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WINTER advances close upon the track of autumn, and
Comes, to rule the varied year,
Sullen and sad, with all his rising train ;
Vapours, and clouds, and storms.
So that, before long, in the words of Scott-
No mark of vegetable life is seen,
No bird to bird repeats his tuneful call,
Save the dark leaves of some rude evergreen,
Save the lone red-breast on the moss-grown wall. Very many of our summer birds are now dwelling in the lands of the sunny south, which are better provided with their necessary food than ours is at this season. But the robin and a few kindred species stay behind, and brave the English winter, during which they manage to subsist principally on the slugs and earth-worms that occasionally make their appearance. They keep a sharp look-out for caterpillars which lurk near the roots of trees and shrubs, but often they are obliged to make a meal of crumbs picked up at the cottage-door. Should the weather be very severe, and the frost bite hard, and the ground be for a long time covered with snow, our non-migrating birds suffer great privations, and many perish from cold and hunger.
Seldom do we experience much of the severity of winter till the year is drawing towards its close, or even till the new year has opened : according to the old adage, 'As the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen.' Our poet-laureate, Tennyson, thus pictures the 'Death of the Old Year':
Full knee-deep lies the winter snow,
And the winter winds are wearily sighing:
Toll ye the church-bell sad and slow,
And tread softly, and speak low,
For the old year lies a-dying.
Old year, you must not die;
You came to us so readily,
You lived with us so steadily,
Old year, you shall not die.
He lieth still: he doth not move :
He will not see the dawn of day.
He hath no other life above.
He gave me a friend, and a true true-love,
And the new year will take 'em away.
Old year, you must not go;
So long as you have been with us,
Such joy as you have seen with us,
Old year, you shall not go.
He froth'd his bumpers to the brim ;
A jollier year we shall not see.
But though his eyes are waxing dim,
And though his foes speak ill of him,
He was a friend to me.
Old year, you shall not die;
We did so laugh and cry with you,
I've half a mind to die with you,
Old year, if you must die.
How hard he breathes ! over the snow
I heard just now the crowing cock.
The shadows flicker to and fro:
The cricket chirps: the lights burn low:
'Tis nearly twelve o'clock.
Shake hands, before you die.
Old year, we'll dearly rue for you:
What is it we can do for you?
Speak out, before you die.
The following is a well-known winter scene from
Thomson's poem on this season :-
Thro' the hush'd air the whitening shower descends,
At first thin-wavering; till at last the flakes
Fall broad, and wide, and fast, dimming the day
With a continual flow. The cherish'd fields
Put on their winter-robe of purest white.
'Tis brightness all ; save where the new snow melts
Along the mazy current. Low the woods
Bow their hoar head; and, ere the languid sun
Faint from the west emits his evening ray,
Earth's universal face, deep-hid, and chill,
Is one wild dazzling waste, that buries wide
The works of man.
Sir Walter Scott thus describes a Scottish winter :-
No longer Autumn's glowing red
Upon our forest hills is shed;
No more, beneath the erening beam,
Fair Tweed reflects their purple gleam;
Away hath passed the heather-bell,
Thať bloomed so rich on Needpath-fell;
Sallow his brow, and russet bare
Are now the sister-heights of Yair.
The sheep, before the pinching heaven,
To sheltered dale and down are driven,
Where yet some faded herbage pines,
And yet a watery sunbeam shines :
In meek despondency they eye
The withered sward and wintry sky:
The shepherd shifts his mantle's fold,
And wraps him closer from the cold;
His dogs no merry circles wheel,
But, shivering, follow at his heel;
A cowering glance they often cast,
As deeper moans the gathering blast.
My imps, though hardy, bold, and wild,
As best befits the mountain child,
Feel the sad influence of the hour,
And wail the daisy's vanished flower;
Their summer gambols tell, and mourn,
And anxious ask,—Will spring return,
And birds and lambs again be gay,
And blossoms clothe the hawthorn spray?
