HUMANITY, delighting to behold
A fond reflection of her own decay,
Hath painted Winter like a traveller old,
Propped on a staff, and, through the sullen day,
In hooded mantle, limping o’er the plain,
As though his weakness were disturbed by pain:
Or, if a juster fancy should allow
An undisputed symbol of command,
The chosen sceptre is a withered bough,
Infirmly grasped within a palsied hand.
These emblems suit the helpless and forlorn;
But mighty Winter the device shall scorn.
For he it was–dread Winter! who beset,
Flinging round van and rear his ghastly net,
That host, when from the regions of the Pole
They shrunk, insane ambition’s barren goal–
That host, as huge and strong as e’er defied
Their God, and placed their trust in human pride!
As fathers persecute rebellious sons,
He smote the blossoms of their warrior youth;
He called on Frost’s inexorable tooth
Life to consume in Manhood’s firmest hold;
Nor spared the reverend blood that feebly runs;
For why–unless for liberty enrolled
And sacred home–ah! why should hoary Age be bold?
Fleet the Tartar’s reinless steed,
But fleeter far the pinions of the Wind,
Which from Siberian caves the Monarch freed,
And sent him forth, with squadrons of his kind,
And bade the Snow their ample backs bestride,
And to the battle ride.
No pitying voice commands a halt,
No courage can repel the dire assault;
Distracted spiritless, benumbed, and blind,
Whole legions sink–and, in one instant, find
Burial and death: look for them–and descry,
When morn returns, beneath the clear blue sky,
A soundless waste, a trackless vacancy!
— William Wordsworth, The French Army in Russia, 1812-13