Archive for Gillian Clarke

A Poem for St David’s Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on March 1, 2021 by telescoper

It’s St David’s Day today, and a lovely spring morning it is too, so I wish you all a big

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

The daffodils in my garden have come out in celebration, apart from the clump under the tree which are reluctant to emerge:

It has become a bit of a St David’s Day tradition on this this blog to post a piece of verse but instead of the more usual R.S. Thomas I thought I’d carry on with the theme of daffodils with this wonderfully moving poem by Gillian Clarke inspired by Wordsworth’s famous poem and called Miracle on St David’s Day:

‘They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude’

The Daffodils by W. Wordsworth

An afternoon yellow and open-mouthed
with daffodils. The sun treads the path
among cedars and enormous oaks.
It might be a country house, guests strolling,
the rumps of gardeners between nursery shrubs.

I am reading poetry to the insane.
An old woman, interrupting, offers
as many buckets of coal as I need.
A beautiful chestnut-haired boy listens
entirely absorbed. A schizophrenic

on a good day, they tell me later.
In a cage of first March sun a woman
sits not listening, not seeing, not feeling.
In her neat clothes the woman is absent.
A big, mild man is tenderly led

to his chair. He has never spoken.
His labourer’s hands on his knees, he rocks
gently to the rhythms of the poems.
I read to their presences, absences,
to the big, dumb labouring man as he rocks.

He is suddenly standing, silently,
huge and mild, but I feel afraid. Like slow
movement of spring water or the first bird
of the year in the breaking darkness,
the labourer’s voice recites ‘The Daffodils’.

The nurses are frozen, alert; the patients
seem to listen. He is hoarse but word-perfect.
Outside the daffodils are still as wax,
a thousand, ten thousand, their syllables
unspoken, their creams and yellows still.

Forty years ago, in a Valleys school,
the class recited poetry by rote.
Since the dumbness of misery fell
he has remembered there was a music
of speech and that once he had something to say.

When he’s done, before the applause, we observe
the flowers’ silence. A thrush sings
and the daffodils are flame.

On the Train

Posted in Poetry with tags on April 18, 2011 by telescoper

This poem was written by Gillian Clarke on a train in October 1999, the day after a terrible rail accident just outside London Paddington Station in which 31 people lost their lives.

Cradled through England between flooded fields
rocking, rocking the rails, my head-phones on,
the black box of my Walkman on the table.
Hot tea trembles in its plastic cup.
I’m thinking of you waking in our bed
thinking of me on the train. Too soon to phone.

The radio speaks in the suburbs, in commuter towns,
in cars unloading children at school gates,
is silenced in dark parkways down the line
before locks click and footprints track the frost
and trains slide out of stations in the dawn
dreaming their way towards the blazing bone-ship.

The vodaphone you are calling
may have been switched off.
Please call later. And calling later,
calling later their phones ring in the rubble
and in the rubble of suburban kitchens
the wolves howl into silent telephones.

I phone. No answer. Where are you now?
The train moves homeward through the morning
Tonight I’ll be home safe, but talk to me, please.
Pick up the phone. Today I’m tolerant
of mobiles. Let them say it. I’ll say it too.
Darling, I’m on the train.

Number 8

Posted in Poetry, Rugby with tags , , , on February 6, 2011 by telescoper

I was tidying up this morning. During this rare episode of fastidiousness, I picked up a book of poetry called A Recipe for Water by Gillian Clarke. Among the lovely poems in this collection are a few inspired by Wales’ Grand Slam in the 2005 Six Nations Rugby. This is one of them, called Number 8. For those of you who aren’t rugby fans, the Number 8 is one of the forwards, the one who plays at the back of the scrum. In fact, it’s the only position that doesn’t have a name (other than “Number 8”); Numbers 1 and 3 are the props, 2 is the hooker, 4 & 5 are the locks, 6 and 7 are the flankers, 9 is the scrum-half, 10 the fly-half, 12 and 13 the inside- and outside-centres respectively, 11 and 14 the wingers and 15 the full-back. But the Number 8 is just the Number 8…

The poem is beautifully descriptive of the classic “pick-and-go” move from a set scrum during which, instead of channelling the ball to the scrum-half, the Number 8 unbinds, picks up the ball and surges forward (usually on the blind side, away from the backs in the three-quarter line).

And sometimes he’ll slip the knot of the scrum
with the ball on his palm, and run with it
hand on heart, out of the mud and bone,

the way a lovely muscle of river
will loosen the branchy tangle
that blocks its way,

and making a break for it flow,
sleek and dangerous
over the weir.


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