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)
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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.

St Augustine’s, Penarth by Gillian Clarke

 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.

Curlew by Gillian Clarke

She dips her bill in the rim of the sea.

Her beak is the ellipse

of a world much smaller

than that far section of the sea’s

circumference. A curve enough to calculate

the field’s circle and its heart

of eggs in the cold grass.

 

All day while I scythed my territory

out of nettles, laid claim to my cantref,

she has cut her share of sky. Her song bubbles

long as a plane trail from her savage mouth.

I clean the blade with newspaper. Dusk blurs

circle within circle till there’s nothing left

but the egg pulsing in the dark against her ribs.

For each of us the possessed space contracts

to the nest’s heat, the blood’s small cicuit.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)


Fun fact: A cantref was a medieval Welsh land division, particularly important in the administration of Welsh law.

Foghorns by Gillian Clarke

When Catrin was a small child

She thought the foghorn moaning

Far out at sea was the sad

Solitary voice of the moon

Journeying to England.

She heard it warn “Moon, Moon”,

As it worked the Channel, trading

Weather like rags and bones.

 

Tonight, after the still sun

And the silent heat, as haze

Became rain and weighed glistening

In brimful leaves, and the last bus

Splashes and fades with a soft

Wave-sound, the foghorns moan, moon –

Lonely and the dry lawns drink.

This dimmed moon, calling still,

Hauls sea-rags through the streets.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)

Storm Awst by Gillian Clarke

The cat walks. It listens, as I do,

To the wind which leans its iron

Shoulders on our door. Neither

The purr of a cat nor my blood

Runs smoothly for elemental fear

Of the storm. This then is the big weather

They said was coming. All the signs

Were bad, the gulls coming in white,

Lapwings gathering, the sheep too

Calling all night. The gypsies

Were making their fires in the woods

Down there in the east…always

A warning. The rain stings, the whips

Of the laburnum hedge lash the roof

Of the cringing cottage. A curious

Calm, coming from the storm, unites

Us, as we wonder if the work

We have done will stand. Will the tyddyn,

In its group of strong trees on the high

Hill, hold against the storm Awst

Running across the hills where everything

Alive listens, pacing its house, heart still?

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial, (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)


Fun facts:  Glossary: Welsh = English

Awst = August

Storm Awst = August storm

tyddyn = [farm] smallholding

Clywedog by Gillian Clarke

The people came out in pairs,

Old, most of them, holding their places

Close till the very last minute,

Even planting the beans as usual

That year, grown at last accustomed

To the pulse of the bulldozers.

High in those uphill gardens, scarlet

Beanflowers blazed hours after

The water rose in the throats of the farms.

 

Only the rooted things stayed:

The wasted hay, the drowned

Dog roses, the farms, their kitchens silted

With their own stones, hedges

And walls a thousand years old.

And the mountains, in a head-collar

Of flood, observe a desolation

They’d grown used to before the coming

Of the wall-makers. Language

Crumbles to wind and bird-call.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)


Fun fact: The subject of this poem is the Clywedog reservoir (Welsh: Llyn Clywedog), a reservoir near Llanidloes, in Wales which was completed in 1967. Construction of the dam commenced in 1963 after the passing of an Act of Parliament ordering its creation to help prevent flooding of the River Severn in winter and to maintain its water levels in the summer. Local opposition was strong against the construction of the reservoir as it would result in the flooding of much of the Clywedog valley and the drowning of 615 acres (2.5 km2) of agricultural land. On top of several disruptions and protests, during construction in 1966 a bomb was detonated within the construction site, setting work back by almost 2 months. The political extremist group Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (MAC) was widely suspected of carrying out the bombing. The reservoir was opened in 1967 and till this day has been in continuous usage,