Miracle on St David's Day
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude
- The Daffodils - William Worsworth
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 coals 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 seeing, 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 of his knees, he rocks
gently to the rhythyms of the poems.
I read to their prescences, 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 aflame.
Reprinted from :-
Gillian Clarke:Collected Poems, Carcanet 1997
Originally from 'Letter from a far Country; 1982
Yesterday, 1st March, was St David's Day. Thanks to Maxine for bringing this poem to my attention - she sent this link (soundings issue 11 Spring 1999), which has this afterword:
This poem by Gillian Clarke demonstrates how there are ways other than professional encounters to communicate with patients, even or especially the 'insane'. I heard the poem by chance. It was indeed St David's Day and the poem was part of a radio broadcast to mark the event. I too was frozen, like the nurses, as I heard the description of the labourer dumbed by misery suddenly connecting with 'a music of speech' in the poetry of his childhood. We do not know whether this was a temporary or permanent reprieve, but we do know that an emotional connection was made through the power of poetry. I also wondered about why the man had been silenced for so long and, because it was Wales, I thought it might have been because of the dual deaths of his livelihood as a miner, and of his community. Pam Smith