Miracle On Saint David’s Day

Q. How does Clarke make this such a moving poem?

The poem “Miracle On Saint David’s Day” has been written by the Welsh poet, Gillian Clarke. It is a narrative poem, where Clarke recounts her experience in a mental asylum where she had been asked to recite poetry. The poem is an extremely moving one and talks about the power of poetry and has a rather positive meaning to it. It is made meaning by it’s tone and pace, apt diction and imagery.

The poem’s tone and pace impacts greatly in making it such a memorable poem. The poem is deliberately made flow unsteadily. This unsteady pace confuses the reader and reflects the mental state of the patients thus allowing the reader to better cope up with their emotions, thereby making it memorable.The poem has no fixed rhyme scheme and is written in free verse. This is justified considering that this is a narrative poem, where Clarke is essentially recounting her experience. The lack of a set rhyme scheme shows unpredictability which mirrors Clarke’s experience, unplanned, unexpected; i.e. the Fact that a dumb man with an incurable disease,gets up and perfectly recites a William Wordsworth poem. This makes it memorable for the readers as well as for Clarke. The poem also take on a tone of compassion, generated by the slow reading of the poem, caused by several caesuras. This makes it extremely impelling to the readers.

Clarke employs apt diction to make the poem touching for the reader. She describe the mental patients present in the institution to be “insane”. The word “insane” itself holds harsh and negative connotations. In our society, the word is associated with madness and anger. The usage of the word could be reference to what society at large refers to them as, alienating them and regarding them as pariahs in society. This thought is reinforced by the fact that the home is located outside the city. Their plight is extremely moving for the reader. Furthermore, the line is a rather short and blunt one. The end-stop in the line conveys a sense of finality and conveys to the reader that their situation is not likely to change. It allows the reader to absorb the full impact of the word “insane”, thus making the reader empathise with the patients.  The poem is made even more touching by the description of the old “interrupting” woman. The woman is clearly mot fully sane as she offers coal to Clarke, a thing that has long been outdated and was probably a big part of her previous younger life. Although the woman may have mental health issues the reader is able to understand the meaning behind her offering, it is a way of showing her gratitude towards Clarke in whatever way she can, even if there are no real buckets of coal that she can give. By showing her gratitude, the reader can infer from this that the woman is enjoying Clarke reading poetry to her and is grateful for it. This is particularly moving because the reader understands what a wonderful thing Clarke is doing by reading the poetry and the sadness of the state of some of the patients, like that of the woman. The poem is also made moving by Clarke repeating the word “not”. It emphasises the mental isolation of the woman since she does not have control over her senses. It garners much compassion from the reader for the woman as she was living a limited life, incapable of perceiving her environment. This is further reiterated the phrase “presences, absences”, the assonance in the phrase imprints it in the readers mind. It reveals that just like the woman, there were patients in the room who were physically present but mentally absent and detached. This deeply saddens the reader as they realise the gravity of the situation. The phrase “Since the dumbness of misery fell”, is extremely moving for the reader. It reveals to the reader that the “big, mild man” was not always in this condition but was once able to speak. The fact that he is reminiscing over this happy period in his life, saddens the reader.

The poem is also made touching by the usage of imagery. She describes one of the patients to be a “beautiful chestnut-haired boy”, which is extremely moving for the reader once we are told of his condition. Clarke uses this image to show how the patients there were of all ages. What is moving for the reader is the fact that the child despite his “beautiful” physical appearance is surviving “schizophrenia” at such a tender age. The fact that the boy would have to live out his childhood and adult life with this mental condition is extremely moving for the reader. She uses two beautiful images of change to express his sudden speech: “slow/ movement of spring water” and “first bird/of the year in breaking darkness” to make the poem moving. Both of them are gentle imageries which hold positive connotations and are associated with “spring”. These imageries convey hope and make the reader imagine a better future in store for the labourer, which makes the poem moving. The imageries also hold connotations of the hard journey that the labourer has undergone. The “slow movement” is reference to how spring water has to travel a long way through many layers of thick rock and narrow fissures. The bird has to fly a long and hard journey from the south when returning for spring. Similarly the labourer has been unable to express himself and had to suppress his emotions and thoughts for over forty years. The realisation of these hardships makes the poem moving for the reader. Clarke also is able tomato the poem extremely moving for the reader with potent use of hopeful imagery. In the poem, Clarke conveys a general message of positivity. By comparing the mental patients to wax, she displays how they had the same potential as the labourer; the potential to convey their thoughts. Just as “wax” has the potential to ignite. All the labourer required to so, was his spark i.e. the poem “daffodils”, similarly all that any of them require is their own respective spark. This positive and hopeful message especially after such a negative portrayal of the patients contributes significantly in making the poem moving. Clarke further builds on the flame imagery to prolong the reader’s hopeful emotions. The last line of the poem “the daffodils are aflame” is also very hopeful. The reader may perceive this imagery as “a thousand, ten thousand” tiny yellow candles. Candles generally have strong connotations to hope. This helps end the poem on a positive note. As the reader is not informed wether or wether not the labourer continues to talk, this imagery makes the reader believe and hope for the best, thus making it moving.

The flame imagery used to describe the man and his actions also helps the reader fathom a second imagery i.e. one of a Phoenix. The man reignites a new phase office life-one where he can talk again-from the memory of his childhood. This resembles how a Phoenix rises from it’s ashes. This hopeful imagery makes the reader believe how like a Phoenix, he will rise again and lead a new, transformed life. To see the man progress from the pain of his current life to the joy of starting a new one makes the poem extremely moving for the reader.


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