Gillian Clarke: Collected Poems

Gillian Clarke: Collected Poems

by Gillian Clarke


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Gillian Clarke: Collected Poems by Gillian Clarke

The Welsh publishing house Gwasg Gomer published Gillian Clarke's first full collection of poems, The Sundial, in 1978. In the twenty years since then the poet has become one of the best-loved and most widely read writers of Wales, well-known for her readings, for her radio work and her workshops. Gillian Clarke is a severe critic of her own poems—Collected Poems includes all that she wishes to preserve of her work to date.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781857543353
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 01/01/1997
Series: Poetry Pléiade Series
Pages: 220
Sales rank: 850,822
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Collected Poems

By Gillian Clarke

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 1997 Gillian Clarke
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-815-4


    The Sundial

    Owain was ill today. In the night
    He was delirious, shouting of lions
    In the sleepless heat. Today, dry
    And pale, he took a paper circle,
    Laid it on the grass which held it
    With curling fingers. In the still
    Centre he pushed the broken bean
    Stick, gathering twelve fragments
    Of stone, placed them at measured
    Distances. Then he crouched, slightly
    Trembling with fever, calculating
    The mathematics of sunshine.

    He looked up, his eyes dark,
    Intelligently adult as though
    The wave of fever taught silence
    And immobility for the first time.
    Here, in his enforced rest, he found
    Deliberation, and the slow finger
    Of light, quieter than night lions,
    More worthy of his concentration.
    All day he told the time to me.
    All day we felt and watched the sun
    Caged in its white diurnal heat,
    Pointing at us with its black stick.


    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.

    Snow on the Mountain

    There was a girl riding a white pony
    Which seemed an elemental part
    Of the snow. A crow cut a clean line
    Across the hill, which we grasped as a rope
    To pull us up the pale diagonal.

    The point was to be first at the top
    Of the mountain. Our laughter bounced far
    Below us like five fists full of pebbles. About us
    Lay the snow, deep in the hollows,
    Very clean and dry, untouched.

    I arrived breathless, my head breaking
    The surface of the glittering light, thinking
    No place could claim more beauty, white
    Slag tips like cones of sugar spun
    By the pit wheels under Machen mountain.

    I sat on a rock in the sun, watching
    My snowboys play. Pit villages shine
    Like anthracite. Completed, the pale rider
    Rode away. I turned to him and saw
    His joy fall like the laughter down a dark
    Crack. The black crow shadowed him.

    Blaen Cwrt

    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.


    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 will find me and between us two
    It will not come. It will not come.


    On the hottest, stillest day of the summer
    A calf was born in a field
    At Pant-y-Cetris; two buzzards
    Measured the volume of the sky;
    The hills brimmed with incoming
    Night. In the long grass we could see
    The cow, her sides heaving, a focus
    Of restlessness in the complete calm,
    Her calling at odds with silence.

    The light flowed out leaving stars
    And clarity. Hot and slippery, the scalding
    Baby came, and the cow stood up, her cool
    Flanks like white flowers in the dark.
    We waited while the calf struggled
    To stand, moved as though this
    Were the first time. I could feel the soft sucking
    Of the new-born, the tugging pleasure
    Of bruised reordering, the signal
    Of milk's incoming tide, and satisfaction
    Fall like a clean sheet around us.


    The road unwinding under our wheels
    New in the headlamps like a roll of foil.
    The rain is a recorder writing tunes
    In telegraph wires, kerbs and cats' eyes,
    Reflections and the lights of little towns.

    He turns his head to look at me.
    'Why are you quiet?' Shiny road rhythm,
    Rain rhythm, beat of the windscreen wipers,
    I push my knee against his in the warmth
    And the car thrusts the dark and rain away.

    The child sleeps, and I reflect, as I breathe
    His brown hair, and watch the apple they gave him
    Held in his hot hands, that a tree must ache
    With the sweet weight of the round rosy fruit,
    As I with Dylan's head, nodding on its stalk.


    I can remember you, child,
    As I stood in a hot, white
    Room at the window watching
    The people and cars taking
    Turn at the traffic lights.
    I can remember you, our first
    Fierce confrontation, the tight
    Red rope of love which we both
    Fought over. It was a square
    Environmental blank, disinfected
    Of paintings or toys. I wrote
    All over the walls with my
    Words, coloured the clean squares
    With the wild, tender circles
    Of our struggle to become
    Separate. We want, we shouted,
    To be two, to be ourselves.

