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Short poem

Gilbert White (1720-1793)

On the Dark, Still, Dry Warm Weather, Occasionally Happening in the Winter Months

To Thomas Pennant, Esquire.

... equidem credo, quia sit divinitus illis
Virg., Georg.

              1When day declining sheds a milder gleam,
              2What time the may-fly haunts the pool or stream;
              3When the still owl skims round the grassy mead,
              4What time the timorous hare limps forth to feed;
              5Then be the time to steal adown the vale,
              6And listen to the vagrant cuckoo's tale;
              7To hear the clamorous curlew call his mate,
              8Or the soft quail his tender pain relate;
              9To see the swallow sweep the dark'ning plain
            10Belated, to support her infant train;
            11To mark the swift in rapid giddy ring
            12Dash round the steeple, unsubdu'd of wing:
            13Amusive birds! -- say where your hid retreat
            14When the frost rages and the tempests beat;
            15Whence your return, by such nice instinct led,
            16When spring, soft season, lifts her bloomy head?
            17Such baffled searches mock man's prying pride,
            18The God of Nature is your secret guide!
            19While deep'ning shades obscure the face of day
            20To yonder bench leaf-shelter'd let us stray,
            21'Till blended objects fail the swimming sight,
            22And all the fading landscape sinks in night;
            23To hear the drowsy dorr come brushing by
            24With buzzing wing, or the shrill cricket cry;
            25To see the feeding bat glance through the wood;
            26To catch the distant falling of the flood;
            27While o'er the cliff th'awakened churn-owl hung
            28Through the still gloom protracts his chattering song;"
            29While high in air, and pois'd upon his wings,
            30Unseen, the soft, enamour'd woodlark sings:
            31These, Nature's works, the curious mind employ,
            32Inspire a soothing melancholy joy:
            33As fancy warms, a pleasing kind of pain
            34Steals o'er the cheek, and thrills the creeping vein!
            35Each rural sight, each sound, each smell, combine;
            36The tinkling sheep-bell, or the breath of kine;
            37The new-mown hay that scents the swelling breeze,
            38Or cottage-chimney smoking through the trees.
            39The chilling night-dews fall: away, retire;
            40For see, the glow-worm lights her amorous fire!
            41Thus, ere night's veil had half obscur'd the sky,
            42Th'impatient damsel hung her lamp on high:
            43True to the signal, by love's meteor led,
            44Leander hasten'd to his Hero's bed.

I am , & c.


2] may-fly: "The angler's may-fly, the ephemera vulgata Linn. comes forth from it's aurelia state, and emerges out of the water about six in the evening, and dies about eleven at night, determining the date of it's fly state in about five or six hours. They usually begin to appear about the 4th of June, and continue in succession for near a fortnight. See Swammerdam, Derham, Scopoli, & c." (note in 1813 edn.).

6] vagrant cuckoo: "so called because, being tied down by no incubation or attendance about the nutrition of it's young, it wanders without control" (note in 1813 edn.).

7] curlew: "Charadrius Oedicnemus" (note in 1813 edn.)

13] Amusive: interesting, intriguing.

23] dorr: bumble-bee.

24] cricket: "Gryllus campestris" (note in 1813 edn.).

27] churn-owl: "The Goatsucker or Night-Jar; called also Jarr Owl" (OED).

30] woodlark: "In hot summer nights woodlarks soar to a prodigious height, and hang singing in the air" (note in 1813 edn.).

40] glow-worm: "The light of the female glow-worm (as she often crawls up the stalk of a grass to make herself more conspicuous) is a signal to the male, which is a slender dusky scarabæus" (note in 1813 edn.)

44] Leander ... Hero: Leander, a lover of Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite, swam each night the Hellespont from Abydos to Sestos, guided by a light she held up. When attempting the crossing in a storm, he drowned, Hero threw herself into the sea.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Gilbert White, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, in the County of Southampton. To Which are Added, The Naturalist's Calendar; Observations on Various Parts of Nature; and Poems, New Edn. (London: White, Cochrane, and others, 1813): 570-71. Facsimile edn., intro. P. G. M. Foster, The Ray Society, no. 160 (London: The Ray Society, 1993). QH 138 S4W5 1993b Gerstein Library
First publication date: 1795
Publication date note: A Naturalist's Calendar (London: B. and J. White, 1795): 148-49 (Martin, p. 99).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2001
Recent editing: 1:2002/4/30

Composition date: 1795
Form note: unrhyming iambic pentameter

Other poems by Gilbert White