• Jul, 08, 2021

Welsh Poet, Gillian Clarke Contributes to Poetry Rx | Includes Ch. 16

I was delighted to wake up this morning to an email from Welsh poet, Gillian Clarke, whose poem “Miracle on St. David’s Day” is the subject of chapter sixteen in my latest book Poetry Rx. Gillian had been kind enough to allow me to use the poem free of charge, so the least I could do was to send her a copy of the book.

Here is her gracious thank you note

Dear Norman,

Your book has arrived! Thank you!  Full of favourite poems, and the light your insightful chapters cast on each one. Proud to be part of it!

Warm wishes


“Miracle on St. David’s Day” has been a great favorite among the readers of Poetry Rx

Her poem has been a great favorite among the readers of Poetry Rx, many of whom had never encountered it before.  It seems a fitting occasion therefore to write a blog about “Miracle on St. David’s Day” for those of you who have not yet had the treat of reading it.  Here then is the chapter on that poem from my book.

Poetry Rx | Chapter Sixteen | THE MEMORY OF DAFFODILS


by Gillian Clarke

All you need to know about this poem is that it is a true story. It happened in the ’70s, and it took me years to find a way to write the poem.

“They flash upon that inward eye
which is the bliss of solitude.”
(from “The Daffodils” by William Wordsworth)

daffodilsAn afternoon yellow and open-mouthed
with daffodils. The sun treads the path
among cedars and enormous oaks.
It might be a country house, guests strolling,
the rumps of gardeners between nursery shrubs.

I am reading poetry to the insane.
An old woman, interrupting, offers
as many buckets of coal as I need.
A beautiful chestnut-haired boy listens
entirely absorbed. A schizophrenic

on a good day, they tell me later.
In a cage of first March sun a woman
its not listening, not feeling.
In her neat clothes the woman is absent.
A big, mild man is tenderly led

to his chair. He has never spoken.
His labourer’s hands on his knees, he rocks
gently to the rhythms of the poems.
I read to their presences, absences,
to the big, dumb labouring man as he rocks.

He is suddenly standing, silently,
huge and mild, but I feel afraid. Like slow
movement of spring water or the first bird
of the year in the breaking darkness,
the labourer’s voice recites “The Daffodils.”

The nurses are frozen, alert; the patients
seem to listen. He is hoarse but word-perfect.
Outside the daffodils are still as wax,
a thousand, ten thousand, their syllables
unspoken, their creams and yellows still.

Forty years ago, in a Valleys school,
the class recited poetry by rote.
Since the dumbness of misery fell
he has remembered there was a music
of speech and that once he had something to say.

When he’s done, before the applause, we observe
the flowers’ silence. A thrush sings
and the daffodils are flame.


This is an excerpt from Poetry Rx —if you wish to read more inspiring poems click here to get the book!

Purchase Poetry Rx


The setting

The staff of a psychiatric hospital has invited Clarke to visit and read poetry to the patients. It is St. David’s Day, March 1, the day to commemorate the patron saint of Wales, who famously said, “Do ye the little things in life.” The daffodils are out in bloom, and celebrations of St. David’s Day all over Wales are festooned with the traditional daffodils.

Clarke has a good eye for the telling detail. Her descriptions are vivid and full of contrasts. The old woman, who offers her “as many buckets of coal as I need,” is confused of mind but generous of spirit. Clarke refers to one woman as sitting in “a cage of first March sun . . . not listening, not feeling.” Despite the beauty of the day, she is trapped inside her mind.

I can see part of the difficulty Clarke must have faced in telling the story. Should she use the language of the 1970s, which would now be unacceptable, or current terminology, which is more clinical and considerate? Yet in communicating how the mentally ill were treated back then, the poet’s language is accurate, and I recall those inconsiderate terms used freely when I was a junior psychiatrist.

Clarke’s attention now shifts to the central focus of the poem, “a big, mild man,” who is “tenderly led to his chair.” He was a laborer who had not said a word in ten years. Then Clarke starts to read. At first we see the big man, sitting in his chair as “he rocks gently to the rhythm of the poems.” Then:

He is suddenly standing, silently,

Huge and mild, but I feel afraid.

I can relate to the fear that this large, silent man might strike in the poet. Instead she describes a “miracle.” The laborer recites “The Daffodils.” He is hoarse, presumably from not speaking for years, but word-perfect.

Briefly Clarke shifts back to the daffodils outside. Unlike Wordsworth’s dancing, vibrant daffodils, the ones outside the mental hospital are “still as wax,” reflecting the stillness of the people inside the hospital walls. Like the large man, they are silent, “their syllables unspoken.”

Perhaps the poet waited so long to write the poem in part because she needed something to bring all of its elements together. For that, we have the daffodils—in bloom and in poetry—to thank for helping her pull the story together so beautifully.

Perhaps it was those daffodils, in all their different forms, that flashed upon the inward eye (or ear) of the tall, lumbering laborer. In the solitude of his mutism, the poem might have awakened some memory of a time long past when children were taught to learn poems by heart at school, and helped him find his voice.



  • There is great value to memorizing poetry. As a simple exercise, try to memorize your favorite poem or poems. You never know when they might become a resource on which you may wish to draw.
  • If anyone you know seems shut in, for example by a stroke or dementia, remember that there may well be a sentient being trapped behind the unresponsive facade, and treat that person accordingly. Also, try to activate in that person some locked up inner source of vibrancy. For example, playing the music of their youth can release surprising displays of joy and vitality that, as with the laborer in the poem, might seem like a miracle. Poetry might well have the same effect.

The Poet and the Poem

Gillian Clarke is a prominent Welsh poet and playwright who was brought up speaking English. She has been honored for her work by being named the third National Poet of Wales and awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

Her poetry is studied by students throughout the United Kingdom, and her work has been translated into ten languages. She has written sixteen books.

In seeking permission to use Clarke’s poem in this book, I contacted her directly. Without contract, negotiation, fees, or hesitation, she replied, “Do use it. That’s what poetry is for.”

“Do ye the little things,” I thought.

Listen to Gillian Clarke’s Reading and Commentary


This is an excerpt from Poetry Rx —if you wish to read more inspiring poems click here to get the book!

Purchase Poetry Rx