Carcanet, £9.95 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Ice, By Gillian Clarke

Two harsh winters, 60 years apart, frame this pastoral elegy from Wales's national poet.

January to mid-March 1947: the Big Freeze. Blizzards engulf a bankrupt post-war Britain. Schoolgirl Gillian Clarke awakens in a Pembrokeshire countryside where no birds sing. Drifts block roads and railways. One quarter of Britain's sheep are about to die. Gillian gazes through panes imprinted with ice-ferns. Coal can't get to power stations: the nation's lights go out. On Gillian's hearth, the polar bear rug rears up thrillingly in its original Arctic magnificence. Food shortage looms. Gillian shivers as she hears of a child's frozen corpse on the road. In mid-March come thaw, flooding, gales.

December 2009-10: this so-called "Big Freeze" is less apocalyptic than hypnotic. There's transport disruption, school closure, power failure. Wales's national poet, Gillian Clarke, awakens in her Ceredigion home to find that something strange has happened to time. It is suspended; it runs back. She is again the little girl who observed the milk that "stood stunned" on doorsteps in 1947; she's "dreaming on the white bear's shoulder" in a rueful ecstasy of recidivism - the rug rearing up to be bear again, before the bullet felled it. As long as the snow lasts, she's haunted.

Ice is partly pastoral elegy, partly georgic. Clarke farms in Ceredigion and we see in these poems her "carry hay/ to twelve ewes waiting hungry at the gates". After the thaw, she and her partner lure a ewe indoors, dangling her newborn lambs ahead, "their hearts in our hands". The art of husbandry is a work forever in progress like the labour of the compassionate imagination.

In the beautiful "White Nights", Clarke recalls that her house was once Marged's – Marged Blaen Cwrt, who lived and died there a century ago, eking existence in conditions of extremity: "hay-dust, cold, the sickness in her lungs, the knell/ of the cow lowing to be milked, kicking its stall". Clarke has always had a sensitive feel for line-placement and assonantal rhyme: "knell" and "stall", linked by half-rhyme lament for both woman and creature. The cow that sustains Marged relies on her for life.

Ice mourns the ruined farmsteads in the depopulated Ceredigion countryside, "Gone,/ rooms of daughters, a croglofft of five sons, /ovens of baking bread, cauldrons of cawl". Poems movingly commemorate creaturely life – grebes, shearwaters, an old dog, a male swan whose mate has died in the freeze.

The collection is a kind of seasonal "Shepherd's Calendar", tending, as calendars must, toward a new "Year's Midnight": "and the ice melts/ and the seas rise". Spenser wrote in his November eclogue, "All Musick sleeps, where Death doth lead the Daunce". Pastoral elegy immemorially laments, not only waste and destruction in mortal nature, but also the premature sacrifice of human voice and poetry. In 1947, news of the ice-girl's end aroused in the prescient young Gillian a sense of "her china inkwell emptied of its words,/ the groove for her pen like a shallow grave".

Stevie Davies's latest novel is 'Into Suez' (Parthian)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers