I follow you downhill to the edge my feet taking as naturally as yours To a sideways tread, finding footholds Easily in the turf, accustomed As we are to a sloping country.
The cliffs buttress the bay's curve to the north And here drop sheer and sudden to the sea The choughs plummet from sight then ride The updraught of the cliff's mild yellow Light, fold, fall with closed wings for the sky.
At the last moment as in unison they turn A ripcord of the wind is pulled in time. He gives her food and the saliva Of his red mouth, draws her black feathers, sweet As shining grass across his bill.
Rare birds that pair for life. There they go Divebombing the marbled wave a yard Above the spray. Wings flick open A stoop away From the drawn teeth of the sea.
by Gillian Clarke from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer) (1978)
Additional information: While the chough‘s black plumage identifies it as a crow, the chough (pronounced ‘chuff’) has a red bill and legs unlike any other member of the crow family. It is restricted to the west of the British Isles.
It readily displays its mastery of flight with wonderful aerial displays of diving and swooping. This Schedule 1 species can be found in flocks in autumn and winter.
‘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 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 church is like the prow Of a smoky ship, moving On the down channel currents To the open sea. A stone
Figurehead, the flowing light Streams from it. From everywhere You can see Top Church, remote As high church is from chapel.
Church high on the summit Of the climbing town Where I was a child, where rain Runs always slantingly
On streets like tilted chutes Of grey sliding on all sides From the church, to sea and dock, To shopping streets and home.
Bresting the cloud, its stone Profile of an ancient priest Preaches continuity In the face of turning tides.
by Gillain Clarke from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)
Information: St Augustine’s Church is a Grade I listed Gothic Revival nineteenth-century parish church in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales. Wales has, historically, had a strong chapel community in the valleys where small community cogregations, with their lay preachers, were far more common than larger organised churches.
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.
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.