Ode to Crystallization

John Updike

The atom is a crystal
of a sort; the lattices
its interlockings form
lend a planarity most pleasing
to the abysses and cliffs, much magnified,
of (for example) salt and tourmaline.
Arise order,
out of necessity!
Mock, you crystals,
with all appearance of chiselled design,
our hope of a Grand Artificer.
The graceful, layered frost-ferns the midnight elves
left on the Shillington windowpanes
for my morning astonishment were misinformation,
as is
the glittering explosion of tinted quartz
discovered in earth like a nugget of thought,
buried evidence
crying out for release to the workman's pick,
tangled hexagonal hair of an angel interred
where it fell, our earth still molten, in the Fall.

When, on those anvils at the center of stars,
and those even more furious anvils
of the exploding supernovae,
the heavy elements were beaten together
to the atomic number of 94
and the crystalline metals with their easily lost
valence electrons arose,
their malleability and conductivity
made Assyrian goldsmithing possible
and most of New York City.

Stendhal thought that love
should be likened to a bare branch crystallized
by a winter in the depths of the salt mines of Hallein:
"The tiniest twigs, no bigger
than a tomtit's claw, are spangled with an infinite
number of shimmering, glistening crystals."
Our mathematics and hope of Heaven
alike look to crystals;
their arising, the mounting
of molecules one upon the other, suggests
that inner freezing whereby inchoate
innocence compresses a phrase of art.
Music rises in its fixed lattices
and its cries of aspiration chill our veins
with snowflakes of blood;
the mind grapples up an inflexible relation
and the stiff spheres chime--
themselves, the ancients thought, all crystal.
In this seethe of hot muck there is something else:
the ribs of an old dory emerge from the sand,
the words set their bevelled bite on the page,
the loved one's pale iris flares in silent assent,
the electrons leap, leaving positive ions
as the fish scales of moonlight show us water's perfect dance.
Steno's Law, crystallography's first:
the form of crystal admits no angle but its own.