Feel the Chill with Charles Kingsley’s Ode To The Northeast Wind

snowy sprucesIt is rare to encounter verse that places winter storms in a positive context, isn’t it?

Around 1900, the international writer Lafcadio Hearn gave lectures on English literature and poetry at the University of Tokyo, and I can think of no better introduction to this author and poem than the one he gave.

You will remember that, during our lecture upon Keats last year, I quoted for you the ballad of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” as one of the most weirdly beautiful things in English literature. Now there are not many poets who have the ability to give the feeling of weird beauty, of ghostliness and aesthetic charm at the same time. But Kingsley had this gift, and his poems offer many examples of it.

A peculiarity of Kingsley’s work is the extraordinary novelty of its method, even when the subject happens to be of the most commonplace kind. A good example of this original part is presented in his famous “Ode to the North-east Wind,” a piece which it is said no Englishman can read without feeling his heart beat faster. The East wind in England, particularly the Northeast wind, is the bitterest and coldest of all winds, bringing death to the weak, and suffering even to domestic animals, so that there is an old English proverb which every child learns by heart in the nursery:

When the wind is in the East
‘Tis neither good for man nor beast.

The West wind, you know, is tempered by the warm Gulf Stream. But Kingsley remembered that it was by the Northeast wind that the Norsemen and the ancient English first sailed to Britain, and perhaps he was thinking also of the evolutional fact that Northern strength has been developed by cold and hardship. Perhaps you know that northern plants when taken to southern countries multiply at the expense of southern plants. The strength of the Western world is from the North; that is the philosophy of Kingsley’s ode.

Welcome, wild North-easter!
Shame it is to see
Odes to every zephyr;
Ne’er a verse to thee.
Welcome, black North-easter!
O’er the German foam;
O’er the Danish moorlands,
From thy frozen home.
a scene with snowy trees and a dark gray winter sky behind themTired we are of summer,
Tired of gaudy glare,
Showers soft and steaming,
Hot and breathless air.
Tired of listless dreaming,
Through the lazy day:
Jovial wind of winter
Turn us out to play!
a lake scene showing golden reeds in autumnSweep the golden reed-beds;
Crisp the lazy dyke;
Hunger into madness
Every plunging pike.
Fill the lake with wild-fowl;
Fill the marsh with snipe;
While on dreary moorlands
Lonely curlew pipe.
Through the black fir-forest
Thunder harsh and dry,
Shattering down the snow-flakes
Off the curdled sky.

the painting Monadnock No. 2, (undated) by Abbott Thayer (1849–1921)
Monadnock No. 2, undated
Abbott Thayer (1849–1921)

Hark! The brave North-easter!
Breast-high lies the scent,
On by holt and headland,
Over heath and bent.
Chime, ye dappled darlings,
Through the sleet and snow.
Who can over-ride you?
Let the horses go!
Chime, ye dappled darlings,
Down the roaring blast
You shall see a fox die
Ere an hour be past.
Go! and rest to-morrow,
Hunting in your dreams,
While our skates are ringing
O’er the frozen streams.
looking down a frozen river lined with small treesLet the luscious South-wind
Breathe in lovers’ sighs,
While the lazy gallants
Bask in ladies’ eyes.
What does he but soften
Heart alike and pen?
’Tis the hard grey weather
Breeds hard English men.
What’s the soft South-wester?
’Tis the ladies’ breeze,
Bringing home their true-loves
Out of all the seas:
But the black North-easter,
Through the snowstorm hurled,
Drives our English hearts of oak
Seaward round the world.
Come, as came our fathers,
Heralded by thee,
Conquering from the eastward,
Lords by land and sea.
Come; and strong within us
Stir the Vikings’ blood;
Bracing brain and sinew;
Blow, thou wind of God!

Join the Community!

Are you ready to start busting myths? Ready to beautify your neighborhood, enrich your life, and get better results in the garden than ever before? Subscribe to e-mail if you're ready to take things to the next level . . . Are you?

Get more of what you need to know and do in the garden. Remove yourself easily if this just isn't right for you. Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *