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

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
To Thomas Pennant, Esquire.

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

1When day declining sheds a milder gleam,
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,
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:
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;
25To see the feeding bat glance through the wood;
26To catch the distant falling of the flood;
28Through the still gloom protracts his chattering song;"
29While high in air, and pois'd upon his wings,
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;
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,
I am , & c.

Notes

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.). Back to Line
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.). Back to Line
7] curlew: "Charadrius Oedicnemus" (note in 1813 edn.) Back to Line
13] Amusive: interesting, intriguing. Back to Line
23] dorr: bumble-bee. Back to Line
24] cricket: "Gryllus campestris" (note in 1813 edn.). Back to Line
27] churn-owl: "The Goatsucker or Night-Jar; called also Jarr Owl" (OED). Back to Line
30] woodlark: "In hot summer nights woodlarks soar to a prodigious height, and hang singing in the air" (note in 1813 edn.). Back to Line
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.) Back to Line
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. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1795
Publication Notes: 
A Naturalist's Calendar (London: B. and J. White, 1795): 148-49 (Martin, p. 99).
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
2001