I looked out of the window this morning and thought of Andrew Young.
I had Young’s poem ‘Hard Frost’ off by heart when I was fifteen. Now only the first line sticks in my head, and that’s the line that came to mind as I surveyed the white roofs of houses and sheds, the powdery neatness of the privet hedges— : ‘Frost called to water, Halt!’
When I learned this poem, I didn't know Young was still alive. I thought all poets were dead. According to the Wikipedia page I’ve linked to above, he got the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1952, the year before I was born. Since 1952 was the first year of Queen Elizabeth’s long reign (60th anniversary of her coronation next year), he must have been the first poet to get the Queen’s medal. It existed before that – since 1933, in fact – but it was just The Gold Medal in those days, not The Queen’s. Is this interesting? Probably not.
Young was an interesting man, though. He was a Scottish poet-clergyman who started off as a died-in-the-wool Georgian, writing as A J Young. Later he turned himself into ‘Andrew Young’ (1933) when he achieved what he considered his mature style: by this time he was 50. (Ruth Pitter did something a little similar, though she was in her thirties when she abandoned her earlier works).
Young is a nature poet. He wrote an enormous number of poems and I confess I only know a few of them. I love ‘The Stockdoves’, with its magnificent half-rhyming of ‘over’ and ‘lover’ at the end.
Meanwhile, here is ‘Hard Frost’ (because it is, today, in Scotland, just that, though not such a deep frost or as cold a winter as when Young wrote this.)
.......Frost called to water Halt!
.......And crusted the moist snow with sparkling salt;
.......Brooks, their own bridges, stop,
.......And icicles in long stalactites drop,
.......And tench in water-holes
.......Lurk under gluey glass like fish in bowls.
.......In the hard-rutted lane
.......At every footstep breaks a brittle pane,
.......And tinkling trees ice-bound,
.......Changed into weeping-willows, sweep the ground;
.......Dead boughs take root in ponds
.......And ferns on windows shoot their ghostly fronds.
.......But vainly the fierce frost
.......Interns poor fish, ranks trees in an armed host,
.......Hangs daggers from house-eaves
.......And on the windows ferny ambush weaves;
.......In the long war grown warmer
.......The sun will strike him dead and strip his armour.