised by the rest.

Each one exclaimed, "I'll cut out my account."
Then spear, or tomahawk, with vengeance rife,
Gashed in, as if 'twere of a large amount
And thus they held the cruel, bloody strife,
And practised on the famous Waldron's life.
One cut him on the breast, one on the head,
One through the arm run his long, glistening knife,
From hands and face he prodigally bled,
And o'er his sable coat, the gore was streaming red.

The lightning glances faded from his eye,
Down from his looks the living spirit fell,
E'en the dark foemen trembled to see him die,
While round their feet, as from a gushing well,
They viewed the torrents from his bosom swell.
No sigh, no groan, no tear-drop found its way,
All calmly from its earthly citadel,
"Its broken wills and tenement of clay,"
The spirit took its flight far to the realms of day.

Nor, Lovewell, was thy memory forgot
Who through the trackless wild thy heroes led,
Death, and the dreadful torture heeding not,
Mightst thou thy heart-blood for thy country shed,
And serve her living, honor her, when dead.
Oh, Lovewell, Lovewell, nature's self shall die,
And o'er her ashes be her requiem said,
Before New-Hampshire pass thy story by,
Without a note of praise, without a pitying eye.

Shame on the grovelling and ignoble soul,
That loves not, thinks not of the olden time,
Before whose mind, its circles never roll,
Who sneers to see its heroes live in rhyme!
The wreath, the muse has wove in many a clime,
Shall not that blooming wreath be twined again?
Shall none be found to pour the song sublime
Shall none arise, and chant the muse's strain,
For those, who gave their life, our choicest good to gain?

Think of Miles Standish, who more brave than he?
The noble Pepperell, (honored be his name!)
Of Walter Raleigh's soul of chivalry,
And others worthy of the trump of fame.
Oh, think of such, and be it not our shame,
That men of worth should be so won forgot,
Whose daring arm the savage foe could tame,
Nor this their epitaph, their humbling lot,
They lived in glory once, but are remembered not.

HARK! Softly opens yonder oaken door,
And tall, of slender make, there enters in
A nymph well known, though low in lot and poor,
For virtues, that exalt, and charms, that win.
They grasp her hand, as if she were their kin,
And there are smiles, which false hearts never own.
Soon other joys, and other tales begin,
THE PASSING NEWS is round the hearth made known,
Anon the darker scenes, that memory drew, are flown.

Dick in his corner sits with wondering stare,
His ragged elbow on his knee, and eke
His hand has propped his chin, and here and there,
Of smut, and dirt irregular letters streak
The surface of his plump and steadfast cheek.
Determined all that's said and done, to hear,
Though on him they their gibes and laughter wreak,
Unmoved by scoffing and unawed by fear,
He at himself doth laugh, for others sheds the tear.

He's ragged, but he does'nt care for that,
Has no great knowledge, been not oft to school,
Has lost a moiety both of coat and hat,
And smutty goes, as if 'twere done by rule,
Some call him sloven, and some dub him fool.
Yet when they name, how his old grand-sire fell,
Who would not stoop to be the tyrant's tool,
His bosom throbs with patriotism swell,
And much he feels in sooth, more than his lips can tell.

"A ride!" That word is hardly said, 'tis done,
The sleigh is ready, all go out to ride,
Crouded and piled together, all as one;
Soon through the distant woods they swiftly glide,
Then seek the plains, then climb the mountain's side,
And all admire the splendors of the night,
The stars that give the galaxy its pride,
The overhanging cliffs, in robes of white,
The chaste, unclouded moon, that sheds o'er all her light.

The cracking thong, the tramp, the bell's rude chime,
The owl have frightened from his leafless bower,
Where hooting oft at midnight's "witching time,"
His song has added terror to that hour;
The wild fawn lifts his arching head to hear,
High on his cliffs; dreading the hunter's power,
The hare starts suddenly away with fear,
Then crouching to the ground, erects his sentinel ear.

Far other was the night, whose whirlwinds loud
Tossed through the troubled air the restless snow;
Along the welkin rolled the angry cloud,
And breaking forests uttered sounds of woe.
Beside 'Siogee's shore, with footsteps slow,
That night, a HUNTER did his way pursue.
Cold o'er his track, the stormy tempests blow,
No cot was near, his strength that might renew,
His hands to ice were froze, his cheeks to marble grew.