    Neither won nor lost the struggle
    In the glass tank clouded with feelings
    Which changed us both. Still I am fighting
    You off, as you stand there
    With your straight, strong, long
    Brown hair and your rosy,
    Defiant glare, bringing up
    From the heart's pool that old rope,
    Tightening about my life,
    Trailing love and conflict,
    As you ask may you skate
    In the dark, for one more hour.

    Still Life

    It was good tonight
    To polish brass with you,
    Our hands slightly gritty
    With Brasso, as they would feel
    If we'd been in the sea, salty.
    It was as if we burnished
    Our friendship, polished it
    Until all the light-drowning
    Tarnish of deceit
    Were stroked away. Patterns
    Of incredible honesty
    Delicately grew, revealed
    Quite openly to the pressure
    Of the soft, torn rag.
    We made a yellow-gold
    Still-life out of clocks,
    Candlesticks and kettles.
    My sadness puzzled you.
    I rubbed the full curve
    Of an Indian goblet,
    Feeling its illusory
    Heat. It cooled beneath
    My fingers and I read
    In the braille formality
    Of pattern, in the leaf
    And tendril and stylised tree,
    That essentially each
    Object remains cold,
    Separate, only reflecting
    The other's warmth.

    Storwm Awst

    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 storwm Awst
    Running across hills where everything
    Alive listens, pacing its house, heart still?

    Death of a Young Woman

    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.


    At the end of the hot day it rains
    Softly, stirring the smells from the raked
    Soil. In her sundress and shorts she rocks
    On the swing, watching the rain run down
    Her brown arms, hands folded warm between
    Small thighs, watching her white daps darken
    And soak in the cut and sodden grass.

    She used to fling her anguish into
    My arms, staining my solitude with
    Her salt and grimy griefs. Older now
    She runs, her violence prevailing
    Against silence and the Avenue's
    Complacency, I her hatred's object.

    Her dress, the washed green of deck chairs, sun
    Bleached and chalk-sea rinsed, colours the drops,
    And her hair a flag, half and then full
    Mast in the apple-trees, flies in the face
    Of the rain. Raised now her hands grip tight
    The iron rods, her legs thrusting the tide
    Of rain aside until, parallel
    With the sky, she triumphs and gently
    Falls. A green kite. I wind in the string.

    Lunchtime Lecture

    And this from the second or third millenium
    B.C., a female, aged about twenty-two.
    A white, fine skull, full up with darkness
    As a shell with sea, drowned in the centuries.
    Small, perfect. The cranium would fit the palm
    Of a man's hand. Some plague or violence
    Destroyed her, and her whiteness lay safe in a shroud
    Of silence, undisturbed, unrained on, dark
    For four thousand years. Till a tractor in summer
    Biting its way through the longcairn for supplies
    Of stone, broke open the grave and let a crowd of light
    Stare in at her, and she stared quietly back.

    As I look at her I feel none of the shock
    The farmer felt as, unprepared, he found her.
    Here in the Museum, like death in hospital,
    Reasons are given, labels, causes, catalogues.
    The smell of death is done. Left, only her bone
    Purity, the light and shade beauty that her man
    Was denied sight of, the perfect edge of the place
    Where the pieces join, with no mistakes, like boundaries.

    She's a tree in winter, stripped white on a black sky,
    Leafless formality, brow, bough in fine relief.
    I, at some other season, illustrate the tree
    Fleshed, with woman's hair and colours and the rustling
    Blood, the troubled mind that she has overthrown.
    We stare at each other, dark into sightless
    Dark, seeing only ourselves in the black pools,
    Gulping the risen sea that booms in the shell.

    Dyddgu Replies to Dafydd 1

    All year in open places, underneath
        the frescoed forest ceiling,
        we have made ceremony
        out of this seasonal love.

    Dividing the lead-shade as divers white
        in green pools we rose to dry
        islands of sudden sun. Then
        love seemed generosity.

    Original sin I whitened from your
        mind, my colours influenced
        your flesh, as sun on the floor
        and warm furniture of a church.

    So did our season bloom in mild weather,
        reflected gold like butter
        under chins, repeatedly
        unfolding to its clock of seed.

    Autumn, our forest room is growing cold.
        I wait, shivering, feeling a
        dropping sun, a coming dark,
        your heart changing the subject.

