The following poem is by Gillian Clarke. I first found it in Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter by Malcolm Guite. It was originally published in Gillian Clarke: Collected Poems published by Carcanet in 1997.
Gillian was the national poet of Wales. The poem below reflects a reading she gave on St David’s Day in a mental hospital. St David is the national saint of Wales. He lived in the 6th century. This poem is a reminder of how impactful poetry can be. Please, remember that this poem was written over 25 years ago, so some of the language may no longer be used to talk about people with mental illness. Don’t let that keep you from missing the true power of this poem.
Miracle on St David’s Day
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
The Daffodils, William Wordsworth
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 on his knees,
he rocks gently to the rhythms of the poems.
I read to their presences, 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.
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