Gillian Clarke – Neighbours

Categories: Poems

Gillian Clarke is a Welsh poet whose writing often uses natural and rural settings to explore larger themes and ideas, particularly political ideas. She draws on the Welsh landscape and her experience of sheep-farming on the small-holding where she lives in West Wales. She has been the National Poet in Wales since 2008. The Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in Russia was the site of a massive explosion in 1986. Radiation from the accident killed people and animals from the local area, including 6 firemen who put out the fire after the explosion.

The effect and spread of the disaster can’t be accurately predicted after a nuclear accident because radioactive particles can be carried by the wind. They can also get into the water cycle. The Chernobyl disaster was one of the motivations for the policy of ‘glasnost’, proposed and developed by the Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev. Glasnost translates as 'openness' and the policy supported the freedom of information. Gorbachev saw a need for openness because Chernobyl residents were not evacuated immediately after the disaster due to the Russian administration's concern to cover up their faults.

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The spring was late. We watched the sky and studied charts for shouldering isobars. Birds were late to pair. Crows drank from the lamb’s eye. Over Finland small birds fell; song thrushes steering north, smudged signatures on light, migrating warblers, nightingales. Wing-beats failed over fjords, each lung a sip of gall. Children were warned of their dangerous beauty. Milk was spilt in Poland. Each quarrel The blowback from some old story, a mouthful of bitter air from the Ukraine brought by the wind in its box of sorrows.

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This spring a lamb sips caesium on a Welsh hill. A child, lifting her head to drink the rain takes into her blood the poisoned arrow. Now we are all neighbourly, each little town in Europe twinned to Chernobyl, each heart with the burnt firemen, the child on the Moscow train. In the democracy of the virus and the toxin we wait. We watch for spring migrations, one bird returning with green in its voice. Glasnost. Golau glas. A first break of blue.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Gillian Clarke – Neighbours. (2017, Jan 06). Retrieved from

Gillian Clarke – Neighbours essay
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