But things are not all that bleak. The sun has passed through its lowest arc. The longest night is behind us. Things are afoot in the heavens. Dorothy Wordsworth wrote this in another season, but it seems apt now: "The crooked arm of the old oak tree points upwards to the moon." Dorothy Wordsworth, journal entry for March 24, 1798, The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals (edited by Pamela Woof) (Oxford University Press 2002), page 150.
"Skating on the K.s' pond last night after eating too much ham. Eight-thirty. Many stars. No moon. Orion's sword and girdle brilliant and all the other constellations whose names I have forgotten or never knew. I am reminded of my youth and its skating ponds, of the ardor for strength, courage, and purpose excited in me then by the starlight. It is nearly the same. My feelings may be less ardent, the stars seem to burn more tenderly these days, but my openmouthed delight in finding them hung above the dark ice is no less."
John Cheever, in Robert Gottlieb (editor), The Journals of John Cheever (Alfred A. Knopf 1991), page 88.
Richard Eurich, "The Frozen Tarn" (1940)
Although I was never much of a skater during my childhood in Minnesota, I can still recall the lakes being turned into skating rinks in the winter. My fondest memories are of those lakes at night: a black expanse overhead; the sound of the slicing skates. (There is another thread in the pattern as well: my maternal grandparents first met while skating on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis.)
So through the darkness and the cold we flew,
And not a voice was idle; with the din,
Meanwhile, the precipices rang aloud,
The leafless trees, and every icy crag
Tinkled like iron, while the distant hills
Into the tumult sent an alien sound
Of melancholy, not unnoticed, while the stars,
Eastward, were sparkling clear, and in the west
The orange sky of evening died away.
Not seldom from the uproar I retired
Into a silent bay, or sportively
Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng,
To cut across the image of a star
That gleam'd upon the ice: and oftentimes
When we had given our bodies to the wind,
And all the shadowy banks, on either side,
Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning still
The rapid line of motion; then at once
Have I, reclining back upon my heels,
Stopp'd short, yet still the solitary Cliffs
Wheeled by me, even as if the earth had roll'd
With visible motion her diurnal round;
Behind me did they stretch in solemn train
Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watch'd
Till all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep.
William Wordsworth, The Prelude (1805 manuscript), Book I, lines 465-489, in Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (editors), The Prelude (Oxford University Press 1959), page 28.
"As if the earth had roll'd/With visible motion her diurnal round" brings to mind "roll'd round in earth's diurnal course" from "A slumber did my spirit seal," which was written in the same year as the passage quoted above.
David Macbeth Sutherland (1883-1973)
"Winter Landscape, West Cults, Aberdeen" (1940)
A dome of darkness overhead. Dark depths below. Between the two, skaters curving on a sheet of ice. The poetic possibilities are obvious. (More so than, say, ice-fishing. Although ice-fishing does have its charms.)
The Midnight Skaters
The hop-poles stand in cones,
The icy pond lurks under,
The pole-tops steeple to the thrones
Of stars, sound gulfs of wonder;
But not the tallest there, 'tis said,
Could fathom to this pond's black bed.
Then is not death at watch
Within those secret waters?
What wants he but to catch
Earth's heedless sons and daughters?
With but a crystal parapet
Between, he has his engines set.
Then on, blood shouts, on, on,
Twirl, wheel and whip above him,
Dance on this ball-floor thin and wan,
Use him as though you love him;
Court him, elude him, reel and pass,
And let him hate you through the glass.
Edmund Blunden, English Poems (1925).
Ronald George Lampitt (1906-1988), "Skating By Moonlight"