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A Calendar of Sonnets
by Helen Hunt Jackson
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A Calendar of Sonnets

By

Helen Jackson

1886,



January



O winter! frozen pulse and heart of fire, What loss is theirs who from thy kingdom turn Dismayed, and think thy snow a sculptured urn Of death! Far sooner in midsummer tire The streams than under ice. June could not hire Her roses to forego the strength they learn In sleeping on thy breast. No fires can burn The bridges thou dost lay where men desire In vain to build. O Heart, when Love's sun goes To northward, and the sounds of singing cease, Keep warm by inner fires, and rest in peace. Sleep on content, as sleeps the patient rose. Walk boldly on the white untrodden snows, The winter is the winter's own release.



February.



Still lie the sheltering snows, undimmed and white; And reigns the winter's pregnant silence still; No sign of spring, save that the catkins fill, And willow stems grow daily red and bright. These are the days when ancients held a rite Of expiation for the old year's ill, And prayer to purify the new year's will: Fit days, ere yet the spring rains blur the sight, Ere yet the bounding blood grows hot with haste, And dreaming thoughts grow heavy with a greed The ardent summer's joy to have and taste; Fit days, to give to last year's losses heed, To reckon clear the new life's sterner need; Fit days, for Feast of Expiation placed!



March



Month which the warring ancients strangely styled The month of war,—as if in their fierce ways Were any month of peace!—in thy rough days I find no war in Nature, though the wild Winds clash and clang, and broken boughs are piled At feet of writhing trees. The violets raise Their heads without affright, without amaze, And sleep through all the din, as sleeps a child. And he who watches well may well discern Sweet expectation in each living thing. Like pregnant mother the sweet earth doth yearn; In secret joy makes ready for the spring; And hidden, sacred, in her breast doth bear Annunciation lilies for the year.



April



No days such honored days as these! When yet Fair Aphrodite reigned, men seeking wide For some fair thing which should forever bide On earth, her beauteous memory to set In fitting frame that no age could forget, Her name in lovely April's name did hide, And leave it there, eternally allied To all the fairest flowers Spring did beget. And when fair Aphrodite passed from earth, Her shrines forgotten and her feasts of mirth, A holier symbol still in seal and sign, Sweet April took, of kingdom most divine, When Christ ascended, in the time of birth Of spring anemones, in Palestine.



May



O month when they who love must love and wed! Were one to go to worlds where May is naught, And seek to tell the memories he had brought From earth of thee, what were most fitly said? I know not if the rosy showers shed From apple-boughs, or if the soft green wrought In fields, or if the robin's call be fraught The most with thy delight. Perhaps they read Thee best who in the ancient time did say Thou wert the sacred month unto the old: No blossom blooms upon thy brightest day So subtly sweet as memories which unfold In aged hearts which in thy sunshine lie, To sun themselves once more before they die.



June



O month whose promise and fulfilment blend, And burst in one! it seems the earth can store In all her roomy house no treasure more; Of all her wealth no farthing have to spend On fruit, when once this stintless flowering end. And yet no tiniest flower shall fall before It hath made ready at its hidden core Its tithe of seed, which we may count and tend Till harvest. Joy of blossomed love, for thee Seems it no fairer thing can yet have birth? No room is left for deeper ecstasy? Watch well if seeds grow strong, to scatter free Germs for thy future summers on the earth. A joy which is but joy soon comes to dearth.



July



Some flowers are withered and some joys have died; The garden reeks with an East Indian scent From beds where gillyflowers stand weak and spent; The white heat pales the skies from side to side; But in still lakes and rivers, cool, content, Like starry blooms on a new firmament, White lilies float and regally abide. In vain the cruel skies their hot rays shed; The lily does not feel their brazen glare. In vain the pallid clouds refuse to share Their dews; the lily feels no thirst, no dread. Unharmed she lifts her queenly face and head; She drinks of living waters and keeps fair.



August



Silence again. The glorious symphony Hath need of pause and interval of peace. Some subtle signal bids all sweet sounds cease, Save hum of insects' aimless industry. Pathetic summer seeks by blazonry Of color to conceal her swift decrease. Weak subterfuge! Each mocking day doth fleece A blossom, and lay bare her poverty. Poor middle-agd summer! Vain this show! Whole fields of golden-rod cannot offset One meadow with a single violet; And well the singing thrush and lily know, Spite of all artifice which her regret Can deck in splendid guise, their time to go!



September



O golden month! How high thy gold is heaped! The yellow birch-leaves shine like bright coins strung On wands; the chestnut's yellow pennons tongue To every wind its harvest challenge. Steeped In yellow, still lie fields where wheat was reaped; And yellow still the corn sheaves, stacked among The yellow gourds, which from the earth have wrung Her utmost gold. To highest boughs have leaped The purple grape,—last thing to ripen, late By very reason of its precious cost. O Heart, remember, vintages are lost If grapes do not for freezing night-dews wait. Think, while thou sunnest thyself in Joy's estate, Mayhap thou canst not ripen without frost!



October



The month of carnival of all the year, When Nature lets the wild earth go its way And spend whole seasons on a single day. The spring-time holds her white and purple dear; October, lavish, flaunts them far and near; The summer charily her reds doth lay Like jewels on her costliest array; October, scornful, burns them on a bier. The winter hoards his pearls of frost in sign Of kingdom: whiter pearls than winter knew, Or Empress wore, in Egypt's ancient line, October, feasting 'neath her dome of blue, Drinks at a single draught, slow filtered through Sunshiny air, as in a tingling wine!



November



This is the treacherous month when autumn days With summer's voice come bearing summer's gifts. Beguiled, the pale down-trodden aster lifts Her head and blooms again. The soft, warm haze Makes moist once more the sere and dusty ways, And, creeping through where dead leaves lie in drifts, The violet returns. Snow noiseless sifts Ere night, an icy shroud, which morning's rays Will idly shine upon and slowly melt, Too late to bid the violet live again. The treachery, at last, too late, is plain; Bare are the places where the sweet flowers dwelt. What joy sufficient hath November felt? What profit from the violet's day of pain?



December



The lakes of ice gleam bluer than the lakes Of water 'neath the summer sunshine gleamed: Far fairer than when placidly it streamed, The brook its frozen architecture makes, And under bridges white its swift way takes. Snow comes and goes as messenger who dreamed Might linger on the road; or one who deemed His message hostile gently for their sakes Who listened might reveal it by degrees. We gird against the cold of winter wind Our loins now with mighty bands of sleep, In longest, darkest nights take rest and ease, And every shortening day, as shadows creep O'er the brief noontide, fresh surprises find.

THE END

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