The Stone Hare
Think of it waiting three hundred million years,
not a hare hiding in the last stand of wheat,
but a premonition of stone, a moonlit reef
where corals reach for the light through clear
waters of warm Palaeozoic seas.
In its limbs lies the story of the earth,
the living ocean, then the slow birth
of limestone from the long trajectories
of starfish, feather stars, crinoids and crushed shells
that fill with calcite, harden, wait for the quarryman,
the timed explosion and the sculptor’s hand.
Then the hare, its eye a planet, springs from the chisel
to stand in the grass, moonlight’s muscle and bone,
the stems of sea lilies slowly turned to stone.
What a example of a wondering, wandering, time travelling mind at work! Clarke is a magician, a conjuror of the ancient past, using words like a linguistic trapeze artist, transporting us through the ‘faith’ of her imagination. to places where everything began and where everything will end!
Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
I only came across this poem the other day. I was looking through Google for examples of ‘Unseen Poems for GCSE’ and stumbled upon this wonderful poem by Gillian Clarke. I admire her writing immensely and her ‘Cold Knap Lake’ is now one of my favourite poems- discussed here too.
‘Cold Knap Lake’ was included in the original AQA Anthology which provided GCSE students with a wonderful selection of poems, as besides Clarke’s poem , I also encountered Heaney’s Mid-Term Break’ and Duffy’s Havisham which was the first poem I ever taught as an Independent English tutor! (see here).
The casually contemplative wonder of ‘Think of it waiting..’ transports us from one state of mind and time frame to another, in a mind boggling hare leap of ‘three hundred million years.’ Clarke’s response to the hare is anchored to its stillness, as it is haloed in moonlight,rendering the hare an ancient sculpture about to spring to life. And in its sculptured stone self, the hare contains knowledge of the earth’s origins, a testament to how life began.The intricacies of the lexis all relating to ancient time,’warm Palaeozoic seas,’engender a sense of palpable wonder at the hare as a ‘premonition of stone’ so that chronologically and yet intrigued,’ its eye a planet,’ we follow the poet’s wondering, wandering speculative narrative about the hare’ s past.
Michelangelo’s famous insights about stone and sculpture seem pertinent here, as Clarke’s imaginatively ‘excavates’ her vision of the night time hare, weaving the hare’s voyage through time, so that it springs back into life right before us as we read the poem:’ springs from the chisel’.
The hare is thus Michelangelo’s ‘angel’ trapped in the stone until freed by the faith and imagination of the artists’s chisel or pen.
The Woman in Black
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