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Gillian Clarke: a poem

The Pontfadog Oak


Derwen, quercus, sacred druid tree,

rings of history scribed in its heartwood,

stood its ground twelve centuries,

anchored by old roots and its own weight.

Twelve hundred years of leafing and unleaving,

of blackbirds' nests, pied flycatchers, a living

insect citadel, each crack and crevice

a cwtch for wintering wrens and honey bees,

its hollow heart a cave for lovers,

cell for the holy, shelter for sheep, cover

for soldier, thief, fugitive, conspirator,

a place of tryst, trust, betrayal. Older

than cathedrals, its branches caught the stars,

made cruck and cradle, roof-beams, rafters,

fuel for the hearth; pollarded, sprouted, spared

when Henry Plantagenet rased Ceiriog woods.

In 1165, the midnight bell-note of the owl

from its branchy tower the rallying call

when Owain Gwynedd roused his men

for victory at Crogan against the Saeson.

Ten centuries on, an April wind

brought down the king of trees. It fell unseen,

laying its branches, just beginning to green,

on Cilcochwyn's slates, slack as a dead hand.

Gillian Clarke was born in Cardiff in 1937 and lives in Ceredigion. Poet, playwright, editor, broadcaster, lecturer and translator from Welsh, she was Editor of The Anglo Welsh Review from 1974 to 1984. She was the National Poet of Wales from 2008 to 2016, was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2010 and the Wilfred Owen Award in 2012. She has published ten collections of poetry for adults, written radio and theatre plays and translated poetry and prose from Welsh. Her work is widely anthologised, and her poetry forms part of the school syllabus in Britain. Her version of the book-long 7th century Welsh poem, Y Gododdin, will be published by Faber in 2021. A new book of essays and a journal, Roots Home, will appear from Carcarnet in 2021 and she currently has a work-in-progress, a collection of poems, with the working title The Silence.

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