The Titmouse -
You shall not be over-bold
When you deal with arctic cold,
As late I found my lukewarm blood
Chilled wading in the snow-choked wood.
How should I fight? my foeman fine
Has million arms to one of mine.
East, west, for aid I looked in vain;
East, west, north, south, are his domain.
Miles off, three dangerous miles, is home;
Must borrow his winds who there would come.
Up and away for life! be fleet!
The frost-king ties my fumbling feet,
Sings in my ears, my hands are stones,
Curdles the blood to the marble bones,
Tugs at the heartstrings, numbs the sense,
Hems in the life with narrowing fence.
Well, in this broad bed lie and sleep,
The punctual stars will vigil keep,
Embalmed by purifying cold,
The winds shall sing their dead-march old,
The snow is no ignoble shroud,
The moon thy mourner, and the cloud.
Softly,—but this way fate was pointing,
'Twas coming fast to such anointing,
When piped a tiny voice hard by,
Gay and polite, a cheerful cry,
"Chic-chic-a-dee-dee!" saucy note,
Out of sound heart and merry throat,
As if it said, "Good day, good Sir!
Fine afternoon, old passenger!
Happy to meet you in these places,
Where January brings few men's faces."
This poet, though he live apart,
Moved by a hospitable heart,
Sped, when I passed his sylvan fort,
To do the honors of his court,
As fits a feathered lord of land,
Flew near, with soft wing grazed my hand,
Hopped on the bough, then, darting low,
Prints his small impress on the snow,
Shows feats of his gymnastic play,
Head downward, clinging to the spray.
Here was this atom in full breath
Hurling defiance at vast death,
This scrap of valor just for play
Fronts the north-wind in waistcoat gray,
As if to shame my weak behavior.
I greeted loud my little saviour:
"Thou pet! what dost here? and what for?
In these woods, thy small Labrador,
At this pinch, wee San Salvador!
What fire burns in that little chest,
So frolic, stout, and self-possest?
Didst steal the glow that lights the West?
Henceforth I wear no stripe but thine:
Ashes and black all hues outshine.
Why are not diamonds black and gray,
To ape thy dare-devil array?
And I affirm the spacious North
Exists to draw thy virtue forth.
I think no virtue goes with size:
The reason of all cowardice
Is, that men are overgrown,
And, to be valiant, must come down
To the titmouse dimension."
'Tis good-will makes intelligence,
And I began to catch the sense
Of my bird's song: "Live out of doors,
In the great woods, and prairie floors.
I dine in the sun; when he sinks in the sea,
I, too, have a hole in a hollow tree.
And I like less when summer beats
With stifling beams on these retreats
Than noontide twilights which snow makes
With tempest of the blinding flakes:
For well the soul, if stout within,
Can arm impregnably the skin;
And polar frost my frame defied,
Made of the air that blows outside."
With glad remembrance of my debt,
I homeward turn. Farewell, my pet!
When here again thy pilgrim comes,
He shall bring store of seeds and crumbs.
Henceforth I prize thy wiry chant
O'er all that mass and minster vaunt:
For men mishear thy call in spring,
As 'twould accost some frivolous wing,
Crying out of the hazel copse, "Phe—be!"
And in winter, "Chic-a-dee-dee!"
I think old Caesar must have heard
In Northern Gaul my dauntless bird,
And, echoed in some frosty wold,
Borrowed thy battle-numbers bold.
And I shall write our annals new,
And thank thee for a better clew:
I, who dreamed not, when I came here,
To find the antidote of fear,
Now hear thee say in Roman key,
"Paean! Ve-ni, Vi-di, Vi-ci."