    The season coughs as it falls, like a coal;
        the trees ache. The forest falls
        to ruin, a roofless minster
        where only two still worship.

    Love still, like sun, a vestment, celebrates,
        its warmth about our shoulders.
        I dread the day when Dyddgu's once
        loved name becomes a common cloak.

    Your touch is not so light. I grow heavy.
        I wait too long, grow anxious,
        note your changing gestures, fear
        desire's alteration.

    The winter stars are flying and the owls
        sing. You are packing your songs
        in a sack, narrowing your
        words, as you stare at the road.

    The feet of young men beat, somewhere far off
        on the mountain. I would women
        had roads to tread in winter
        and other lovers waiting.

    A raging rose all summer falls to snow,
        keeps its continuance in
        frozen soil. I must be patient
        for the breaking of the crust.

    I must be patient that you will return
        when the wind whitens the tender
        underbelly of the March grass
        thick as pillows under the oaks.

    At Ystrad Fflûr 1

    No way of flowers at this late season.
        Only a river blossoming on stone
        and the mountain ash in fruit.

    All rivers are young in these wooded hills
        where the abbey watches and the young Teifi
        counts her rosary on stones.

    I cross by a simple bridge constructed
        of three slim trees. Two lie across. The third
        is a broken balustrade.

    The sun is warm after rain on the red
        pelt of the slope, fragmentary through trees
        like torches in the dark.

    They have been here before me and have seen
        the sun's lunulae in the profound
        quietness of water.

    The Teifi is in full flood and rich
        with metals: a torc in a brown pool
        gleaming for centuries.

    I am spellbound in a place of spells. Cloud
        changes gold to stone as their circled bones
        dissolve in risen corn.

    The river races for the south too full
        of summer rain for safety, spilt water
        whitening low-lying fields.

    From oak and birchwoods through the turning trees
        where leaf and hour and century fall
        seasonally, desire runs

    Like sparks in stubble through the memory
        of the place, and a yellow mustard field
        is a sheet of flame in the heart.


Excerpted from Collected Poems by Gillian Clarke. Copyright © 1997 Gillian Clarke. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
from The Sundial,
The Sundial,
Snow on the Mountain,
Blaen Cwrt,
Still Life,
Storwm Awst,
Death of a Young Woman,
Lunchtime Lecture,
Dyddgu Replies to Dafydd,
At Ystrad Fflûr,
Railway Tracks,
Burning Nettles,
Last Rites,
Harvest at Mynachlog,
St Thomas's Day,
from Letter from a Far Country,
White Roses,
Return to Login,
Miracle on St David's Day,
East Moors,
Jac Codi Baw,
Friesian Bull,
Taid's Funeral,
Letter from a Far Country,
Kingfishers at Condat,
Seamstress at St Léon,
Les Grottes,
Heron at Port Talbot,
Suicide on Pentwyn Bridge,
Death of a Cat,
Cardiff Elms,
Sheila na Gig at Kilpeck,
Shadows in Llanbadarn,
The Water-Diviner,
from Selected Poems,
Syphoning the Spring,
A Dream of Horses,
Climbing Cader Idris,
Castell y Bere,
Taid's Grave,
from Letting in the Rumour,
At One Thousand Feet,
Listening for Trains,
Cold Knap Lake,
Fires on Llyn,
Talking of Burnings in Walter Savage Landor's Smithy,
Post Script,
Overheard in County Sligo,
My Box,
The Hare,
Hare in July,
The Rothko Room,
Red Poppy,
Night Flying,
In January,
Tory Party Conference, Bournemouth, 1986,
Times like These,
Slate Mine,
Fulmarus Glacialis,
Racing Pigeon,
Magpie in Snow,
Tawny Owl,
Peregrine Falcon,
from The King of Britain's Daughter,
The Listeners,
The Vet,
Hölderlin in Tubingen,
The Poet,
Wild Sound,
Swimming with Seals,
No Hands,
Olwen Takes Her First Steps on the Word Processor in Time of War,
Eclipse of the Moon,
The Lighthouse,
On Air,
Wind Gauge,
Grave God,
The Angelus,
Family House,
Stealing Peas,
Breakers Yard,
The Loft,
Walking on Water,
The West Window of York Minster,
St Winefride's Well,
Coming Home,
The Wind-Chimes,
The King of Britain's Daughter,
Index of titles,
Index of first lines,

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