Miracle on St David’s Day.

St Davids Cathedral. Wales

I have just noted, with delight, that the poet Gillian Clarke — the much admired, much loved, one-time National Poet of Wales — has a new collection of poems coming out from Carcanet Press this month. We have read and reread and read her work again ever since we lived in Wales, and find it so deeply appealing. If by some ill chance, you haven’t really come across her poetry, try — yes, do try — her Selected Poems of 2016, or at least browse her website.

In this new book, we are told, “The poems in … The Silence begin during lockdown, to whose silences Clarke listens so attentively that other voices emerge. As the book progresses, that silence deepens, in the poems about her mother and childhood, about the Great War and its aftermaths, and in her continuing attention to Welsh places and names, and the rituals which make that world come in to focus. In these scrupulous, musical poems, Clarke finds consolation in how silence makes room for memory and for the company of the animal- and bird-life which surrounds us. These poems, compulsively returning to key images and formative moments, echo and bring back other ways of living to the book’s present moment.”

Since the poem is on her website, I hope that Gillian Clarke will forgive me if I reproduce here a particularly touching poem of hers, appropriate to the day, dating back to a real event in the 1970s.

Miracle on St David’s Day.

‘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.

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