Among the Millet

by Archibald Lampman


 

WINTER HUES RECALLED


 

Life is not all for effort: there are hours,
When fancy breaks from the exacting will,
And rebel though takes schoolboy’s holiday,
Rejoicing in its idle strength. ’Tis then,
And only at such moments, that we know                                      5
The treasure of hours gone—scenes once beheld,
Sweet voices and words bright and beautiful,
Impetuous deeds that woke the God within us,
The loveliness of forms and thoughts and colors,
A moment marked and then as soon forgotten.                         10
These things are ever near us, laid away,
Hidden and waiting the appropriate times,
In the quiet garner-house of memory.
There in the silent unaccounted depth,
Beneath the heated strainage and the rush                               15
That teem the noisy surface of the hours,
All things that ever touched us are stored up,
Growing more mellow like sealed wine with age;
We thought them dead, and they are but asleep.
In moments when the heart is most at rest                                 20
And least expectant, from the luminous doors,
And sacred dwelling place of things unfeared,
They issue forth, and we who never knew
Till then how potent and how real they were,
Take them, and wonder, and so bless the hour.                        25

Such gifts are sweetest when unsought. To me,
As I was loitering lately in my dreams,
Passing from one remembrance to another,
Like him who reads upon an outstretched map,
Content and idly happy, these rose up,                                      30
Out of that magic well-stored picture house,
No dream, rather a thing most keenly real,
The memory of a moment, when with feet,
Arrested and spell bound, and captured eyes,
Made wide with joy and wonder, I beheld                                  35
The spaces of a white and wintery land
Swept with the fire of sunset, all its width
Vale, forest, town, and misty eminence,
A miracle of color and of beauty.

I had walked out, as I remember now,                                        40
With covered ears, for the bright air was keen,
To southward up the gleaming snow-packed fields,
With the snowshoer’s long rejoicing stride,
Marching at ease. It was a radiant day
In February, the month of the great struggle                              45
’Twixt sun and frost, when with advancing spears,
The glittering golden vanguard of the spring
Holds the broad winter’s yet unbroken rear
In long-closed wavering contest. Thin pale threads
Like streaks of ash across the far off blue                                 50
Were drawn, nor seemed to move. A brooding silence
Kept all the land, a stillness as of sleep;
But in the east the grey and motionless woods,
Watching the great sun’s fiery slow decline,
Grew deep with gold. To westward all was silver.                     55
An hour had passed above me; I had reached;
The loftiest level of the snow-piled fields,
Clear eyed, but unobservant noting not,
That all the plain beneath me and the hills
Took on a change of colour, splendid, gradual,                        60
Leaving no spot the same; nor that the sun
Now like a fiery torrent overflamed
The great line of the west. Ere yet I turned
With long stride homeward, being heated
With the loose swinging motion, weary too,                              65
Nor uninclined to rest, a buried fence,
Whose topmost log just shouldered from the snow,
Made me a seat, and thence with heated cheeks,
Grazed by the northwind’s edge of stinging ice,
I looked far out upon the snow-bound waste,                            70
The lifting hills and intersecting forests,
The scarce marked courses of the buried streams,
And as I looked I list memory of the frost,
Transfixed with wonder, overborne with joy.
I saw them in their silence and their beauty;                              75
Swept by the sunset’s rapid hand of fire,
Sudden, mysterious, every moment deepening
To some new majesty of rose or flame.
The whole broad west was like molten sea
Of crimson. In the north the light-lined hills                                 80
Were veiled far off as with a mist of rose
Wondrous and soft. Along the darkening east
The gold of all the forests slowly changed
To purple. In the valley far before me,
Low sunk in sapphire shadows, from its hills,                           85
Softer and lovelier than an opening flower,
Uprose a city with its sun-touched towers,
A bunch of amethysts.

                                             Like one spell-bound
Caught in the presence of some god, I stood,
Nor felt the keen wind and the deadly air,                                 90
But watched the sun go down, and watched the gold
Fade from the town and the withdrawing hills,
Their westward shapes athwart the dusky red
Freeze into sapphire, saw the arc of rose
Rise ever higher in the violet east,                                             95
Above the frore front of the uprearing night
Remorsefully soft and sweet. Then I awoke
As from a dream, and from my shoulders shook
The warning chill, till then unfelt, unfeared.