Heron at Port Talbot

Q. Explore the poetic ways in which Clarke explores the relationship between animals and humanity.

The poem “Heron at Port Talbot” is written by the much celebrated welsh poet Gillian Clarke. In the poem, Clarke describes  an incident where she almost collides with a heron near an old declining town in south Wales. She is extremely moved by the moment and describes it to be both beautiful and frightening. She efficaciously uses diction, imagery, and describes the theme of Nature vs Industrialisation to throw light on the relationship between animals and humanity.

Clarke uses diction to make the poem more enriching for the reader and to shed light upon the relationship between animals and humanity.She repeatedly uses “we” to describe herself and the bird and thus depicts both humans and animals to be one entity and to elucidate how both are dependent on one another. She uses “we”  in the phrase “we bank” to show how the “near collision” had an equal impact on both Clarke and the bird and how both of them were equally shocked and startled by it. She also employs the pronoun in the phrase “We might have died” to show how Clarke looked for the best interest of the bird and would’ve been hurt any harm were to come to the bird. This reflects the intimacy and attachment she feels towards the Heron. She also uses a juxtaposition in the phrase “shocking intimacy”. The word “shocking” shows how both Clarke and the bird were equally surprised by this unanticipated encounter. This phrase perfectly portrays how even though she was startled by the unforeseen meeting, she in that instant, clearly felt close to the creature both physically and mentally. She reiterates upon this intimacy between man and animal by repeating this idea in the phrases “near” and “almost”. She further shows how this split second of affinity would forever leave an impression in her mind just like “animal tracks that cross in snow”. The usage of the words like “force”, “bank” and “pressure” depict the power and sheer strength of the bird and show how Clarke was awed by it.

Throughout the poem, the reader can notice the predominant theme of Industrialisation Vs Nature. Clarke has used to it show the erratic relationship that exists between humanity and animals. She describes the Heron to be a “surveyor” who is seen to be examining the “old workings” and since throughout the poem, nature is seen to be overshadowing mankind, the impression that the Heron wants to inhibit the area  shows that the natural order of things was disturbed due to Human activities. This shows that even though man and nature have a grudging admiration for one another, one always overshadows the other. This is perfectly shown in the phrase “sand under snow” where the writer expresses how the industry and machinery of the town was concealed and dominated by nature.

Clarke also uses imagery throughout the poem to throw light on the relationship between animals and humanity. She uses the phrase “His living eye”, this shows the physical and mental intimacy she felt during the encounter. This slow motion imagery shows how Clarke was instantly able to peer into the bird’s soul and forge a bond with the Bird. This bond was not possible with the dead and lifeless machinery which highlights the special bond humans share with animals. Furthermore, Clarke emphasis on this slow motion imagery for the moment of the “near collision” as she transforms the “steel of the wind” into “air”. This shows how the senses of the reader stopped working simultaneously as she forgets all about the biting cold and absorbs the beauty of the moment. This further shows how the very motion of the air stopped and transforms the moment into something magical. This is almost as though this encounter was not mere chance but was rather meant to happen as human, animal and nature all intersect at this moment. This can be seen when she describes this “inter-section” where she illustrates the wind to have “interrupting(ed)” the snow. This shows again shows how the moment was more than an everyday occurrence and was rather majestic and almost supernatural. This reiterates the deep-seated relationship that humans have with animals and nature. This is contradicted when she mentions the “broken rhythm of blood” which could probably be the irregularities in her heartbeat due to the anxiety of the encounter.

Throughout the poem, Clarke uses an extremely effective writing style which by the end of the poem gives an impression of a conflict between nature and industry and in connotation, between man and animals. She makes the reader believe that in such a conflict, only one of the two could come out on top. By using extremely negative and death imagery to describe the industry and extremely powerful and majestic imagery to describe nature, Clarke brings out the contrast between the two and makes Nature as the obvious choice, thus effectively swaying the reader to her point of view. Furthermore before the “near collision”, Clarke bewilders the reader by using the word “warning”, probably to foreshadow the encounter, but as the word holds negative connotations, one would expect something unwelcoming to take place.However, by describing the moment to be beautiful and sublime Clarke causes a dramatic shift in tone which causes the descriptions of industry and nature to stand out.

Thus by using imagery, diction and by exploring the theme of the poem, Clarke explores the relationship between animals and humanity.


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