Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: James Balog Reads ‘Ice Diamonds’

A poetic ode to the stunning pieces of glacier ice he saw washing up on a beach in Iceland.

A Poet a Day: James Balog Reads 'Ice Diamonds'

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.”
— Bill Moyers

Photographer James Balog reads aloud “Ice Diamonds,” his poetic ode to stunning pieces of glacier ice he saw washing up on a beach in Iceland while filming his 2014 documentary film Chasing Ice.

“Ice Diamonds”

By James Balog

Time, pressure, atoms.
Carbon turns to diamonds below ground.
Ice turns to diamonds above.
Water and waves,
the jewelers carving tools,
meet the last surviving fragments
of a great glacier in Iceland.

Bergs get smaller and smaller and smaller.

Grey green sea washes broken ice
onto a midnight beach.
The tide ebbs.
Polished, no diamond like its neighbor,
they are one-of-a-kind sculptures
made by nature never to be repeated.
In six hours the tide returns.
Fingers of sea foam greedily steal the jewels.
Beneath aurora borealis,
in phosphorescent waves,
the legacy of millennia floats into the North Atlantic.
One melting drop at a time,
the diamonds add their mortal bodies
to the ever rising tide of the great global ocean.

And then, they are gone.

Watch Bill’s entire interview with photographer James Balog from our video archive.

James Balog has been a leader in the field of nature photography for three decades. In 2007, after years of traveling to work in such varied landscapes as African savannahs and the Himalayas, Balog founded the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), the largest ground-based photographic survey of the world’s glaciers ever conducted. The project is dedicated to documenting the increasingly rapid melting of the glaciers in the Arctic and other areas.

Balog’s work with EIS has been featured in two issues of National Geographic, and was the focus of the 2009 NOVA documentary “Extreme Ice.” A feature-length documentary about Balog and EIS, “Chasing Ice,”  premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012