Death of a Young Woman by Gillian Clarke

She died on a hot day. In a way

Nothing was different. The stretched white

Sheet of her skin tightened no further.

She was fragile as a yacht before,

Floating so still on the blue day’s length,

That one would not know when the breath

Blew out and the sail finally slackened.

Her eyes had looked opaquely in the

Wrong place to find those who smiled

From the bedside, and for a long time

Our conversations were silent.

The difference was that in her house

The people were broken by her loss.

He wept for her and for the hard tasks

He had lovingly done, for the short,

Fierce life she had lived in the white bed,

For the burden he had put down for good.

As we sat huddled in pubs supporting

Him with beer and words’ warm breath,

We felt the hollowness of his release.

Our own ungrateful health prowled, young,

Gauche about her death. He was polite,

Isolated. Free. No point in going home.

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer) (1978)

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)

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.