Gillian Clarke

Plums by Gillian Clarke

‘Plums’ by Gillian Clarke is a beautiful poem that talks about the specialty of autumn, its fruits. The poem strictly adheres to the titular fruit, that is “plum”. Plum is an oval-shaped fruit. It is purple, reddish, or yellow when ripe during the autumn season. It contains a flattish pointed stone. The plum tree is a deciduous tree. It means the plum tree loses all its leaves during the winter. In this poem, the poet talks about the collective happiness of plum-picking in autumn.

Plums by Gillian Clarke


Summary of Plums

‘Plums’ by Gillian Clarke revolves around the plum fruits and illustrates the natural setting during autumn.

‘Plums’ by Gillian Clarke talks about the juicy plums. Plums ripen in the autumn season and the heart during that time is suitable for “slow fermentation” in the fruits. The poet presents how those fruits become more delicious and juicy in autumn. She recollects the falling of the plums in their garden. During the autumn, the abundance of the fruits and their sweet taste makes the poet feel happy. Apart from the plums, the poet also focuses on the natural landscape in autumn. How everything starts to change during the fall season and even her beloved plum tree can’t avoid the cold clutches of the upcoming winter. But the poet thinks the tree has a fighting spirit as its pointy branches don’t allow the snow to settle on them.

You can read the full poem here.


Structure of Plums

‘Plums’ by Gillian Clarke contains eight four-lined stanzas. Each stanza of the poem presents a complete idea apart from the fourth and fifth stanzas. There is not any specific rhyme scheme in the poem. However, there are certain slant or imperfect rhymes in the poem. In the first stanza, all the lines except the first one contain a slant rhyme and they end with the “n” sound. The lines of the poem are short and there is an apparent regularity in the syllable count.

There isn’t a specific metrical scheme in the poem. The poet uses the iambic meter anapestic meter, and in some lines trochaic meter to maintain the flow of the poem. The anapestic meter reflects a kind of attachment that the poet felt while writing about the plums.


Literary Devices

‘Plums’ by Gillian Clarke contains several important literary devices that help the poet to make her poem more appealing to the readers. Likewise, the poet uses several alliteration and enjambment in the poem. There are some metaphors too in the poem. The poet uses alliteration in the following cases, “their time”, “without wind”, “through the trees”, “late love”, “hear heartbeat”, “secretive slugs”, “morning mouth on mouth”, etc. There are several enjambments in the poem and it is visible throughout the work.

However, there is a metaphor in “trees’ muslin”. Here the poet compares it with the trees’ delicate skin. The poet uses a personification in “the low sun warms them”. The poet associates the sense of “late love” to the heat of autumn metaphorically in the same stanza. There are some other metaphors too in the poem and those are present in “heartbeat of fruitfall”, “hunters’ moon burning”, and “fishbone shadow of a fern”. In the sixth stanza, the poet uses a simile. It doesn’t end here. The poem also contains metonymy, personal metaphor, and synecdoche.


Analysis of Plums

Stanzas One and Two

When their time comes they fall


we hear heartbeat of fruitfall.

‘Plums’ by Gillian Clarke presents the image of a plum tree bearing numerous fruits on its branches. According to the poet, the plums fall from the trees naturally. When their time comes, they ripen and fall. A plum seeps resources from the tree and in autumn becomes ripe. The plum is symbolic here. It represents human life as a whole. Like the plums, a person matures with time.

In the second stanza, the poet talks about the warmth of autumn. The heat of autumn is sweeter than that of the summer and it helps the plums in ripening. The poet hears the “fruitfall” as the heartbeat of a living person at night. It infuses life into the tree and makes it appear as an intimate friend of the poet.


Stanzas Three and Four

The secretive slugs crawl home


such a hunters’ moon burning

In the following section, Gillian Clarke illustrates the happenings around the tree during autumn. The slugs secretively feed on the fallen fruits at night. In the morning, the poet discovers the slugs are still eating the fruits. Here the poet hints at the delicious taste of the plums.

In the next stanza, the poet sketches the plum-picking session. The poet with her family members uses counterpanes to catch the falling plums in the morning. In that year, the tree bore many fruits. According to the poet, “Baskets fill,/ never before such harvest”. It was a great year for the poet and her family as they can eat plums to their fill.


Stanzas Five and Six

the hawthorns, drunk on syrups


the fishbone shadow of a fern.

The last line of the previous stanza marks a shift from the plum trees to the natural aspects. The hunter’s moon is the second full moon after the harvest moon in autumn. So, the poet nears the end of the fall season. She can see the moonlight of the harvest moon giving the red hawthorns a burning luster. The weather becomes so calm at night that the spiders can easily weave their webs in the dewy grass.

In the following stanza, symbolically represents the image of the parting autumn. The poet compares the sun to a rose here. Thereafter the poet refers to the shadow of a fern cast on the white walls of the poet’s room. The poet compares the shadow to a fishbone. As a fern’s leaves have pointed edges, the shadow of the leaves appears as a fishbone.


Stanzas Seven and Eight

The early blackbirds fly


angles will tear the snow.

In this section, the image of the plum appears again. The sound made by the falling fruits at dawn threatens the blackbirds feeding on the plums. For this reason, they fly away. Like the birds, the poet and her family also enjoy the delicious fruits for breakfast. It seems that for the sweet taste of the fruit, the day becomes more pleasant to the poet.

In the last stanza, the poet thinks about the winter that is approaching. In winter, the plum tree becomes delicate and loses its beauty for the frost lying over its body. But, the tree has pointed branches that according to the poet “will tear the snow”. The last line presents the tree’s struggle for survival. The plum tree fights with the cold season and sustains her spirit till the summer. It is a reference to the dominance of life over the passivity of winter.


Historical Context

‘Plums’ by Gillian Clarke belongs to her poetry collection “Selected Poems” of 1985. Gillian Clarke is a Welsh poet who talks about the plums available, especially in her native place. The plums are generally juicy and delicious. The autumn is the harvest season of plums. The abundance of the plums reflects the agrarian state of Welsh. The poem also illustrates the autumn of Welsh and its natural landscape in this season briefly. The main subject matter of the poem is the plum itself.


Similar Poetry

‘Plums’ by Gillian Clarke is one of the famous autumn or fall poems. Here is a list of poems presenting the fruits and natural landscape during autumn.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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