Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Under the shadows: two poems from Gillian Clarke

From Gillian Clarke’s “Sabrina”
Before history there was mythology.
Fingerprinted between the strata of story
Is the human sign. We make a guess
At who they were, and where and why it was.
How the daughter of faithless Locrinus drowned
Between an Ice Age and the Age of Stone
To become the river-goddess, a curb in the river.
Today in these fast waters you might glimpse
In the sway of the currents the white limbs
Of a girl caught in a shoal of silvers
Turning and turning in the turbulence
Among migrating salmon, sewin, elvers,
Lampreys, eels taking their ancient water-roads
Under the shadows of thousands of homing birds.

From “The Physicians of Myddfai”
Like a bowl of milk
the mountain cups the lake
where the Ages of Stone,
Bronze and Iron left their bones
under the earth, under the water
with the lake king’s daughter.
Every day he dreams her face
a ferment on the surface
at dawn as the sun casts
its net of light from the east.
With his mother’s bread
he’ll win her to his bed.
The spell is buttermilk and barm,
grains ground between stones,
pummelled and set to warm
by a wood-fire or under the sun.
Such leavening as suddenly she breaks
the waters of the lake.
Three loaves,
three chances for love
to cross the boundaries
of time and history,
of water and stone.
On the third day she is his own.
Three strikes of metal and she’s gone.
The ages drown,
dissolved into the past,
the story of the lake lies lost
in archaeology, the myths and silts
of ancient settlements.

Both of these poems introduce the mythical feel of my novel. They give me shivers, every time I read them.

I got to see Gillian Clarke at the Wales-Smithsonian-Cymru event in D.C. back in '09:

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