December

The sun that brief December day 
Rose cheerless over hills of gray, 
And, darkly circled, gave at noon 
A sadder light than waning moon. 
Slow tracing down the thickening sky 
Its mute and ominous prophecy, 
A portent seeming less than threat, 
It sank from sight before it set. 

Snow is in the forecast (please, please, please). I don’t think a “shortest day of the year” passes without my thinking of “Snowbound” by John Greenleaf Whittier, a poem always recited by my grandfather to his family, very possibly on this day every year.

One of the things I’m fortunate about is having grown up in a family that loved poetry — both my parents. Maybe it’s one of the things that drew them together. My dad really wanted to BE a poet but he had as little aptitude for it as I ended up having for math.

I love these old picture poems. In a world in which ordinary people didn’t have cameras, poetry had to do the job and I think it did well.

Ah, brother! only I and thou 
Are left of all that circle now,— 
The dear home faces whereupon 
That fitful firelight paled and shone. 
Henceforward, listen as we will, 
The voices of that hearth are still; 
Look where we may, the wide earth o’er, 
Those lighted faces smile no more. 
We tread the paths their feet have worn, 
      We sit beneath their orchard trees, 
      We hear, like them, the hum of bees 
And rustle of the bladed corn; 
We turn the pages that they read, 
      Their written words we linger o’er, 
But in the sun they cast no shade, 
No voice is heard, no sign is made, 
      No step is on the conscious floor! 
Yet Love will dream, and Faith will trust, 
(Since He who knows our need is just,) 
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must. 




15 thoughts on “December

  1. Wow. That poem is epic. I only got half through it. I’ll have to come back to it. Your grandfather must have had a good memory. I can just imagine your grandfather reciting the first half before dinner and then you all gathering round while he recited the second half after dessert.

    I was enchanted by this line –
    The cock his lusty greeting said,
    And forth his speckled harem led;

    • I don’t think he could recite the whole thing — I don’t know. If he could he was something else. I never heard him. He died when I was 5. He wrote the best short story I’ve ever read. it’s only one paragraph long.

      “Between my place and town there is a hole in the ground. A long time ago I noticed some boys digging. I stopped and looked. A small hole. They built a fire and I furnished the marshmallows. We roasted them and then they forgot the hole in the ground. Some played marbles and some flew their kites, but the next spring a new bunch of boys enlarged the hole, built a fire, I furnished the marshmallows and by then it was time to play marbles and fly their kites so year after year a new bunch of boys would enlarge the hole and finally we organized a club. We named it the hole in the ground. I was too old to dig so they elected me an honorary member with the title “Dad.” Every spring a new bunch of boys dig until the hole is big enough for a basement and then came Pearl Harbor. I would go to the depot to see the boys leave. Just boys they shout, ‘Bye Dad’.”
      S. A. Beall, Hardin, Montana, 1941

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