The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

A Winter Poem

As we welcome March, with the winter of 2010-2011 already on record as one of the ten snowiest winters in Boston since records have been kept, we share a poem written on 1 March 1780, noting the severity of the winter of 1779-1780. I think we all can agree that there is a sense of kindred spirit here.

On the Severity of the Past Winter

Long Winter rul’d with unrelenting sway,
And shook his icy sceptre o’er the day –
His snowy magazine’s enormous door
Ope’d wide, nor shut, till drain’d of all its store
Repeated torrents overwhelm the ground;
The earth was in a fleecy deluge drown’d.
The winds let loose impetuously sweep,
The tortured surface of the candid deep
This way & that, with all their fury blow
And raise huge billows of the yielding snow;
Stiffen’d at length, when no more storms arose
Or of descending or ascending snows,
But wearied all in calm & silence lies
Then all the power of cold fierce [illegible] tries
Thy fire began to dread it’s empire lost
Victory hung dubious,’ twixt the fire & frost
While the front suffer’d, smashing with the fire
The cold assailed us, pressing on our rear
But when oblig’d to leave the friendly hearth
Down to the lungs the cold congeal’d our breath
With quick’ned step, we hasted thro’ the streets
The threshold soon salutes the impatient feet.
Pale Phoebus shot oblique his feeble ray
Soon leaving us to mourn his transient stay.
Thanks to that Power who had the seasons roll
Commanding Sol to visit either pole
He now approaches to our hemisphere
And Aries waits him to renew the year
His beams now more direct dissolve the snow
The waters steal away & hide below. –
He who hath plac’d his shining bow on high
Which stands his faithful witness in the sky
That while the earth remains in order due
Day shall to night & heat to cold ensue
Is now beginning to unseal our hands
And gradually loose Orion’s bands –
Let us like him of vows e’er mindful prove
And let us like the Sun obedient move,
To the wise orders of the Lord above:
Nor from the paths of his commandments stray
Whose will the earth & air & heavens obey.


The manuscript copy of this poem is contained in the Mellen Family Papers. Our preservation librarian, Kathy Griffin, came upon it in the early fall while processing that collection. At the time we hoped that the poem would not be fitting to post in the coming March. But I must say we have had a winter to rival the one this poet describes.

Transcription by Betsy Boyle.

permalink | Published: Tuesday, 1 March, 2011, 8:00 AM


Commenting has closed for this post. Thank you for participating.