O’er town and cottage, vale and height,
Down came the Winter, fierce and white,
And shuddering wildly, as distraught
At horrors his own hand had wrought.
His child, the young Year, newly born,
Cheerless, cowering, and affrighted,
Wailed with a shivering voice forlorn,
As on a frozen heath benighted.
In vain the hearths were set aglow,
In vain the evening lamps were lighted,
To cheer the dreary realm of snow:
Old Winter’s brow would not be smoothed,
Nor the young Year’s wailing soothed.
How sad the wretch at morn or eve
Compelled his starving home to leave,
Who, plunged breast-deep from drift to drift,
Toils slowly on from rift to rift,
Still hearing in his aching ear
The cry his fancy whispers near,
Of little ones who weep for bread
Within an ill-provided shed!
But wilder, fiercer, sadder still,
Freezing the tear it caused to start,
Was the inevitable chill
Which pierced a nation’s agued heart,—
A nation with its naked breast
Against the frozen barriers prest,
Heaving its tedious way and slow
Through shifting gulfs and drifts of woe,
Where every blast that whistled by
Was bitter with its children’s cry.
Such was the winter’s awful sight
For many a dreary day and night,
What time our country’s hope forlorn,
Of every needed comfort shorn,
Lay housed within a hurried tent,
Where every keen blast found a rent,
And oft the snow was seen to sift
Along the floor its piling drift,
Or, mocking the scant blankets’ fold,
Across the night-couch frequent rolled;
Where every path by a soldier beat,
Or every track where a sentinel stood,
Still held the print of naked feet,
And oft the crimson stains of blood;
Where Famine held her spectral court,
And joined by all her fierce allies:
She ever loved a camp or fort
Beleaguered by the wintry skies,—
But chiefly when Disease is by,
To sink the frame and dim the eye,
Until, with seeking forehead bent,
In martial garments cold and damp,
Pale Death patrols from tent to tent,
To count the charnels of the camp.
Such was the winter that prevailed
Within the crowded, frozen gorge;
Such were the horrors that assailed
The patriot band at Valley Forge.
It was a midnight storm of woes
To clear the sky for Freedom’s morn;
And such must ever be the throes
The hour when Liberty is born.
The chieftain, by his evening lamp,
Whose flame scarce cheered the hazy damp,
Sat toiling o’er some giant plan,
With maps and charts before him spread,
Beholding in his warrior scan
The paths which through the future led.