Tuesday Poem: The Ice Cart by Wilfred Gibson

Perched on my city office-stool,
 I watched with envy, while a cool
 And lucky carter handled ice. . . .
 And I was wandering in a trice,
 Far from the grey and grimy heat
 Of that intolerable street,
 O'er sapphire berg and emerald floe,
 Beneath the still, cold ruby glow
 Of everlasting Polar night,
 Bewildered by the queer half-light,
 Until I stumbled, unawares,
 Upon a creek where big white bears
 Plunged headlong down with flourished heels
 And floundered after shining seals
 Through shivering seas of blinding blue.
 And as I watched them, ere I knew,
 I'd stripped, and I was swimming too,
 Among the seal-pack, young and hale,
 And thrusting on with threshing tail,
 With twist and twirl and sudden leap
 Through crackling ice and salty deep -
 Diving and doubling with my kind,
 Until, at last, we left behind
 Those big, white, blundering bulks of death,
 And lay, at length, with panting breath
 Upon a far untravelled floe,
 Beneath a gentle drift of snow -
 Snow drifting gently, fine and white,
 Out of the endless Polar night,
 Falling and falling evermore
 Upon that far untravelled shore,
 Till I was buried fathoms deep
 Beneath the cold white drifting sleep -
 Sleep drifting deep,
 Deep drifting sleep. . . .

 The carter cracked a sudden whip:
 I clutched my stool with startled grip.
 Awakening to the grimy heat
 Of that intolerable street.

Copyright Wilfred Gibson, 1872-1962

Drowning in the intense heat that is covering Italy at the moment, I keep thinking of ice and polar bears and cool places.  Can't sleep, don't feel like eating, don't have the energy to do anything, except in the middle of the night when it's cooler.  So, when it came to choosing a Tuesday Poem, this one came instantly to mind.  My cousin Jean had to learn it by heart for school and I remember one summer holiday when she kept repeating it over and over - can't read the poem now without hearing her fourteen year old voice reciting it.

Wilfred Gibson isn't much known now, but he was born in Hexham, near where I live in England, and, though he left as an adult and went to London, he spent most of his life writing about Northumberland (check out The Kielder Stone). He was a friend of Rupert Brooke and Edwin Muir and he's currently labelled a 'Georgian' poet and rather overlooked.

The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to post a poem every Tuesday and take turns to edit the main website.  Check us out on this link. 


  1. I love the freshness of the imagination in this poem. from an office stool to swimming with the seals.And the polar bears plunging headlong down with flourished heels. That's so how it is but would never of thought to use the word flourished!The It's been rather chilly in NZ but I think I prefer that to a heatwave. Hope it ends soon.

    1. Thanks Helen - it has been so hot they're calling it the 'Days of Fire' here. Over 40 and rising. I would happily join the polar bears!

  2. Never seen this poem before but I love it! Vivid images come to mind.

  3. Hello Kathleen. This is a terrific poem, isn't it? I recently had a wonderful encounter with a woman who at 100 years old could remember and recite this in its entirety. She had me utterly spellbound.

  4. This poem brings back memories of my last year at school at water Street Bollington Mr Macclesfield.

  5. It is quite strange sitting here in the hills of Spain, and suddenly remembering this poem. I recall sitting in class at school in Holborn, London during WW11 at the tender age of 8, when the headmaster of this Victorian built establishment came into the somewhat dingey and dark classroom. It was indeed incredibly hot too and we were all feeling sleepy, due in part to having spent the night in an air-raid shelter. He appreciated this and told us to open our poetry books and turn to a page where this wonderful poem was hiding. He read it out to us and our imaginations ran riot. Far from the sweltering heat of London and away from the sirens and bombs. We were commanded to learn this poem by heart and now, some 75 years later, I often recite it to myself and have great pleasure in remembering it. In modern terms, really cool !

  6. My favorite peom in school. Had to recite every word to score on the oral exams. It is like meditating during the hot humid days of summer to escape the oppressive heat.


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