Heron at Port Tablot

Explore the poetic ways in which Clarke represents the relationships between animals and humanity in the poem.

The poem “ Heron at Port Talbot” by Gillian Clarke describes the battle between industrialism and naturalism through out her text. The animal, the Heron, is representing the former and the rest of the town, the latter. Gillian Clarke, who is driving on the motorways, beautifully describes the relations between humanity and animals, as she almost bumps into a bird. This is achieved with the use of Imagery, metaphors, contrasts, and dictions.


The theme of Industrialism v/s Nature is quite prevalent through out the poem. This represents the bondage of animals with humanity. The ‘snow’ is seen to ‘settle’ on the industrial ‘machineries’ and cause it to ‘whiten’ and lead to a metaphorical ‘death.’ The above imageries, though being faded and dull, are all processes that consume a lot of time to occur. This suggests that nature and industry had survived each other since a really long period and knew a lot about each other. Yet their battle seemed to run forever. As the industry is given human traits of having ‘bones’ that will die, it suggests that all human advances aren’t permanent and will fade away. This is similar for all natural beings as well, and thus the theme of the transitory nature of everything makes the relation between man and animal very similar. It envisages that industry, which was an alien entity for mother earth, now had forcefully become a part of it. This battle is silently depicted with the juxtaposing phrases in “ steel winds” “sky stains” “fire chemicals.” Here all natural elements are written with the manmade elements. It suggests that all the natural elements, had compromised/ suffered to accommodate human’s desires of machinery and industry. The humans had occupied all of animal habitat with its ‘ Old workings’ leaving merely any ‘calculable’ space for the animals to reside. Thus, the relation between the two is seen to of discomfort and dislike.


The poet also uses imagery, where a different perspective of the relation is shown. The poet, who is caught in an unanticipated “shock” after almost colliding with the Heron, describes it using slow motion imagery. And in this quick instant Gillian Clarke is able to take look at the Heron’s ‘living eyes’ .The fact that Clarke was making effort to look at a Heron’s eye during an accident that had made her “blood rhythms” falter iterates that she was considerate about the animals well being. For this instant, the “steel”-cold “wind’ didn’t bother the reader; it felt as normal ‘air.’ The constant motion of the falling ‘snow’ seemed interrupted. All of these imageries connote that this ‘intersection’ of man and animal seemed surreal. They were giving each other more importance and acknowledgment as they ‘both’ felt the same ‘pressure’ after going through the same “terrible” incident. Both tried to ‘brake’ themselves from harming the other. This magical and affectionate connection can iterate that humanity though may fancy the technology and industry, but it hasn’t forgotten the deep fitted bond it shares with all species of mother earth.


Her attentive state of mind could also be because of the “beauty” of the Heron that had enthralled her. The beauty may also refer to inner conscience of the Heron that made it turn away from causing harm and crashing into Gillian Clarke. One can say that during evolution, species tend to overlook the well being of other (species), but all share a deep relation that allows them to “change their minds” in such specific situations, as they all belong to the same mother earth. This shows the hidden relations that stays inside humans and animals and makes their relation sound unique.



Diction is also used to portray the relation of the humans with the animal. The pronoun ‘we’ is constantly used to describe the collision. This is a deliberate attempt to show that both Gillian Clarke and the Heron felt like one united entity; together facing the terrible collision. “We might have died”, Clarke says, throwing light how she looked for the best interest of the bird and would’ve been hurt if any harm were to come to the bird. This highlights the affectionate relation between the human and the Heron. The narrator feels a strands of ‘intimacy’ that seems to braid both of them together, while simultaneously also feels ‘shocked’ from this collision. One can say that Gillian Clarke was ignorant about her fondness for the other species. Moreover, it may iterate that this affection was always existent, but was suppressed by societal norms that deemed humans to always be superior to other species. This is love is again seen with words like ‘near’ and ‘almost.’ Moreover, though the interaction expires briefly, it has impacted and moved the narrator, and was permanently stored in the ‘tracks’ of the authors mind. Thus, diction has been a vital tool in highlighting the relation of humans and animals in the poem.


According to me what makes the relationship seem so evident and prominent is the writing style of the Gillian Clarke. Honestly, nature and industry both have played a mammoth role in human life. But, in the poem, as Clarke has used negatives/ unpleasant words to describe nature, its importance to human life appear to deteriorate. Words like ‘Dirty’ ‘stains’ ‘rustings’ ‘erosions’ are catalysts in adding that effect to the poem. They are harsh sounding words that appear to highlight all the negatives that have been brought up by industry. Moreover, nature/animal has been described with words like ‘delicate’ “beauty” “ sand under snow”. These are pleasant and soft sounding words, which make the relationship of man and animal finer than that with industry.


Thus, with the use of Imagery, metaphors, contrasts, and dictions both affectionate and non-affectionate relations of man and animal are highlighted.








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.