It’s classic book revisiting time for me, and I’m enjoying another go-around with Gillian Clarke’s The Sundial. Clarke, who was named National Poet of Wales (the equivalent of “Poet Laureate”) in 2008 and in 2010 received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry (not that these merits influence my evaluation of her work, as, in future blog entries, you’ll see awards and the like don’t pull me into a writer), has been blessing the world with her poetry capturing the air and essence of her native land for decades, and in The Sundial, her second collection that was published in 1978 by Gomer Press, every sound, scent, and sight of the Welsh countryside and shoreline is conveyed in a way that will make the reader feel that they’ve been walking alongside her as she jots down her observations and how her feelings intertwine.
Birth (by Gillian Clarke)
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 starsAnd clarity. Hot and slippery, the scalding
Baby came, and the cow stood up, her cool
Flanks like white flowers in the dark.
We waited until 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 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.