Week 63: The Sundial, by Gillian Clarke

I hear that this poem initially found its way into Gillian Clarke’s wastepaper basket. While the wastepaper basket may be a much underused accoutrement in most poets’ homes, in this case at least I’m glad the poem found its way out again: I do admire its febrile precision, and in particular the strangely compelling image in the last two lines.

The Sundial

Owain was ill today. In the night
He was delirious, shouting of lions
In the sleepless heat. Today, dry
And pale, he took a paper circle,
Laid on the grass which held it
With curling fingers. In the still
Centre he pushed the broken bean
Stick, gathering twelve fragments
Of stone, placed them at measured
Distances. Then he crouched, slightly
Trembling with fever, calculating
The mathematics of sunshine.

He looked up, his eyes dark,
Intelligently adult as though
The wave of fever taught silence
And immobility for the first time.
Here, in his enforced rest, he found
Deliberation, and the slow finger
Of light, quieter than night lions,
More worthy of his concentration.
All day he told the time to me.
All day we felt and watched the sun
Caged in its white diurnal heat,
Pointing at us with its black stick.

Gillian Clarke

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