Thomas Aird

A Winter Day: Morning

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Yon ridge of trees against the frosty east
Of Morn, how thin, how fine, how spiritualised
Their fringe of naked branches, and of twigs,
Distinct, though multitudinous and small!
Still rarified, they seem about to be
Consumed to nothing in the candent glow
Breathed up before the Sun. Lo! in their stems
His ruddy disc; and now the rayless orb,
Round and entire, is up, on the fixed eye
Dilating, swimming with uncertain poise
From side to side—a great red globe of fire.

Winnowing the high pure ether, go the rooks
Down to the sea in intermittent trains,
Far from their inland roost, on the flat merse
To tear up tufts of grass for grubs below,
With horny beaks to turn the droppings o'er
Of pasturing kine, to search the rack of creeks,
And stalking forage on the shelly shore.
Sagacious birds! what time the sun goes down
With streaks and spots on his distempered face,
High in the airy firmament, a troop
Of maddest revellers, see them wheeling round;
And oft with sidelong flight slant down the sky
They go; and oft with clanging wings, the one
Depending as if broke, swooping they fall
Near to the ground, then upward shoot again;
They scream, they mix, they thwart, they eddy round
And round tumultuous, till all heaven is filled
With a wild storm of birds! By this they show
Prescience of windy blasts. But when, as now,
They take the morn afar, expect the day
To close in beauty as it has begun.

Rains flood to-day; the morrow's dawning gleam
Shows us the rawish road all stricken o'er
With lines, like crowfoot prints—the work by night
Of half-constringing frost. On such a morn,
Far in the reeking field, late ploughed, sore washed,
The dazzled eye is caught with flashing points,
Beyond the emblazoned stones of Samarcand.
Admire them at a distance: trace them not;
Fragments of saucers, from the dunghill borne,
And bottle-necks are all the gems you'll find:
So may mean men, like bits of delf or glass,
Blaze on the world, 'neath Fortune's favouring light.
Thus oft, through half our winter, damp and dry
Alternate daily. But this frost is fixed,
Deep gnarled of fang—so say the weather-wise.
The earth was slowly dried; the wild ducks oft,
With short quick pinions, and long necks stretched out,
Sped o'er our valley to the plashy springs
That never freeze; higher o'erhead, now seen
On the pale sky, now lost against the cloud,
Shifting their trailing figures of array,
The wild geese cackled through the firmament,
Far going down upon the softer south:
These be the tokens of a rigorous time.

Here rest The Twins. Here fell they, twins in death,
As twins in birth, and in one grave were laid.
Their widowed mother's only hope, upgrew
The boys in beauty to her loving eye;
One fair, the other dark, but stately both,
Like two young poplars by a river side.
Force rose and slew our Covenanting men.
Walter was firm; but Vincent's rasher heart,
Lured by an english damsel whom he loved,
And who, for insult to her father's name,
Abhorred the Covenant, took her Southern creed,
And waxing hotter in the widening breach
Betwixt his spirit and his former friends,
Lifted his hand against his country's faith.
His maid proved false; she went, and left him lorn—
Oh how forlorn! Meanwhile for Walter's sake,
The stout defier of their violent hands,
The persecutors seized, and put to death
His mother, sparing not her reverend age.
She died, but dying blessed her Vincent too.
On went the unequal war, still struggling on
From hill to hill, from moor to blood-stained moor;
And Walter led the Covenanting strength.
Where'er they went, high on the mountain-side,
Above them still, oft through the hurrying mist
Dim seen, a shrouded Form went as they went,
Watched when they camped, with gestures and with cries
Warning of danger, and oft saved their lives.
What can the gray Shape be? Is it a man,
Or Angel sent to guard them in the wild?
Here burst the battle: Walter's weaker band
Was swayed, was crushed, was trampled o'er the field.
Three foes bore Walter down; before him leapt,
To shield his life, that unknown Form, and took
Their spears upon himself; they pierced him through,
And Walter fell beside him:—“For her sake,
Her dear dear sake, within whose sacred womb
We lay together, face to face, my brother,
Put your arm o'er my neck.” Thus Vincent said—
For it was Vincent: side by side they lay,
And Walter put his arm o'er Vincent's neck.
A mother's love, oh, it has more than thews
To throw the Wicked One: it wrestles down
The Angel of the Covenant: it wins
Her headlong son back from the doors of Hell.

Fieldfares and redwings on the dun-blanched leas,
And flocks of finches from the stubbles bare,
Still rise before you with thin glinting wings,
As for yon upland through the fields you strike.
'Tis gained. You see the icy cliff remote
Gleam like an opal. Down on the far town
Hangs, like some visible plague, a cloud of smoke,
Steaming discoloured, dusk, but yellower edged;
And oft some window through its reeling skirts
Red glances. Lo! far off away, beyond
The valley's northern bound, the tops of hills,
Snowy, serene in spotless purity,
Standing high up in the clear morning air.

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Thomas Aird