Miracle on St David’s Day
by Gillian Clarke
Q Why did you write the poem?
A Because it happened. It’s a true story. I was invited to read poetry to patients in the Occupational Therapy Department of a mental hospital in South Wales. The reading was organised to celebrate St Davids Day - March 1st.
Q What are the links between your poem and Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’?
A The man who could not speak suddenly stood up and recited Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, word for word, just as he had learned it when he was a child at school. I suppose the sight of the daffodils never left the mind of Wordsworth, and came to him whenever he was in a ‘pensive mood’, and the poem never left the mind of the man in the hospital. In both cases the sight of ten thousand daffodils set memory going, and fired the mind.
Q Why couldn’t he speak?
A He was what is called an elected mute. That is, he was dumb because of his mental illness, not from any physical cause. He was suffering from long-term depression.
Q What made him recite the poem?
A I think two things set the poem going in his mind. One was the daffodils in the room and in the grass outside. The other was that I was reading poetry. The rhythm of the poems and the sight of the daffodils reminded him that he had loved poetry once, and the moment set him free from dumbness.
Q What do you mean by the image of the woman ‘in a cage of first March sun’?
A The sun casts the shadows of window bars into the room. A woman sits in the sunlight and the shadows as if she is in a cage. She is also in the cage of her depression.
Q In verse 6, using words like ‘frozen’ and ‘still as wax’, you suggest an unlit candle. In the last line of the poem you light the candle. Is this a symbol of hope?
A A wonderful question. I hadn’t noticed the connection between ‘wax’ and the ‘flame’ at the end. But you are right. The words prove it. The way it works is that one image suggests another in the poet’s mind.
Q Why does the thrush sing?
A Because it did. We listened to the man reciting the poem, and when we fell silent for a moment before applauding him, a thrush began to sing just outside the window. It is surprising how often I have read this poem on the 1st March, and heard either a blackbird or a thrush sing outside an open window.