J.H.Prynne: On the Matter of Thermal Packing


In the days of time now what I have
is the meltwater constantly round my feet
and ankles.  There the ice is glory to the
past and the eloquence, the gentility of
the world's being;  I have known this                          5
as a competence for so long that the
start is buried in light

	usual as the warm grass and shrubbery
	which should have been ancestral
	or still but was, then, bound like crystal             10
	into the last war.  There was a low
	drywall, formal steps

down I now see to the frozen water, with
whitened streaks and bands in it;
the same which, in New England, caused                         15
a total passion for skating, and how still
it all was

			the gentility of a shell, so
			     fragile, so beautifully
			shallow in the past; I                 20
				   hardly remember
			     the case hardened
					but brittle

constant to the eighteenth century or the
strictly English localism of moral candour,                    25
disposed in the copses of those fields
which bespoke easily that same lightness,
that any motion could be so much

			borne over the
			     top, skimming                     30
			not knowing the flicker
				  that joins
					I too

never knew who had lived there.  It was then
a school of sorts, we were out of the bombs                    35
I now do, I think, know that.  But the flow
so eloquently stopped, walking by the Golden
Fleece and the bus time-table

			("It is difficult
			     to say pre-                       40
			     cisely what
			     a habitable
			     country" -- A
			_ Theory of the Earth_                  45

	the days a nuclear part
	gently holding the skull or
	head, the skin porous to the
	eloquence of

where this was so far!  so ice-encased like                    50
resin that whiteness seemed no more, than
cloudy at that time.  The water-pattern is
highly asymmetric, bonding hardly as proof
against wealth, stability, the much-loved ice.

			Which I did love, if                   55
			     light in the field
			was frozen
					by wire
			     ploughed up, I
			did not know, that                     60
			     was the gentle
					reach of ignorance
			the waves, the

the forms frozen in familiar remoteness --                     65
they were then, and are closer now, as
they melt and rush into the spill-
ways: "one critical axis of the crystal
structure of ice remains dominant after
the melt" -- believe that?                                     70

	or live there, they would say in
	the shade I am now competent
	for, the shell still furled but
	some nuclear stream

			melted from it.                        75
			     The air plays
			on its crown, the
				  prince of life
					or its
			     patent, its                       80
			price.  The absent
			     sun (on the
	trees of the field) now does strike
			so gently
	on the whitened and uneven ice                         85
			sweet day so calm
	the glitter is the war now released,
	I hear the guns for the first time

Or maybe think so; the eloquence of melt
is however upon me, the path become a                          90
stream, and I lay that down
trusting the ice to withstand the heat; with
that warmth / ah some modest & gentle
	competence a man could live
	with so little                                         95

From The White Stones (1969), reprinted in Poems (1982). With grateful thanks to J.H.Prynne for his permission to reprint here.