The old year ends with Cambridge under snow.
The world in winter like the Moon in spring
Unyieldingly gives off a grey-blue glow.
An icy laminate caps everything.
Christmas looks Merry if you wish it so.
One strives to hark the Herald Angels sing,
But at each brief hiatus in the feast
A bitter wind howls sadly from the east.
In Poland now the only Santa Claus
Is General Jaruzelski looking grim.
With Solidarity a brave lost cause
There is no father figure except him.
His overall demeanour gives one pause.
Nor are peace prospects really made less dim
By Ronald Reagan recommending firm
Measures that make his Nato allies squirm.
Snow falls again. The atmosphere turns white.
The airfields of East Anglia are socked in.
The atom bombers will not fly tonight.
Tonight the Third World War will not begin.
There’s so much concentrated heat and light
Stored around here that if they pulled the pin
The British Isles would be volatilised.
Even the dons would be a bit surprised.
One theory says the Polish Army acted
Only to stop the Russians doing worse.
So clumsily to have a tooth extracted
By family friends calls forth a garbled curse,
But left too long the fang will get impacted
And you won’t like the dentist or his nurse.
At least – the pun’s not just weak but emetic –
Get the job done with local anaesthetic.
Such reasoning is comfortable like us
But soon there are dark rumours to belie it.
The fact the coup has led to far more fuss
Than they say, you can tell when they deny it.
Here in the West we have much to discuss
Beyond the danger to a healthy diet.
You like the thin mints? Try the orange sticks.
Has anybody seen the walnut picks?
Most of the Poles have not got much to eat.
Their democratic leaders have still less.
A cold and cruel and long-drawn-out defeat
Must be the price they pay for small success.
They bucked a system that they could not beat
Which reasserts itself through their distress.
White flakes may decorate the searchlight beams –
The barbed wire is exactly what it seems.
Those men and women braver than the brave
Penned in the open air are telling you
It’s better to risk death than be a slave –
Something you thought that you already knew.
And yet to stick together till the grave –
Could we do that if that’s what it came to?
One’s rather glad one’s not cast as a hero
Out there tonight at twenty below zero.
The turkey carcass and Brazil-nut shells
And mandarin rinds fill the pedal bin.
The ice-rimmed church and college chapel bells
Stiffly combine to call the New Year in.
The snow melts and in London the Thames swells
As once the lake lapped Tantalus’s chin,
But as I leave the usual filthy train
I guess that the embankments took the strain,
Or else my book-lined eyrie near St Paul’s
Would look down on a city rather like
Venice or Amsterdam plus waterfalls
Cascading over many a broken dike.
There’d be ducks nesting in the choir stalls
Of Clement Dane’s, and people would catch pike
(With suitably refined outbursts of joy)
From windows at the back of the Savoy.
But there is nothing underfoot save slush
Compounded from crushed ice, old snow and dirt.
Your wellies slurp and gurgle in the mush.
Spat by a taxi wheel the stuff can spurt
Up from the street in one exultant gush
To inundate you where you stand inert.
You might think you’ve been struck blind but don’t worry:
It’s just your eyes are full of ice-cold curry.
Schmidt goes to Washington and tells the Yanks
That while his Germany might still be Jerry
The Russians are not Tom and have large tanks
Whose side-effects it can take weeks to bury.
Therefore he is reluctant to give thanks
For Reagan’s speeches, which to him seem very
Naive, as if designed to aggravate
The blind intransigence they castigate.