Ode to December (Poem by Edwin John Dove Pratt)

Beautiful Poem


Ode to December
1917
By Edwin John Dove Pratt


Was ever night so wild as this — this bleak December night!
    Veiled in the sombre shroud that sepulchred the day;
Why thus bereft of heaven's beams, of moon and starry light,
    Are all its ancient charms in sorrow laid away?

The year dies out with drifted leaves, with winds and floods of rain,
    Companions of the tempest with its brood of fears;
And voices far above us echo back the world's great pain,
    In tongueless language inarticulate through tears.

Why passed with such inevitable speed
    The eager splendor of the awakening spring?
So little did it seem to know or heed
    Our outward cries, our hidden murmuring;
It shone upon us shyly for some reason,
Then flew into the summer's briefer season,
And found, amidst its roses fully blown,
A transient radiance fleeter than its own.

How sweet the flowers grew in the woods last May!
    The trillium, splashed by sunlight, jauntily
Awoke to match the whiteness of its ray
    With white of blood-root and anemone.
Within the stray leaves on the humid ground,
Beside the fallen trunks of trees, were found
Numerous hepaticas whose lilac hue
Seemed woven of heaven's purple and its blue,
And, near at hand, a running streamlet told
Of treasure hidden in the marigold.

A little while they stayed; how short the space!
    We watched them as the hours went by,
    We looked again, and saw them die — 
Thus did they pass away; but in their place,
In meadow and in vale sprang up
The daisy and the buttercup;
Then on the creeping slopes of sunny hills,
By winding dales and tortuous rills,
Blue vervain rose to greet the sun,
Ere half the summer's race was run;
And in the fields and on the plains.
By forest paths, by country lanes,
By wayside and in garden plot,
The bluebell and forget-me-not;
And fair the bottle-gentian grew
Beside the wintergreen and rue.

And everywhere around us from the throats
    Of joyous birds pealed forth ecstatic praise — 
Glad hymns in which were heard no notes
    Of dim unrest and troubled lays.
The heart had never taught them sorrows,
Regretful yesterdays nor morrows;
    Each morning brought them its full boon of light,
And in return they gave their gift of song — 
Free utterance that had no tale of wrong
    Within the horizon of their life to right;
And when the evening drew to twilight close,
Fell the light mantle of their calm repose.

Fled are they all;
    The flowers and the birds,
In vain we call,
    With cries too dumb for words.
The fragrance and the music gone,
The fire of sunset, flush of dawn,
The waterlily in the lake,
The robin's love-song in the brake;
    All these are fled and gone,
And with us now the night,
The wild December night.

Far, far away upon the seas
The billows tell their agonies;
The ocean in its frenzied roar
Lashes the ramparts of the shore;
The tempest with its shattering thunder
Drives the iron bulwarks under;
The furies, in their path advancing,
Are seen around the breakers dancing;
The sea-mews, blinded by the light
Of mast-head signals, flaring bright,
Are rent by blow of spar and sail
Within the clutches of the gale,
And sailors, drenched by salt and foam,
Yearn for the fireside of their home.

And thus upon the land
    Earth's ravage is laid bare;
Slapped by the storm's fierce hand,
    The wildcat and the bear
Lie huddled in the sand
    That marks their common lair;
The trees in angry lurch
That grew beside each other — 
The hemlock and the birch — 
Now strive with one another,
In strangely human mood,
Born of unnatural feud.

Around the hoary mountain sides
    The storm hurls its impetuous shock,
Is answered by the torrent's tides,
    The iron echoes of the rock.
Gone are the woodland notes of spring,
    The airs of summer's short-lived breath,
The autumn, too, has taken wing,
    The year has rushed into its death.
Gone, like the memory of a dream,
A rainbow hovering o'er a stream;
And we, of nature's joys bereft,
Are with her deepening shadows left,
    With grey upon the sea,
    And driftwood on the reef,
    With winter in the tree,
    And death within the leaf.

