A Poem for St. David’s Day by Gillian Clarke

We commence the first week of Reading Wales 2023 with a poem written by the former National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke

On her website, Gillian Clarke says: “All you need to know about this poem is that it is a true story. It happened in the ’70s, and it took me years to find a way to write the poem.”

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.

Categories: Reading Wales

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14 replies

  1. This brought tears to my eyes – thank you for sharing Paula.

  2. Such a heartfelt, beautiful poem. I’m glad she finally felt able to write it.

    Happy St David’s Day, Paula!

  3. This is wonderful, bendigedig, Paula – diolch yn fawr iawn.

  4. This is really special, thank you.

  5. What a beautiful, moving poem Paula – thank you.

  6. What a perfect start to my day this morning, Paula, thank you. Such a wonderful gem of a poem, I keep coming back to it and finding more.


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