‘Miracle on St. David’s Day’ by Gillian Clarke, as has been stated by Clarke herself, is based on her own personal experience about a man who had not “spoken” for years, but overcame that ailment during one of her poetry readings due to his recollection of a childhood memory. Through metaphor and blunt language—natural comparisons and contrasts that express hardship as well as comradery—Clarke manages to express that story in a way that tugs at the heart and reveals the triumph of the “mild man” with the ailment in great, moving detail. The full poem can be read Miracle on St. David’s Day here.
Miracle on St. David’s Day Analysis
First, Second, Third, and Fourth Stanza
The first hint of the meaning of ‘Miracle on St. David’s Day’—that the man in the audience will begin speaking again—is represented in the very first line when the “afternoon” is noted as “open-mouthed,” which could be taken as an indication that the person who “has never spoken” will end up speaking by the end of the poem. Of course, the reader cannot know this detail at this point in the poem, but it exists as foreshadowing.
A great deal of information is given about other attendees at this poetry reading, and the eclectic collection of listeners is an interesting contrast to the natural elements that are being referenced as near or present. Naturally, the “afternoon” is sunny and “yellow” “with daffodils,” and the “cedars and enormous oaks” are as solid as the “nursery shrubs” are beautiful. This is lively and strong, clear and crisp, in comparison to attendees who are inflicted with various ailments—“[a]n old woman” who “interrupt[s]” and a “schizophrenic” child, to reference only a couple. On the surface, these seem like opposites, or the contrast that was previously mentioned. On a deeper level, however, Clarke could be comparing instead by placing these people in the context of varying natural beauties. If such is the case, the notion is strong that these listeners are all different, but works of nature in their own right. This sets the scene for the future, uplifting moment that the “mild man” will later have.
Still, the wording connected to these listeners is blunt to the point of harsh, such as referring to them as “the insane.” This could be a hint to the reader that Clarke is being as blunt as she possibly can be, perhaps as a subtle request to trust the validity of the story that will unfold. She is not pulling punches, and this could be her way of cluing the reader in on that detail to gain their confidence to take the story at face-value.
The “mild man” himself is treated with significant care during these stanzas as Clarke takes time to not only build him up as a “labourer,” but she also notes that he is handled “tenderly” and moves “gently.” This indicates a softness of nature about the person, and the reader can connect quite easily with him from this tactic to become invested in his story. Additionally, he “rocks gently to the rhythms of the poems,” which is a clear indication that he feels an in-depth connection to the works themselves. This, again, is foreshadowing for what will bring him out of a physical predicament that had been as grounded in his life as an “oak” and as restraining as a “cage.”
Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Stanza
This series of stanzas of ‘Miracle on St. David’s Day’ details the man being jarred from his muteness. That man, Clarke notes, “is suddenly standing,” and initially this response from him causes her to be “afraid.” This speaks to the stereotypes that were somewhat mocked against people who endure these kinds of ailments by comparing them to the natural elements. Once more as well, Clarke has decided to be blunt about her fear, but she does not build too strongly upon it since the important detail is what is occurring with this man when he finds his voice to recite “‘The Daffodils.’” The only inclinations that time has passed since he last spoke as he “recites” this passage are the “slow” way he begins and the “hoarse” quality of his voice. Other than that, he is “word-perfect.”
The nurses, of course, are shocked, which is a reasonable and literal reaction. The reaction of “the daffodils” outside, however, is more metaphoric. The notion that they “are as still as wax” as they “listen” to the poem that bears their name speaks of reverence between old friends, as if the flowers are happy to finally have their companion home with them. On a deeper level, this can be taken as a reunion between the man and his voice. Like the flowers are acting amazed as though an old friend has returned, the true friend to find his way home is the man’s voice.
This is all tied to his hearing a poem in his younger days before “the dumbness of misery” came upon him, and that furthers the notion of an old friend coming home. He remembers this poem, and that connection is enough to bring him out of his silence. This return is so heartwarming, it seems, that not only does the crowd “applau[d],” but the “thrush sings and the daffodils are flame.” The “flame” is a representation of how the poem and the ability to speak lingered within the “mild man” over the years, like a “flame” that had never been extinguished. Like a “flame” though, it needed the right kindling to come forth, which turns out to be the poetry reading by Clarke.
Essentially, this is a poem about the beauty of human perseverance, and a heartwarming tale about this “mild man” who remembers he could speak, and Clarke has done well in pairing the natural elements to both represent his suffering over the years and to reveal the greatness of his victory over his ailment. From beginning to end then, ‘Miracle on St. David’s Day’ is set up to reveal his story to its fullest, and the result is a beautiful tale of overcoming demanding odds with the right incentive.
About Gillian Clarke
Born in 1937, Gillian Clarke has written both verse and prose works that have gained attention, and the honors that she has earned due to her writing have been impressive. For instance, she was the National Poet of Wales. Her works can be grounded in a no-nonsense approach, such as ‘Miracle on St. David’s Day,; but they are often coated with enough meaning and possibility to garner attention.