Yes, prattlers, yes. The daisy's flower
Again shall paint your summer bower;
Again the hawthorn shall supply
The garlands you delight to tie;
The lambs upon the lea shall bound,
The wild birds carol to the round,
And while you frolic light as they,
Too short shall seem the summer day. The early winter's morn is often wrapped in gloom, and upon a dreary desolate prospect the country swain must look as he plods his way to his daily toil.
The scene is cloth’d in snow from morn till night,
The woodman's loath his chilly tools to seize ;
The crows, unroosting as he comes in sight,
Shake down the feathery burden from the trees ;
To look at things around he's fit to freeze ;
Scard from her perch the fluttering pheasant flies ;
His hat and doublet whiten by degrees,
He quakes, looks round, and pats his hands and sighs,
And wishes to himself that the warm sun would rise.
Notwithstanding the howling blasts, the bitter cold, and the destructive snow-storms of this season, a severe winter is not without its pleasures. There is ample scope afforded for joyful, healthy, and invigorating exercise on the frost-bound ponds and streams, which are then the delightful-resort of skaters, sliders, and hockey players. In Scotland, a curling match on the ice supersedes all other out-of-door winter amusements; and an exciting game it is, especially when it is played, as is often the case, by skilful players from two rival parishes. The pleasures of the English pastime, skating, have been summed up by Wordsworth :
In the frosty season, when the sun
Was set, and visible for many a milo
The cottage windows blazed through twilight gloom,
I heeded not their summons : happy time
It was indeed for all of us—for me
It was a time of rapture! Clear and loud
The village clock tolled six ; I wheeled about,
Proud and exulting like an untired horse
That cares not for his home. All shod with steel,
We hissed along the polished ice in games
Confederate, imitative of the chase
And woodland pleasures—the resounding horn,
The pack loud-chiming, and the hunted hare.
So through the darkness and the cold we flew,
And not a voice was idle ; with the din
Smitten, the precipices rang aloud;
The leafless trees and every icy crag,
Tinkled like iron; while far-distant hills
Into the tumult sent an alien sound
Of melancholy not unnoticed, while the stars
Eastward were sparkling clear, and in the west
The orange sky of evening died away.
Not seldom from the uproar I retired
Into a silent bay, or sportively
Glanced sideway; and oftentimes,
When we had given our bodies to the wind,
And all the shadowy banks on either side
Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning still
The rapid line of motion, then at once
Have I, reclining back upon my heels,
Stopped short; yet still the solitary cliffs
Wheeled by me even as if the earth had rolled
With visible motion her diurnal round.
The winter, if not too severe and protracted, is of great service to the soil and to the purposes of vegetation, as Eliza Cook says
For his wide and glittering coat of snow
Protects the seeds of life below;
Beneath his mantle are nurtured and born
The roots of the flowers—the germs of the coru.
And in the words of Southey —
Nature soon in spring's best charms
Shall rise revived from winter's grave,
Expand the bursting bud again,
And bid the flower re-bloom.
SOME OF OUR BRITISH BIRDS. THE feathered inhabitants of our island are not in general very remarkable for the beauty of their plumage ; but what they want in this respect, as compared with birds of tropical lands, is fully compensated for by the melody of their voices; indeed, some of them are amongst the finest songsters to be found anywhere. No sooner do the early flowers of the year, the snowdrop, the crocus, and the primrose, as heralds of the spring, display their opening petals, than the birds commence their songs, as if to testify their joy that the cold winter is departing, and that a fairer season for them is dawning. We are glad to hear them; for during the severe frost and the cold wet weather, all, except the robin, have been silent. It must have been a clear bright day on which the poet Burns once heard the song of the thrush in January; and on this rare occurrence he wrote:
Sing on, sweet thrush, upon the leafless bough;
Sing on, sweet bird, I listen to thy strain;
See aged winter, ʼmid his surly reign, At thy blithe carol clears his furrowed brow. It is not till the end of February, that, besides the robin, which has sung all the winter, we hear the