Gillian Clarke

Journey by Gillian Clarke

‘Journey’ by Gillian Clarke is a poem of three stanzas that focuses on a road trip and all the things that are witnessed by the couple in the car.

Journey by Gillian Clarke is a free verse poem of three stanzas that focuses on a road trip and all the things that are experienced and witnessed by the couple in the car. Just by the title alone, it is presumable that the journey discussed in the poem will be more than just a drive on the road. This journey is about life and its suffocating darkness where a definite future should be. Life is a journey full of uncertainties and unknowns, if a person begins to dwell upon having total control over the journey and the unidentified future ahead, he is sure to get lost. Click here to hear Gillian Clarke read Journey.

Journey by Gillian Clarke


Journey Analysis

First Stanza

As far as I am concerned
We are driving into oblivion.
On either side there is nothing,
From the other world where people
Might be sleeping, might be alive.

The first stanza starts out in quite a dark place. The very first line suggests that this entire poem is based on the “concern” of the narrator. The second line reveals exactly why, as the reader learns that the narrator feels that they are “driving into oblivion”.  This is significant for the reason that it sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The reader understands that the narrator is uncomfortable; she could be speaking of literally driving into “oblivion”, but it seems more reasonable to assume she is talking about something deeper.

The narrator continues to describe that on both sides (of presumably the car) there is nothing. Here, she could easily be speaking of life in general. When there is no goal or aim in your journey of life you lose out on gaining anything from the experiences you encounter, so you always feel that you are ‘driving” into nothingness. Lines four and five emphasize this notion by pointing out that when you are driving in darkness and oblivion, beyond the light of your car you will find it all “black”, dark and engulfing. In order to see anything beyond that darkness, you need to have a firm idea of where you are going, only then will your journey be one of light and benefit.

Lines six to eight give the readers a metaphor of a miner digging for a future. Clarke is comparing driving in the dark to mining in the dark, both have something in common, they do not know for certain where they are headed or what they will find. Both scenarios are looking to the future as a place of gain, where they will be pulled out of this darkness. Clarke turns the concept of darkness into something more concrete and physical when she writes darkness off as something that can “drip”. This is significant because it puts Clarke’s idea of darkness into perspective for the readers. Darkness no longer stays a concept it becomes burdensome and heavy so much so that it leaks and “drips’, but notice that it is only heard and still unseen. The notion of darkness dripping in a distance like you would hear water drip, paints a picture of despair and emptiness and an almost suffocating atmosphere. The final two lines of the stanza expose that the narrator is talking about so much more than a road trip. The darkness that she hears, she is assuming is from another world where she expects those who are “sleeping “ or dead to be more alive because they are no longer traveling through this uncertainty of life that has become overpowering darkness.


Second Stanza

Certainly there are white
Gates with churns waiting
Dark a damp whiff of the fungoid
Sterility of the conifers.

The second stanza of this poem seems to have a little more hope and a little less dread as the first line mentions certainty and brightness. Lines twelve, thirteen, and fourteen mention white gates waiting “for morning”, although it is literally talking about milk churns waiting by farm gates with the fatty cream rising to the top; it is easy to view these lines as lines of optimism for the reason that they speak of a new day with a bright description. Also, it is a noteworthy fact that being able to own and consume fatty milk was a sign of prosperity and luxury.

Lines fifteen and sixteen discuss the memory of discovering an old table on their journey. These lines provide proof that the narrator is not driving in complete darkness, she is even able to make out objects as the car passes them. This is quite a change from the first stanza that was drenched in darkness. Line seventeen continues with lighter, brighter imagery because of words like lamps, swept, and clean. However, that doesn’t last too long as line eighteen dives back into the idea of being left behind. This stanza ends on a heavy note as the narrator discusses a tractor carrying a load of logs that smell of a forest reminding her of what those logs could’ve been had they not seen the end of their days.  A beautiful forest full of trees could be out there had these logs not been cut down.  This is a significant idea to pint out as it is something that is encountered commonly in anyone’s life. In everyone’s journey of life, they encounter situations where they notice they could have been and should have been had a better conclusion than what actually happened. It is disturbing to see that life could really have been so much better for some had they only made different choices, like that of the logs. Had they been left uncut, they would have been a lively forest.


Third Stanza

Complacently I sit, swathed
In sleepiness. A door shuts
Chasm, I submit like a blind
And folded baby, being born.

The third stanza seems to turn back into a much lighter mood as it begins with the narrator being “complacent” rather than “concerned”.  The change in attitude could very much be the fact that she is now feeling “swathe” or wrapped in sleepiness. Lines twenty-four and twenty-five reek of the dreadful theme of darkness as the readers are hit with an abrupt door shutting at “the end of a dark corridor”. Here Clarke is throwing readers into the feeling of being washed into darkness as the only door out closes on you. These lines are so claustrophobic that it really puts into perspective the emotions of someone who is stuck in their journey of life and is unable to come up with a goal or purpose, with every passing day it would feel as though another door was being shut on you leaving you standing alone, in darkness, still.

Lines twenty-six and twenty-seven introduce more imagery into the poem, to help the reader grasp the heaviness of this darkness. The narrator describes that it becomes so dark that had a cat been there its eyes would have been a source of light. This imagery causes the reader to experience the uncertainty and loneliness that comes along with such nauseating darkness. Lines twenty-eight and twenty-nine express aggressiveness towards thins anger, it’s the resistance before the submission. The narrator feels like she’s being thrown around in the engulfing darkness throughout her journey.

In the final two lines, the reader discovers that the narrator has surrendered to whatever comes her way. Just as a baby entering this world, driven by its journey and blind to the future, the narrator submits to her destiny and her journey of life. She acknowledges her lack of control of the future and the unseen and possibly after her submission, she found the light she was looking for.

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Noor Rehman Poetry Expert
Noor has an Honours in the Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English Literature and History. She teaches elementary and high school English, and loves to help students develop a love for in depth analysis, and writing in general. Because of her interest in History, she also really enjoys reading historical fiction (but nothing beats reading and rereading Harry Potter!). Reading and writing short stories and poetry has been a passion of hers, that she proudly carries from childhood.
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