Blaen Cwrt by Gillian Clarke

You ask how it is. I will tell you.

There is no glass. The air spins in

The stone rectangle. We warm our hands

With apple wood. Some of the smoke

Rises against the ploughed, brown field

As a sign to our neighbours in the

Four folds of the valley that we are in.

Some of the smoke seeps through the stones

Into the barn where it curls like fern

On the walls. Holding a thick root

I press my bucket through the surface

Of the water, lift it brimming and skim

The leaves away. Our fingers curl on

Enamel mugs of tea, like ploughmen.

The stones clear in the rain

Giving their colours. It’s not easy.

There are no brochure blues or boiled sweet

Reds. All is ochre and earth and cloud-green

Nettles tasting sour and the smells of moist

Earth and sheep’s wool. The wattle and daub

Chimney hood has decayed away, slowly

Creeping to dust, chalking the slate

Floor with stories. It has all the first

Necessities for a high standard

Of civilised living: silence inside

A circle of sound, water and fire,

Light on uncountable miles of mountain

From a big, unpredictable sky,

Two rooms, waking and sleeping,

Two languages, two centuries of past

To ponder on, and the basic need

To work hard in order to survive.

.

By Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer) 1978

.

Additional information:

When her children were young, Clarke bought and renovated an old, ruined small holding called Blaen Cwrt in Talgarreg, south Ceredigion, where she now lives, and which she often figures as her poetic ‘milltir sgwâr’ (square mile). […] Reminiscing on that time and that house as formative to the emergence of her poetic voice, Clarke recalls that ‘to “work hard” meant more than one thing. It’s both chopping wood, carrying water, and writing about it.’

Dr Siriol McAvoy, Gillian Clarke: My Box (A help-sheet for teachers) CREW: Centre for Research into the English Literature and Language of Wales, Swansea University, August 2018

Chalk Pebble by Gillian Clarke

The heels of the foetus knead
the stone's roundness out of shape,
downtreading flesh, distorting
the ellipses of the sphere.

It is unexpectedly
salty to touch, its texture
warmer, rougher, weightier
in my hand than I had thought.

Boisterous in its bone
cradle, a stone-breaker,
thief in its mother's orchard,
it is apple-round.

Here the navel
knots it from its chalk down;
there the pressure as the embryo
kicks against ribcage and hip.

The cicatrice of a flower
is printed on one of its
curved surfaces. I carry it
as I walk Glamorgan beaches,

a warm, strange thing to worry
with my fingers. The fossil locked
in its belly stirs, a tender
fresh upheaval of the stone.


by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (Gwasg Gomer, 1982)

Additional information: Since I am from the Glamorgan area I can recommend our shoreline with it’s cliffs formed of a combination of liassic limestone, shale and carboniferous sandstone/limestone as referenced by the Gillian Clarke in her poem.

There are many beaches along the coast but I can especially recommend, for anyone thinking of visiting the area, Ogmore Beach which is near the ruins of Ogmore Castle and the impressive Merthyr Mawr sand dunes.

However it’s very likely Gillian was referring to another beach along the Glamorgan coastline. Possibly, due to the reference to a fossilised foetus in the poem, it was St Donats Beach she was referring to as that is famed for having a number of fossils. If you do visit to look at the fossils please don’t take them.

Journey by Gillian Clarke

As far as I am concerned
We are driving into oblivion.
On either side there is nothing,
And beyond your driving
Shaft of light it is black.
You are a miner digging
For a future, a mineral
Relationship in the dark.
I can hear the darkness drip
From the other world where people
Might be sleeping, might be alive.

Certainly there are white
Gates with churns waiting
For morning, their cream standing.
Once we saw an old table
Standing square on the grass verge.
Our lamps swept it clean, shook
The crumbs into the hedge and left it.
A tractor too, beside a load
Of logs, bringing from a deeper
Dark a damp whiff of the fungoid
Sterility of the conifers.

Complacently I sit, swathed
In sleepiness. A door shuts
At the end of a dark corridor.
Ahead not a cat's eye winks
To deceive us with its green
Invitation. As you hurl us
Into the black contracting
Chasm, I submit like a blind
And folded baby, being born.

by Gillian Clarke
from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)

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)

Choughs by Gillian Clarke

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.

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.