by Gillian Clarke
Llŷr, a British King whose story is told in the Mabinogion (British/Welsh mythology), is the source of Shakespeare’s King Lear. The poem was commissioned by the late Sam Wanamaker for an anthology called ‘Poems for Shakespeare’.
The idea for my poem arose while I was staying in a house in the Llyn peninsula in North Wales, close to the then home of the great Welsh poet R.S.Thomas, who was often to be seen striding the cliffs of Llyn. (He appears in the poem in verse 2, line 9). The two settings of the poem are the mountain-seascape where it was written, and the remembered experience of seeing my first Shakespeare play, ‘King Lear’, at Stratford on Avon when I was 10 years old. ‘River’ in Welsh is ‘afon’, the ‘f’ pronounced ‘v’. It’s the origin of the name of the River Avon.
The poem was at first written as three sonnets, but I abandoned the formal rhyme scheme in favour of a more natural use of echoes and half-rhymes while using iambic pentameter, until the final rhyming verse, and the closing couplet. There are several references and quotations from King Lear in the poem. ‘Nothing’, for example, is all Cordelia had to say when her father, Lear, demanded a public declaration of love from her.