The temperature dipped into the twenties in the Berkshires the other night, and we woke to a world glazed in white. Though beautiful from the window, up close you could see the devastation wreaked on anything still growing: shriveled stalks and drooping heads. Each hard frost is like a stroke — a shock to nature’s cellular system — and this one seemed to be the final blow.
The crystalline skies the night before actually served as something of a frost warning. Without a blanket of cloud cover, ground heat dissipates into the heavens leaving surfaces exposed to the cooler air. And frost forms when the temperature at ground level sinks below the freezing point of water.
Here’s a brilliant poem on the subject by the British poet and Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972), perhaps better known these days as the father of the actor Daniel Day-Lewis.
A Hard Frost
by C. Day-Lewis
A frost came in the night and stole my world
And left this changeling for it – a precocious
Image of spring, too brilliant to be true:
White lilac on the window-pane, each grass-blade
Furred like a catkin, maydrift loading the hedge.
The elms behind the house are elms no longer
But blossomers in crystal, stems of the mist
That hangs yet in the valley below, amorphous
As the blind tissue whence creation formed.
The sun looks out and the fields blaze with diamonds
Mockery spring, to lend this bridal gear
For a few hours to a raw country maid,
Then leave her all disconsolate with old fairings
Of aconite and snowdrop! No, not here
Amid this flounce and filigree of death
Is the real transformation scene in progress,
But deep below where frost
Worrying the stiff clods unclenches their
Grip on the seed and lets
The future breathe.