Poetic miracles

 

St David’s Day – the feast day of St David, patron saint of Wales – falls every year on 1st March. Gillian Clarke’s poem Miracle On St David’s Day is a poignant testament to the power of poetry. The speaker of the poem is ‘reading poetry to the insane’ in some sort of mental health hospital. On St David’s Day, the poem of choice is Wordsworth’s much celebrated and much quoted The Daffodils. A ‘big mild man’ who has ‘never spoken’ during his stay in the hospital adds his ‘hoarse’ voice to the recital. The beauty and familiarity of Wordsworth’s words remind him of the ‘music of speech’; a joy which has been long forgotten during the ‘dumbness of misery’. In some small way, the poem has helped the man to heal. It is a St David’s miracle.


 

At The Reader Organisation, we strive for these miracles every day. We work in day centres, old people’s homes, drug rehabs, hospitals, hostels, refugee centres, public libraries, schools and children’s homes to bring the pleasure of reading to as many people as possible.


 

Miracle On St David’s Day


They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude

The Daffodils by 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 coal 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 rhythm 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 he once had something to say.


 

When he’s done, before the applause, we observe

the flowers’ silence. A thrush sings,

and the daffodils are flame.

Gillian Clarke

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