Opinion Poetry 'n Prose

Lament by Gillian Clarke.

For the green turtle with her pulsing burden
in search of the breeding ground.
For her eggs laid in their nest of sickness.
For the cormorant in his funeral silk,
the veil of iridescence on the sand,
the shadow on the sea.
For the ocean’s lap with its mortal stain.
For Ahmed at the closed border.
For the soldier in his uniform of fire.
For the gunsmith and the armourer,
the boy fusilier who joined for the company,
the farmer’s sons, in it for the music.
For the hook-beaked turtles,
the dugong and the dolphin,
the whale struck dumb by the missile’s thunder.
For the tern, the gull and the restless wader,
the long migrations and the slow dying,
the veiled sun and the stink of anger.
For the burnt earth and the sun put out,
the scalded ocean and the blazing well.
For vengeance, and the ashes of language


This is what Gillian herself describes about the poem:

‘Lament’ is an elegy, an expression of grief. It can be a sad, military tune played on a bugle. The poem uses the title as the start of a list of lamented people, events, creatures and other things hurt in the war, so after the word ‘lament’, every verse, and 11 lines, begin with ‘for’.

The poem is about the Gulf War, which happened in 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the United States, with Britain’s help, bombed Iraq. This war has never really stopped, it still threatens the world. War can’t be waged without grave damage to every aspect of life. All the details in the poem came from reports in the media.

There were newspaper photographs of cormorants covered with oil – ‘in his funeral silk’. ‘The veil of iridescence on the sand’ and ‘the shadow on the sea’ show the spreading stain of oil from bombed oil wells. The burning oil seemed to put the sun out, and poisoned the land and the sea. The ‘boy fusilier who joined for the company,’ and ‘the farmer’s sons, in it for the music’, came from hearing radio interviews with their mothers. The creatures were listed by Friends of the Earth as being at risk of destruction by oil pollution, and ‘the soldier in his uniform of fire’ was a horrific photograph of a soldier burnt when his tank was bombed.

The ashes of language are the death of truth during war.

Lament is from Collected Poems published by Carcanet Press Limited
Copyright © Gillian Clarke 1997 used with kind permission

By 67paintings

A dialectical site of poetry, painting and the odd musical excursion into the unknown.

8 replies on “Lament by Gillian Clarke.”

Gillian’s words disturb with their gentle force. They shatter today’s ‘peace’ as we experience it. When so much silent destruction occurs, is it peace…or is it ongoing war – in another plane?

:) Gillian’s words remind me of the earth, as it is: vulnerable, yet strong and beautiful.
I pray for peace, in peace, nothing matters more than the place we call home as peace.

Thank you! I feel at the basis of peace, and all our healing, is increasing self-awareness and compassion to others. This asks us to be gentle with ourselves and others and to surrender our different images of perfection as deluded measures of the world, and to see it with honesty and love.

I recall reading this poem long ago. Such a different angle to take on the devastating effects of war and it broad sweeping impact on all creatures on earth as well as the earth we share.

It’s excellent. Thank you for sharing it.

I met Gillian at a poets convention a few years ago. She left a lasting impression on me that as poets we must go beyond the cocoon of our own lives write things that lead us to greater awareness, it’s an outward as well as an inward journey.

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