About the Fire.

When Summer’s roseate couch is stript,
And Autumn’s frost our garner fills,
And Winter lifts his hoary head
Above the bare-browed northern hills;
When gables quaint and sloping eaves
Are hung with ornaments of ice,
And window panes traced o’er and o’er
With tree, and flower, and strange device;
When lane and paddock for awhile
Are carpeted with virgin snow,
And truant feet betray themselves
When from the beaten path they go;
How pleasant ‘tis to draw one’s chair
About the fire as night descends;
And cosy con some favorite page,
Or joy of putting thoughts in rhyme.
Ere we joined the field of fight,
To battle for our daily bread,
Or learned how oft fair truth is crushed
Beneath the money-seeker’s tread.
The table cleared, the candles trimmed,
And wife’s accustomed corner ta’en,
From joke to anecdote we slip-
From grave to gay, from land to main.
We wander ‘neath a burning sun,
With Bruce, or Park, or Livingstone;
With Ross or hapless Franklin track
The ice wastes of the frigid zone.
A pause: Song now becomes the theme,
We dwell on Milton’s sacred lay,
Seek Shelley in his mystic flight,
Or Keats, who died while yet the bay
His brow had won was being wove;
Then list while Tennyson doth fling
Rare notes upon the wind, and then
Take freshening draughts from Browning’s spring.
Thus lured by pleasantries, Old Time
Glides swiftly on: at length we start
To find how late it is – shake hands,
And grieve that we’re compelled to part.
Then, while ye sing to verdant Spring,
Of summer with her birds and flowers –
And Autumn’s fruitage, add a strain
To Winter, for his social hours.

Title:About the Fire.


Publication:Preston Guardian

Published in:

Date:February 8th 1862

Keywords:domesticity, education, poverty


This skilled and subtle poem celebrates the power of literature, particularly poetry, and recognises its worth to the working classes. In particular the season of winter is seen to be when intellectual pursuits are prevalent and the general picture painted is one of a pleasant, peaceful home. However, the fifth stanza stands in stark contrast and might well be a reference to the onset of the Cotton Famine. Its inclusion suggests that the rest of the poem is retrospective, and that the ‘battle for our daily bread’ interrupts home learning and education. There is perhaps a subtle message to the middle classes here on behalf of the labouring class: that economic hardship, amongst many other effects, retards the self-improvement of the poor which their ‘betters’ have been actively promoting. – SR