‘Now Winter Nights Enlarge’ by Thomas Campion is a two stanza poem that is separated into sets of twelve lines. These stanzas both conform to a structured and consistent rhyme scheme of ababcdcdefef, changing from stanza to stanza according to the poet’s chosen end words.
A reader should also take note of the variation in the indentations used in this piece. Every other line, depending on the rhyme, is spaced in further. This forces a reader to move back and forth between the lines, increasing engagement and visual interest.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that the night is growing longer. It brings with it an increased cloud cover and a new covering of snow that comes down from the “airy towers” in the sky. While this might seem rather stark, the following lines provide a contrast with the poet’s speaker describing how this time of year brings people closer. There is a joy to be had in the warmth and wine.
In the next section, he states that this is no time for useless words and actions. The coming winter puts these impulses to the side in favor of more important needs. In the final section, the speaker does make room for beauty, it and other actions, such as the “smooth” reading of poetry are always going to be important. The poem concludes with a recognition of the joys to be had in both summer and winter. As well as an understanding that there will always be tedious nights to live through.
Analysis of Now Winter Nights Enlarge
Now winter nights enlarge
This number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o’erflow with wine,
Let well-tuned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by stating that the seasons have now come to the period in which the “winter nights enlarge.” The year is coming to an end and the days are getting longer and darker. The sun rises and sets later every day with the hours in-between shrinking. In the following lines, the speaker describes how the weather patterns change as well.
The storm clouds, which have begun to gather in greater number since winter began, are “discharg[ing their “storms” from the sky. This is a reference to both rain and snow which are newly falling. The precipitation comes from up “Upon the airy towers” of clouds in the sky.
In the next section, the speaker moves away from the sky down to the houses and how they change due to the season. There are “chimneys” now ablaze with fire and “cups” overflowing “with wine.” This speaker is making clear that the freezing and less than acclimate weather is accompanied by an interior warmth and cozy environment.
In addition to the warmth and wine, there is also conversation. This scene is not a solitary one. They speak “well-tuned words” which “amaze” in their “divine” harmonies.
In the last four lines of the stanza, the speaker describes the setting of the sun and the process of falling asleep. All of ones thoughts, even the most glorious are swept away by “Sleep’s leaden spell.” One will not think of “youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights,” only the warmth and blindness of sleep will prevail. This is related to the way in which the darker and colder days increase one’s focus on the present rather than a dream-like future.
This time doth well dispense
With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defense,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well:
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys
They shorten tedious nights.
In the second stanza, the speaker moves on to describe what else this time of year changes. It transforms the way that lovers regard one another. It “dispense[s] with” the long “discourse” which is usually exchanged. Their words are cut short, their speeches limited. There is less time, and desire, for hours of pointless talk. This fact returns the reader to a darker image of winter. There are moments are warmth and togetherness, but many more moments of concern for the future.
In the next section, the speaker backtracks a bit on his previous statement. He does not mean to say that there is no reason for meaningful speech, but only some of it is defensible. There are only a very few things that are said which should be said.
In his next declaratory statement, the speaker states that “beauty” is one of the few things which has “no remorse.” It can exist, in any season under any circumstances, and still, be valuable. Over the next few lines, the speaker describes how when one acts, it is not always done well. He then proceeds to list out things which one might do, and how they can be done well or poorly.
There are “Some measures,” or actions, which are done well or “comely.” This is a word that was in common use throughout the 1800s and was used to describe something beautiful—usually a woman. Described more simply, this odd line refers to something done well or successfully, perhaps with grace or beauty. This is not always the case though. Often “knotted,” or confusing, “riddles” are told or, on the other hand, more positively, poems are read “smoothly.”
In the final four lines of this piece, the speaker concludes his description of winter as well as the instinctual emotions and necessary acts of those who experience it. He states that there are “joys” to be had in both summer and winter, but one must always be prepared for the short and “tedious” nights of winter.