Far, far away, across the distant deep,
    Heaven's lightnings flash from out a darker scroll;
Midnight and darkness in wild chaos keep
    A dawnless vigil, as slow thunders roll
Over a world upon whose face the storm
    Breaks, and within the terrors of eclipse,
Fall the swift strokes of Death, clothed in the form
    Of some dread angel of Apocalypse.
There rides a tempest heedless of the check
    Of law, and with no mandate but its will,
Whose function lies alone in power to wreck,
    That never hears the fiat, "Peace, be still!"
There, through deep, winding valleys that had known
    The quiet haunts of peasants; through the green,
Sweet-tufted verdure that the spring had sown;
    Through glens where only roe and fawn were seen
In peace; through plains where once the sunset's brush
    Placed its soft crimson on the silent streams;
There, through that land that often loved the hush
    Of evening and the tenderness of dreams,
Rolls now the bugle with its alien blast,
    The cry of battle on the midnight air,
The fiery summons to earth's legions massed
    Mid bayonets gleaming in the rocket's glare;
And streams that to the North Sea once had brought
    The dawn's white silver and the sunset's gold,
Now pour such tides as Nature never wrought.
The ruddier treasures of a wealth untold.

O Nature! Thou that lovest life
    In herb and brute and feathered kind,
Who leadest from the night's long strife
    The morn with rays of promise lined;
Who bringest forth the vital glow
    To bathe the trees in glorious light,
And bid the woodland flowers grow,
    Clothed spotless in their raiment bright;
Who givest food to hart and hare
    Upon the snowy mountain's crest,
And to the ravens everywhere,
    The storm-proof covert of their nest; — 
Hast thou within thy bounteous plan,
    So rich and measureless and mild,
No boon wherewith to succour man,
    Thy youngest, feeblest, blindest child?
Prostrate upon a formless field,
    Bedewed with unavailing tears,
While the slow hours, faltering, yield
    This nameless triad of the years;
What balm shall touch his stricken eyes?
    What hand shall drive away his dead?
What tones shall quieten his cries?
    What voice shall resurrect his dead?

O Winds; that sweep the surges from the bosom of the sea,
Strong with a strength unmeasured, as the chainless lightnings — free;
Ye nether rivals of the thunders, as their voice your own,
Yet theirs excelling in your major harmonies of tone;
Ye mighty arbiters of light and shade, of hope and gloom,
Who fashion for the morn its cradle, for the eve its tomb,
Who garrison the towers of God with clouds in dark array,
Marshalling their watch and slumber till their hidden fires play;
All day ye played upon the forest pines a mournful strain,
As if the slowly ebbing year were laboring in its pain;
Upon the land ye tossed the ag├ęd leaves in aimless quest,
And on the deep ye filled the sailor's heart with wild unrest.

O Winds! that stir the ashes of our altars while our cries
From hearthstone and from chancel in our agony arise,
That drive us in our frantic hours to prayer upon our knees,
While those we love drift shelterless upon the homeless seas;
O lift us once again to God! this time on kindlier wings — 
So weary are we of the strife and fear the tempest brings;
Give us the vision of His gardens under skies of blue,
We have lived so long in shadow of the cypress and the yew;
Sing through the swell that crowns the ocean when its rage has passed,
Resign the terrors of the gale, the furies of the blast;
Then through the vibrant music of the lyre of sea and land
Which our storm-sated world first heard when from the Creator's hand
It rose at the Great Dawn, breathe soon that sweet, untroubled peace,
That vista of life's cravings reared on hopes that never cease;
Blow out upon the raven plumes of this December night,
The world's unresting miseries, her shadow and her blight;
The story of her passions, and her dark, unfathomed sin,
The outward blow that slaughters, and the guilt that slays within;
And deep from out the storm's last throes, peal forth in life re-born,
The blazon of the future with the heralds of the morn;
The anthem of a world re-strung to human love and grace,
The full-toned orchestration of the heart-throbs of the race.

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