Pierced with the cold, and wearied with the way
He bowed his head, like one that soon shall die,
For life was breaking from its house of clay,
And light was stealing from his glassy eye.
And yet he had a home, a wife, and nigh
His cheerful hearth, were lovely children twain.
No more their heads shall on his bosom lie,
No more he'll press their ruddy lips again,
Cold is the HUNTER'S breast upon the distant plain.

A pile of skins was bound upon his back,
And one might see, where laid that HUNTER dead,
Those skins all flopping in the whirlwind's track;
Loud brayed the gray moose, as with crackling tread,
He trotted by, and curved his antlered head.
And where the pines, and where the yew-trees wave,
Aloud the owlets sting their requiem dread.
The wolf, with fearful eye, looked from his cave,
Cold is the HUNTER'S breast, afar his wintry grave.

Ye yeomen of our country! while around
The blazing hearth the festive hours ye wear,
With every bliss, with every honor crowned,
Think of the sons of sorrow and despair!
For them a tear, for them a pittance spare,
Turn not the houseless wanderer from your shed,
Do not the wrath of righteous heaven dare,
By not partaking of your cup and bread,
With him, who has not where to lay his hapless head.

Remember, while the best of earth's is your's,
Others may feel the stormy, piercing blast,
And he, who goes with sorrow from your doors,
That hour, that night, perhaps, may be his last;
Do not, howe'er your worldly lot be cast,
Ye freeborn tenants of Freedonian hills,
Forget, the kind injunctions, that have past,
From Him, whose hand the hungry raven stills,
For you, who spreads that roof for you that granary fills.

But whither bends the muse her wayward flight?
'Tis waxing late, the stars are hasting prone,
And Dick, the toilsome boy, 'mid shades of night,
Forth issuing from the humble cot alone,
(First having bound his needful buskins on,)
To climb the mow, the wanting herd to feed,
With tygers at his heels, has whistling gone,
And even the moonlight in his looks can read
The dread of stalking ghosts, or some dark, woful deed.

For he had heard, how, many a year ago,
Where rough Newichawannock swells his tide,
When all the beauteous stars began to glow,
And shed their radiance o'er the heavens wide,
A cottager by ambushed foe espied,
Close by his barn, by Indian bow was shot,
And weltering in his gushing heart-blood died.
"Alas!" he said, "how hard, how hard his lot!"
And though such deeds were o'er, he could forget them not.

Nor soon, in sooth, will youthful wight forget;
Such tales have been my charmers many an eve.
Upon my mind are brightly pictured yet,
And long as life, shall to that memory cleave.
Once did my throbbing bosom deep receive
The sketch, which one of Passaconaway drew.
Well may the muse his memory retrieve
From dark oblivion, and, with pencil true,
Retouch that picture strange, with tints and honors due.

He said, that Sachem once to Dover came,
From Pennacook, when eve was setting in;
With plumes his locks were dressed, his eyes shot flame.
He struck his massy club with dreadful din,
That oft had made the ranks of battle thin;
Around his copper neck terrific hung
A tied-together, bear and catamount skin,
The curious fishbones o'er his bosom swung,
And thrice the Sachem danced, and thrice the Sachem sung.

Strange man was he! 'Twas said, he oft pursued
The sable bear, and slew him in his den,
That oft he howled through many a pathless wood,
And many a tangled wild, and poisonous fen,
That ne'er was trod by other mortal men.
The craggy ledge for rattle snakes he sought,
And choaked them one by one, and then
O'ertook the tall gray moose, as quick as thought,
And then the mountain cat he chaced, and chacing caught.

A wondrous wight! For o'er 'Siogee's ice,
With brindled wolves, all harnessed three and three,
High seated on a sledge, made in a trice,
On mount Agiocochook, of hickory,
He lashed and reeled, and sung right jollily;
And once upon a car of flaming fire,
The dreadful Indian shook with fear, to see
The king of Penacook, his chief, his sire,
Ride flaming up towards heaven, than any mountain higher.

Those youthful days are gone! and with them fled
The scenes, the sports that soothed my simple heart,
Yet still those scenes their genial ray shall shed,
To charm the careless hour, to sooth the smart
Of disappointment's sting, and sorrow's dart:
Oft will I muse, and shed the willing tear,
O'er the loved plains, whence fortune bade me part,
Recal the happy faces once so dear,
Recal THE WINTER EVE, and all its social cheer.

[Collections Historical and Miscellaneous, pp. 83-90]