It’s not exactly the Writer’s Almanac, but nobody said that 18th-century poets were long on talent. They did, however, seem to possess fathomless resources of earnestness–and not a little charm. This one struck me as particularly well-suited to today, when here in Williamsburg, on this Feast of All Saints, the skies are grey, the leaves are falling to the ground, and nature is starting to be “disrob’d of her mantle of green.” There are several versions of this traditional British poem, each of which begins with the same stanza. This appears to be of Scottish origin, although there are English versions as well that have been set to music. It was printed in one of Williamsburg’s newspapers in August 1775.
WHEN the trees are all bear, not a leaf to be seen,
And the meadows their beauties have lost,
When all nature’s disrob’d of her mantle of green,
And the streams are fast bound with the frost.
While the peasant, inactive, stands shiv’ring with cold,
As bleak the winds northerly blow,
And the innocent flocks run for ease to the fold,
With their fleeces besprinkled with snow.
In the yard, where the cattle are fodder’d with straw,
And they send forth their breath like a stream;
And the neat looking dairy maid sees she must thaw
Flakes of ice that she finds in the cream.
When the lads and the lasses, for company join’d,
In a croud round the embers are met,
Talk of fairies and witches that ride on the wind,
And ghosts, till they’re all in a sweat.
Heaven grant, in this season, it may be my lot,
With a nymph whom I love and admire;
While the icicles hang from the eve of my cot,
I may thither in safety retire.
Where, in neatness and quiet, and free from surprize,
We may live, and no hardships endure,
Nor feel any turbulent passions arise
But such as each other can cure.
[Printed in the Virginia Gazette, 21 August 1775]