88 THE BOOK OF CHRISTMAS.
and stand near the edge of its grave. We have seen the rich sunshines, and sweet, but mournful twilights of the autumn, with their solemn inspirations, give place to the short days and gloomy evenings which usher in the coming Solstice. One by one, the fair faces of the flowers'have departed from us ; and the sweet murmuring of " shallow rivers, to whose falls melodious birds sing madrigals;" has been exchanged for the harsh voice of the swollen torrent, and the dreary music of winds that " rave through the naked tree." Through many a chilling sign of " weary winter comin' fast," we have reached the—
" Last of the months, severest of them all.
For lo ! the fiery horses of the sun,
Thro' the twelve signs their rapid course have run;
Time, like a serpent, bites his forked tail,
And winter, on a goat, bestrides the gale;
Rough blows the North-wind near Arcturus' star,
And sweeps, unreined, across the polar bar."
The halcyon days, which sometimes extend their southern influence even to our stern climate, and carry an interval of gloomy calm into the heart of this dreary month, have generally, ere its close, given place to the nipping frosts and chilling blasts of midwinter. " Out of the south " hath come " the whirlwind ; and cold out of the north." The days have dwindled to their smallest stature ; and the long nights, with their atmosphere of mist, shut in and circumscribe the wanderings of man. Clouds and shadows surround us. The air has lost its rich echoes, and the earth its diversified aspects ; and to the immediate threshold of the house of feasting and merriment, we have travelled through those dreary days which are emphatically called " the dark days before Christmas." Of one of the gloomy mornings that usher in these melancholy days, Ben Jonson gives the following dismal description :—
" It is, methinks, a morning full of fate ! It riseth slowly, as her sullen car Had all the weights of sleep and death hung at it! She is not rosy-fingered, but swoln black! Her face is like a water turned to blood,