Harvest at Mynachlog by Gillian Clarke

At last the women come with baskets,
The older one in flowered apron,
A daisied cloth covering the bread
And dappled china, sweet tea
In a vast can. The women stoop
Spreading their cups in the clover.

The engines stop. A buzzard watches
From the fence. We bury our wounds
In the deep grass: sunburnt shoulders,
Bodies scratched with straw, wrists bruised
From the weight of the bales, blood beating.

For hours the baler has been moulding
Golden bricks from the spread straw,
Spewing them at random in the stubble.
I followed the slow load, heaved each
Hot burden, feeling the sun contained.

And unseen over me a man leaned,
Taking the weight to make the toppling
Load. Then the women came, friendly
And cool as patches of flowers at the far
Field edge, mothy and blurred in the heat.

We are soon recovered and roll over
In the grass to take our tea. We talk
Of other harvests. They remember
How a boy, flying his plane so low
Over the cut fields that his father

Straightened from his work to wave his hat
At the boasting sky, died minutes later
On an English cliff, in such a year
As this, the barns brimming gold.

We are quiet again, holding our cups
In turn for the tilting milk, sad, hearing
The sun roar like a rush of grain
Engulfing all winged things that live
One moment in the eclipsing light.

.

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

A recital of the poem by Heather Plow

Information:Mynachlog’ means ‘monastery’ in Welsh. The subject of the poem is most likely a Grade II Listed farm house building in Northop, Flintshire.

For a line by line analysis of the poem there is a teacher’s help sheet created by Lizzie Fincham for Swansea University’s CREW.

Baby-Sitting by Gillian Clarke

I am sitting in a strange room listening
For the wrong baby. I don’t love
This baby. She is sleeping a snuffly
Roseate, bubbling sleep; she is fair;
She is a perfectly acceptable child.
I am afraid of her. If she wakes
She will hate me. She will shout
Her hot midnight rage, her nose
Will stream disgustingly and the perfume
Of her breath will fail to enchant me.

To her I will represent absolute
Abandonment. For her it will be worse
Than for the lover cold in lonely
Sheets; worse than for the woman who waits
A moment to collect her dignity
Beside the bleached bone in the terminal ward.
As she rises sobbing from the monstrous land
Stretching for milk-familiar comforting,
She wil find me and between us two
It will not come. It will not come.

.

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

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.