Gillian Clarke Essay
Before even reading “Miracle on St David’s Day”, I knew that something very special was going to happen from the word in the title “Miracle”. Clarke’s use of this word suggests that an amazing event is going to occur and that the poem is therefore going to be emotional and poignant. Gillian Clarke uses the first verse of the poem to create a pastoral idyll due to the use of personification-“An afternoon yellow and open mouthed with daffodils”. This conjures a happy and warm image of daffodils with their trumpets open wide, laughing in the sunlight, and it successfully personifies the flowers.
Clarke also places people in the description to make it seem even more vivid in our minds-“the rumps of gardeners between nursery shrubs”. The line, “country house, guests strolling” pulls together a vivid image of a beautiful, opening scene in the reader’s mind. Clarke also introduces the importance of nature right at the beginning of the poem in this first verse. lAt the start of the second verse, Clarke dramatically dispels the pastoral idyllic that she created in the first verse. “I am reading poetry to the insane” is a blunt line, completely in contrast to the last verse as it is so insensitive.
As readers, we instantly realise the harsh reality of the situation that she is in fact in a mental institution. Clarke’s dispelling of the original image is effective because it catches the reader’s attention immediately as it is a completely unexpected twist. It also makes the poem poignant because it makes the reader’s realise that there is never a perfect place and that there is always suffering around. Clarke goes on in this verse to describe some of the patients around her and the length of their mental disorders-“An old woman interrupting offers as many buckets of coal as I need. Clarke describes the poignant image of a schizophrenic, beautiful boy absorbed in her poetry making us realise that her poetry may be powerful for these people.
After verse two, Clarke introduces verse three by stating “on a good day, they tell me later” to show how the split between a verse is a like the dramatic split personality of a schizophrenic. In verse three, Clarke goes into more detail about her moving surroundings to build up a vivid idea of the situation in the reader’s mind. She describes ow the sun causes shadows of window bars into the room and how a woman is sitting in these shadows as if she is in a cage. “In a cage of first March sun a woman sits”. Clarke repeats the word not, “not listening, not seeing, not feeling” to result in the woman appearing to be trapped inside herself and entirely vacant. Finally in this verse, Clarke writes, “a big, big mild, man is tenderly led to his chair”. The use of the adverb “tenderly” makes us understand just how much care and attention these people need.
Clarke continues with the poem’s tone of compassion in verse four, by the slow reading caused by several instances of pauses in the line due to commas such as “… hands on his knees, he rocks… “. “I read to the big, dumb, labouring man as he rocks” also brings about the sad sense that although this man seems self-sufficient and big on the exterior he is mild and insecure on the inside and in the mind. Finally Clarke uses an oxymoron, “I read to their presences, absences” to show how although they are physically in the room, some of their minds aren’t really there at all.
In verse five, Clarke’s writing makes everything suddenly change. The slow and thoughtful pace of the poem ends dramatically in a similar way that Clarke destroyed the pastoral idyllic after the first verse. Gillian Clarke’s use of alliteration also strongly suggests that something special is about to happen, “He is suddenly standing silently, huge and mild but I feel afraid. ” Clarke then cleverly uses two similes to portray the moment before the man speaks, “Like slow movement of spring water or the first bird of the year in the breaking darkness”.
These similes are closely linked to new life spring which is convenient because the poem is set on the first day of spring. We also grasp from Clarke’s use of similes that the man is going to do something new. This is a significant and poignant moment in the poem because the man is so well-built and huge yet what he is about to do is something really big and special for everybody in the room and the reader, “the labourer’s voice recites ‘The Daffodils’” The reaction to this man’s speech is shock and no one is able to speak. The nurses are speechless and prepared for violence from the man but even they freeze.
The patients, some of which are seriously mentally ill also suddenly listen, “the patients seem to listen”. It is effective and poignant, how Gillian Clarke then personifies the daffodils to match the characters and mood of the room. She expresses that even nature outside can react at this incredible moment. The hyperbole that she uses, “a thousand, ten thousand” is an excerpt from the Wordsworth poem that the man is reciting. Clarke successfully employs this hyperbole to exaggerate the number of daffodils who stop to observe to the man breaking free of speech and his life.
I think that the seventh stanza is the most heart-breaking stanza, especially “Since the dumbness of misery fell”; because that implies that the man was once a happy child and only stopped talking and became miserable when something tore his life apart. This is poignant because it makes us imagine tragic events that could have stopped this man from speaking and that it really shows the power and impact that poetry can have. I think “the daffodils are flame” is a very effective and clever way of Clarke to finish the poem because it is ending with the daffodils where it first started.
The way that nature outside corresponds to the event in the room is truly miraculous. In verse six Clarke personifies the daffodils as “still as wax” whilst the man is reciting and the daffodils are then “flame” in the last verse during the man’s applaud (we can see a fiery theme). The poem is so poignant because of the way Clarke creates successful images and personification so that we can feel we are in the room at the time of the miracle. The pathetic fallacy at the end leaves reader’s reflective and astounded by the description in poetry of such an amazing account.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 20 October 2016
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