The Poetry & Science of Ice and Fire


On Tuesday under greyer skies, our Summer Course, The Ice and the Fire: Empowering Hearts and Minds continues with undiminished enthusiasm.


In the morning after singing, Richard Skinner, poet and long-time course member, astonished us with a poem on the theme of Ice and Fire: a villanelle, no less, a demanding form requiring the fire of inspiration to be concentrated into an icy grip of structure.

The ice and the fire

The ice and the fire, the fire and the ice,
Shaping the psyche for the sacred task,
Guardians of the gates of paradise.

They strip from the soul all virtue and vice,
Eradicate every vestige of mask:
The ice and the fire, the fire and the ice.

No less than everything is their price
For answering the questions you came to ask
Of the guardians of the gates of paradise.

So very few make the full sacrifice
Of creative chaos in the alembic’s flask,
With the ice and the fire, the fire and the ice.

Only the trusting who will not think twice
Of baring their breast, consigning their casque
To the guardians of the gates of paradise

Shall discover their soul alone to suffice
In obtaining the wholeness with which to unmask
The ice in the fire, the fire in the ice
Of the guardians of the gates of paradise.

Richard Skinner 2016

(a casque is a type of helmet)

Today’s  lecture, “On the Language of Ice and the Fingerprints of Fire” was a tour de force.  Dr. Tamsin Edwards is  a proper scientist, lecturing in Environmental Science for the Open University.  Refreshingly her blog is called All Models are Wrong.

There is another poignant connection between Tamsin and the Champernowne Summer Course. Her late father Michael Edwards, a significant figure in the development of arts-based therapies in the UK, was associated with the Course from its inception in 1972, and for many years a workshop leader and later our Course Director.  Old hands here hold him in  the greatest affection and esteem.

Tamsin began her talk with a quotation from her father’s last talk as Course Director:

“The arts and sciences, in their capacity to draw new images

into our lives, continuously bring metaphors to our attention.”

She then took us on an astonishing tour of the inner structure of ice, its myriad forms and their intriguing names –

frazil ice, Nilas ice, young grey ice, growlers, bergy bits, dry-dock ice,  its role as protector and regulator on larger and smaller scales, and as as historical record over millennia

Her talk ended with a review of fire in nature from the brilliance and intensity of the sun, to the frightening magnificence of volcanic eruption and culminating with the startling image of ice on fire –


Brennender Eiswuerfel

methane clathrate — also known as fire ice

The ice in the fire, the fire in the ice

In a talk rich with images and the intriguing sounds of ice – growling, shrieking, groaning,  we also saw computer models of the glacial flows across Antartica, art work from a project where primary school children collaborated with climate scientists, while Coleridge and JMW Turner made their appearance alongside  images of the extremes of the natural world.

The end of the talk was greeted with a significant moment of appreciative silence and then a wave of applause remarkable in my (quite long) experience of this most generous of audiences.

The evening was given over to a rich variety of course members’ presentations on their current work or studies including:

  • Research on Trauma
  • A slavic fire dance
  • Life in the Ukraine; reflecting on the significance of the 2014 Course on professional work.
  • An Exploration of Children’s Dreams in British Schools
  • Beginners’ I Ching
  • Body Awareness and Therapeutic Self-care



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fire ice

Dr. Tamsin Edwards:

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