St Thomas’s Day by Gillian Clarke

It's the darkest morning of the year.
Day breaks in water runnels
In the yard: a flutter
Of light on a tiled roof;
The loosening of night's
Stonehold on tap and bolt.

Rain on my face wakes me
From recent sleep.I cross
The yard, shovel bumping
In the barrow, fingers
Stiff as hinges.Catrin
Brings bran and fresh hay.

A snort in the dark, a shove
For supremacy.
My hands are warmed
In the steam of his welcome.
Midwinter, only here
Do the fields still summer,
Thistlehead and flower
Powdered by hoof and tooth.

by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a far country (1982)
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Miracle On St David’s Day by Gillian Clarke

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

from ‘The Daffodils’ by William 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 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.

By Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)


Gillian Clarke discussing and then reciting her poem ‘Miracle on St David’s Day’

Gillian remarks on her site: “All you need to know about this poem is that it is a true story. It happened in the ’70s, and it took me years to find a way to write the poem.

The Water-Diviner by Gillian Clarke

 His fingers tell water like prayer.
He hears its voice in the silence
through fifty feet of rock
on an afternoon dumb with drought.

Under an old tin bath, a stone,
an upturned can, his copper pipe
glints with discovery. We dip our hose
deep into the dark, sucking its dryness,

till suddenly the water answers,
not the little sound we know,
but a thorough bass too deep
for the naked ear, shouts through the hose

a word we could not say, or spell, or remember,
something like “dŵr... dŵr.”


by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)
Dŵr means 'water' in the Welsh language.

Sunday by Gillian Clarke

 Getting up early on a Sunday morning
leaving them sleep for the sake of peace,
the lunch pungent, windows open
for a blackbird singing in Cyncoed.
Starlings glistening in the gutter come
for seed. I let the cats in from the night,
their fur already glossed and warm with March.
I bring the milk, newspaper, settle here
in the bay of the window to watch people
walking to church for Mothering Sunday.
A choirboy holds his robes over his shoulder.
The cats jump up on windowsills to wash
and tremble at the starlings. Like peaty water
sun slowly fills the long brown room.
Opening the paper I admit to this
the water-shriek and starved stare
of a warning I can't name.


By Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)

Cyncoed is a community in the north of the city of Cardiff, capital of Wales. Located to the north east of the city, Cyncoed is one of the most affluent suburbs of Cardiff. It has some of the highest property prices in Wales. Cyncoed is a short distance from the city centre and boasts beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. It is also just a short walk from the well known Roath Park.

Suicide on Pentwyn Bridge by Gillian Clarke

I didn't know him,
the man who jumped from the bridge.
But I saw the parabola
of long-drawn-out falling in the brown

eyes of his wife week after week
at the supermarket cash-out.
We would quietly ask "How is he?"
hear of the hospital's white

care, the corridors between her
and the broken man in the bed,
and the doctors who had no words,
no common supermarket women's talk.

Only after the funeral
I knew how he'd risen, wild
from his chair and told her
he was going out to die.

Very slowly from the first leap
he fell through winter, through the cold
of Christmas, wifely silences,
the blue scare of ambulance,

from his grave on the motorway
to the hospital, two bridges down.
A season later in a slow cortège
he has reached the ground.

by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)

Pentwyn is a district, community and electoral ward in the east of Cardiff, Wales, located northeast of the city centre. Llanedeyrn is immediately to the south, Cyncoed to the west, Pontprennau to the north and the Rhymney River forms the eastern border.

This story of this poem is true albeit half heard from people talking about it and half learned from the local newspaper. The Pentwyn Bridge of the title carries a road over a dual carriageway in Cardiff. Asthe peom narrates a man told his terrified wife he was going out to kill himself. He jumped from the bridge and was severely injured then taken to hospital. Many months later, having never left hospital in the meantime, he finally died.

Friesian Bull by Gillian Clarke

He blunders through the last dream

of the night. I hear him, waking.

A brick and concrete stall, narrow

as a heifer’s haunches. Steel bars

between her trap and his small yard.

A froth of slobbered hay droops

from the stippled muzzle. In the slow

rolling mass of his skull his eyes

surface like fish bellies.

 

He is chained while they swill his floor.

His stall narrows to rage. He knows

the sweet smell of a heifer’s fear.

Remembered summer haysmells reach him,

a trace of the herd’s freedom, clover-

loaded winds. The thundering seed

blows up the Dee breathing of plains,

of cattle wading in shallows.

His crazy eyes churn with their vision.

 

By Gillian Clarke

from Letters from a Far Country (1982)


Fun fact: The River Dee (Welsh: Afon Dyfrdwy, Latin: Deva Fluvius) is a river in the United Kingdom. It flows through parts of both Wales and England, forming part of the border between the two countries.