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 !

    1. It's a wonderful poem! I think more poems should be learnt by heart. I loved your memories of the air-raid shelter. I envy you your warmth on the hills of Spain!

  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.

    1. My cousins had to learn it by heart. it's much more powerful in recitation than on the page.

  7. I remembered learning this poem 60 years ago but I remembered it incorrectly. I thought the alliteration was shivering seas of shining blue, not blinding blue. At the time my family did not have a refrigerator and butter etc was kept in a cold frame in the cellar. I could not understand how ice could be made and kept without defrosting to be be delivered to the city. I read about ice being kept under hay etc but still never understood how it did not melt in that intolerable heat.
    We used to have real winters when icicles formed and we would pull them off houses to lick on the way to school. Blue tits used to peck at the tinfoil lids on milk bottles to get at the cream which had expanded with the cold. No more. The cream content of milk is diluted, the winters are bereft of snow drifts and resultant chilblains and despite global warming the nights are not too hot to sleep. The seasons merge as one with rain and floods so glad the Ice Cart was written when it was because it is a lovely poem, conjuring such images that I can feel the heat and see the animals and feel the longing of the office worker. It could not be written today but it should be appreciated all the more.

    1. I remember the blue tits! Amazing, and a little bit alarming, how the weather has changed. Thanks for these memories.

  8. Just realized I would have learned this poem whilst the author was still alive. Edwina x

  9. Hi Kathleen

    Just to let you know that we will be reading The Ice Cart, by Wilfred Gibson, at our next Zoom Memory Cafe Poetry Group. (currently unable to hold Memory Cafes in person, due of course to Coronavirus!). The poem was chosen by a Cafe Goer, aged 89, who has always loved this poem. He'd worked in Leadenhall Street, and well remembers the atmosphere of hot days in the office!
    It was good to find the poem on your site, and we liked reading the comments by other readers.


  10. I too learned the poem at school in the 60s and never forgot the opening lines. Having sat on many stools in many offices without aircon I visualise the lucky carter handling the ice. I have always imagined that he would need some form of fork-bracket to lift it, and would not be able to actually touch it with his hands. Working in Insurance as a young guy I imagined that the 'city office stool' was in Lime street, near to Old Lloyds somewhere, or maybe at Leadenhall Market. Notwithstanding the lady of 100 who could recite it in its entirity, quite amazing that so many comments here reflect having learned it at school and never forgot it. (my spellcheck is set for German or French, hense the number of spelling mistakes - that's my excuse anyway)


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