27 November 2014

Poetry Thursday - The Sundial by Gillian Clarke

The Sundial
Owain was ill today. In the night
He was delirious, shouting of lions
In the sleepless heat. Today, dry
And pale, he took a paper circle,
Laid on the grass which held it
With curling fingers. In the still
Centre he pushed the broken bean
Stick, gathering twelve fragments
Of stone, placed them at measured
Distances. Then he crouched, slightly
Trembling with fever, calculating
The mathematics of sunshine.
He looked up, his eyes dark,
Intelligently adult as though
The wave of fever taught silence
And immobility for the first time.
Here, in his enforced rest, he found
Deliberation, and the slow finger
Of light, quieter than night lions,
More worthy of his concentration.
All day he told the time to me.
All day we felt and watched the sun
Caged in its white diurnal heat,
Pointing at us with its black stick.
Gillian Clarke
The poem was borrowed from here - and gives the title to one of Gillian Clarke's early collections (1978). My introduction to this poem, and to her poetry, was via a tv programmer called Great Welsh Writers - if you are in the UK, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer (here) until 14 December.
What prompted her to write the poem, she says on the programme, is the feeling that came over her, watching her son - like a huge cavern inside her chest, "in which was a huge other world of the sun, the sundial, the child, the standing stones, and all of time. I had no words for it, I just had this idea, and it turned into a little poem."
Gillian Clarke has been the national poet of Wales since 2008. This biographical note is from her website: "Born in Cardiff, Wales. Poet, playwright, editor, translator (from Welsh), President of Ty Newydd, the writers´ centre in North Wales which she co-founded in 1990. Tutor on M.Phil. course in Creative Writing, the University of Glamorgan, since 1994. Freelance tutor of creative writing, primary schools to adults. Her poetry is studied by GCSE and A Level students throughout Britain. She has travelled in Europe and the United States giving poetry readings and lectures, and her work has been translated into ten languages. She has a daughter and two sons, and now lives with her husband (an architect) on a smallholding in Ceredigion, where they raise a small flock of sheep, and care for the land according to organic and conservation practice."

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