A Winter Holiday

by Bliss Carman


 

WINTER AT TORTOISE SHELL


 

"WHAT wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head."

But as I read, that couplet seems
The merest metaphor of dreams,—

A parable from Arcady

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Refuted by this wintry sea.

The summer was so long ago,
I hardly can believe it so.

Did we once really live outdoors,
With leafy walls and grassy floors,

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Through sultry morns and dreamy noons
And red October in the dunes,

With butterflies and bees and things
That roamed the air on roseleaf wings?

There’s not a leaf on any bough

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To prove the truth of summer now;

There’s not an apple left on high
To bear the red sun company.

The sun himself is gone away,
A vagabond since yesterday,

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And left the maniac wind to moan
Through his deserted house alone.

Over the hills we watched him forth
From the low lodges of the North;

And then a hand we did not know

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Dropped the tent-curtain of the snow.

This morning all outdoors is gray
And bleak as dead Siberia.

But what is that to lucky me?
Who would not love captivity,

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Where safe beneath their Tortoise Shell
The Lady and the Tortoise dwell?

The Tortoise is the Lady’s son;
He makes procrastination

A fine art in this hurrying age

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Of grudging work and greedy wage.

An open air impressionist,
He swims his landscape in a mist,

And likes to paint his shadows blue,
If it is all the same to you.

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If not, he does not call you blind;
He waits for you to change your mind.

His cunning knows how color lies
Eluding the untutored eyes.

Perhaps within a year or two

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You may believe his pictures true.

The Tortoise, for a pseudonym,
Is very suitable to him.

At Tortoise Shell the rafters green
Mimic a shady orchard screen,

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The kindly half-light of the leaves,
And June songs running round the eaves.

The walls are hung with tapestries
Of gold flowers bending to the breeze,

And paintings, drenched in light and sun,

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Of Scituate shore and Norman town,—

A mute, unfading fairyland,
The glad work of a wizard hand,—

A small bright summer world of art
The winter cherishes at heart.

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Look, through the window, where the seas,
A million strong, ride in with ease!

The mad white stallions in stampede.
This is your wintry world, indeed.

But summertime and gladness dwell

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Under the roof of Tortoise Shell.

Color, imperishably fair,
Is mistress of the seasons there.

And, ah, to-night the Gallaghers
Will come in all their mitts and furs,

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Across the fields to visit us.
Then Boston urbs may envy rus!

We’ll let the hooting blizzard shout;
We’ll pull the little table out;

And Andrew Usher, ever blessed,

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Shall comfort us beneath the vest.

So trim the light, and build the fire;
Bring out your oldest, sweetest briar.

For half an hour, if you please,
We’ll listen to The Seven Seas;

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Or Mr. Gallagher will sing—
An opera or anything—

About the Duke of Seven Dials,
About his Dolly and her wiles.

Then we will sit, but not for tea,

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Around the smooth mahogany,

And watch while houses full of kings
Are overthrown by knaves and things;

And hear the pleasant clicking noise
Of triple-colored ivories.

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And Time may learn another trick
To better his arithmetic,

When wise content subtracts an notch
For fuming weed and foaming Scotch.

To-morrow, by the early train,

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Light-hearted mirth will come again

To race across-lots with a crew
Of St. Bernards, —contagious Lou.

Who would not quit, for joys like these,
All idle Southern vagrancies,

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By purple cove and creamy beach,
And gold fruit hung within the reach?

Since friendship is a thing that grows
To sturdy height in Northern snows,

Who would not choose December weather,

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Where love and cold thrive well together,

And bide his days, content to dwell
Under the eaves of Tortoise Shell?