June 11, 2007

Gillian Clarke on ‘Beginning with Bendigeidfran’

Gillian Clarke begins her essay with reference to the mythical character of the giant, Bendigeidfran: ‘It seems to have begun with Bendigeidfran, his rhythmic syllables, the imprint of his huge foot on the shore, and the rocking stone of the headland that had been the apple in the giant’s pocket’ (287). The land and poetic language seem to have a close relationship in Clarke’s vision as even stones ‘bear messages that seem to be coded or in languages I could not understand’ (287).

In her poetics, Clarke draws on Seamus Heaney and a poetic imagination that is rooted in childhood and she suggests that ‘this rich source of poetry is especially available for women’ (286). The reasoning behind this is that girls start to read earlier and consequently advance in language sooner. Clarke’s fear seems to revolve around the Welsh tongue which ‘took on the nature of a forbidden tongue, a language of secrets from which I at first felt merely excluded, and later learned to value as something stored’ (289). In poems like ‘Dw^r’, Clarke began to use Welsh language words and so to enrich her poetry further.

Our Sister’s Land: The Changing Identities of Women in Wales. Ed. Jane Aaron, Teresa Rees, Sandra Betts and Moira Vincentelli. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994. (287-293).

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