‘Clocks’ by Gillian Clarke is a unique and deep poem that reflects the passage of time and the wonders of growing older. Clarke has written a short poem to explain the beautiful way in which time allows children to grow, without using a rhyme scheme or even describing different events in time. Clarke has used the poetic devices of Enjambment and Imagery to paint a beautiful scene of a mother walking with her son on the beach and simply watching him observe nature and learn new things as he does. The observation of her son so keenly practices and the lack of perfection of his understanding shows us Clarke’s perception of growing older. In ‘Clocks’, she describes that the beauty of growing older lies in our own unique observation which often-times is far from perfect.
The first of the two stanzas of ‘Clocks’ begins by describing the setting in which the voice, which most likely is the voice of Clarke herself, is undergoing her experience. The first three lines of the stanza focus on describing how her son picks the flowers with her and calls them ‘Fftwff’. The fact that her son is unable to pronounce the word flower properly and the fact that he is learning the names of the objects he sees clearly indicates that he is very young, perhaps only one year old. The mere fact that he is repeating the words, or at least attempting to repeat the words that he is hearing shows the pure innocence which children possess. Clarke begins her poem describing this extraordinarily innocent gesture of her son to highlight the dual effect of attaining knowledge.
As time passes we learn a multitude of new things which enlighten us, but at the same time make us lose our innocence. This young boy, Clarke’s son, is so innocent based on the fact that he does not know much and that he still has much to learn.
I teach him to tell the time
by dandelion. ‘One o’clock. Two.’
He blows me a field of gold
from the palm of his hand
and learns the power of naming.
The next four lines describe how Clarke uses the dandelions that they had been picking in order to explain how to tell time to her son. Once again, his age is being brought into perspective over here, for you only need to teach time to a very young child, someone who is still in the first few years of his life. The usage of Enjambment here when connecting the first to lines supports that her son’s age is being emphasized. By initiating the second line with; by dandelion, Clarke is stressing the fact that she was using dandelions to teach her son time, something you would only do for a very young child.
Clarke uses imagery to show that despite her efforts to teach her son, he is preoccupied with his own world. He blows her the dandelions and does not attempt to respond to her teaching him time. What Clarke has done in this stanza is captivating, as she very discreetly explains to us that her son did not respond to her trying to teach him because he was still trying to digest the first thing he had learned in their outing, which was the name of the flower. Clarke explains that her son blew the dandelions to her as he learned the power of naming which shows that she felt that he was silently contemplating the name flower in his mind.
Another discreet point Clarke has managed to make in this stanza is that her love for her child is blinding. She states that he blows her a field of gold from the palm of his hand. It is important to note that the palm of his hand is a separate line on its own, showing us the significance which Clarke puts in her child’s body. A dandelion is a weed in reality and would hardly be described as golden, however, Clarke sees the dandelion that her son is blowing as golden because it has come from him. This blinding of reality is a way of Clarke expressing the love she has for her son.
The second stanza further reveals that Clarke and her son were walking on the shores of a beach. Since flowers are not normally found on sandy shores, the second stanza could reflect a change in scenery and that Clarke and her son have spent quite some time outside observing nature. Clarke uses Imagery to describe the setting. The fact that they watch the sun go down into the sea and it is now night-time outside also supports the notion that Clarke had spent all day outside with her son. Clarke’s mentioning of the time of day may be symbolic as well. The fact that it is night-time when Clarke observes her son growing and learning reminds us that growing up and changing is a subtle phenomenon, similar to the translucent moon.
The whole process of growing up and learning occurs in front of us but it is so discreet it hardly becomes noticed. Clarke’s mentioning of the time of day also brings to light the passage of time. Her son is growing up and learning new things as time passes this gives a very nostalgic feeling to the poem. Clarke mentions that her son is wary of waves and sand which once again brings attention to his tender young age and lack of knowledge. The sand is soft and harmless but her son still fears it because it is something that is new to him, much like most of the world is new to him. Clarke emphasizes his innocence by relating how she attempts to teach him about the sounds he is hearing but his mind is still entrapped in the first thing that he learned that day, the word flower.
Clarke concludes ‘Clocks’ by stating that her son points at the full-blown moon. This gesture shows his curiosity and willingness to learn and grow. Perhaps Clarke is attempting to say that at the end of the day he finally understood the concept of flowers and was ready to move on to learning new things, as the cycle of learning is endless.
‘Clocks’ by Gillian Clarke is a nostalgic poem about the wonders and beauty of growing up. Clarke uses Enjambment and Imagery to describe the way in which she spent her entire day outside with her son and simply watched him blossom and grown. Clarke’s poem also reminds us to focus on the little things and to keep in mind that time will not stay still and will continue moving forward so we should make the most of every moment,