The Ice Palace

William Cowper

(From The Task, Book V)


LESS worthy of applause, though more admired,

Because a novelty, the work of man,

Imperial mistress of the fur-clad Russ,

Thy most magnificent and mighty freak,

The wonder of the North. No forest fell

When thou wouldst build; no quarry sent its stores

To enrich thy walls; but thou didst hew the floods,

And make thy marble of the glassy wave.

In such a palace Aristæus found

Cyrene, when he bore the plaintive tale

Of his lost Bees to her maternal ear:

In such a palace Poetry might place

The armory of Winter; where his troops,

The gloomy clouds, find weapons, arrowy sleet,

Skin-piercing volley, blossom-bruising hail,

And snow, that often blinds the traveller’s course,

And wraps him in an unexpected tomb.

Silently as a dream the fabric rose;

No sound of hammer or of saw was there:

Ice upon ice, the well-adjusted parts

Were soon conjoined, nor other cement asked

Than water interfused to make them one.

Lamps gracefully disposed, and of all hues,

Illumined every side: a watery light

Gleamed through the clear transparency, that seemed

Another moon new risen, or meteor fallen

From heaven to earth, of lambent flame serene.

So stood the brittle prodigy; though smooth

And slippery the materials, yet frost-bound

Firm as a rock. Nor wanted aught within,

That royal residence might well befit

For grandeur or for use. Long wavy wreaths

Of flowers, that feared no enemy but warmth,

Blushed on the panels. Mirror needed none

Where all was vitreous; but, in order due,

Convivial table and commodious seat

(What seemed, at least, commodious seat) were there;

Sofa and couch and high-built throne august.

The same lubricity was found in all:

And all was moist to the warm touch; a scene

Of evanescent glory,—once a stream,

And soon to slide into a stream again.