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A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998 – Gillian Clarke An old ewe that somehow till this year Had given the ram the slip. We thought her barren. Good Friday,

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Presentation on theme: "A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998 – Gillian Clarke An old ewe that somehow till this year Had given the ram the slip. We thought her barren. Good Friday,"— Presentation transcript:

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2 A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998 – Gillian Clarke An old ewe that somehow till this year Had given the ram the slip. We thought her barren. Good Friday, and the Irish peace deal close, and tonight she’s serious, restless and hoofing the straw. We put off the quiet supper and bottle of wine we’d planned, to celebrate if the news is good. Her waters broke an hour ago and she’s sipped her own lost salty ocean from the ground. While they slog it out in Belfast, eight decades since Easter 1916, exhausted, tamed by pain, she licks my fingers with a burning tongue, lies down again. Two hooves and a muzzle. But the lamb won’t come. You can phone for help and step into the lane to watch for car lights. This is when the whitecoats come to the women, well-meaning, knowing best, with their needles and forceps. So I ease my fingers in, take the slippery head in my right hand, two hooves in my left. We strain together, harder than we dared. I feel a creak in the limbs and pull till he comes in a syrupy flood. She drinks him, famished, and you find us peaceful, at a cradling that might have been a death. Then the second lamb slips through her opened door, the stone rolled away.

3 A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998 After three poems in the Anthology about babies - two of them depicting childbirth - the title here might suggest something similar. But the "difficult birth" is of a lamb, at Easter. Gillian Clarke gives the reader the date (1998), as a clue to the symbolism of the title - which refers to the historic Good Friday agreement, which has gradually brought some kind of peace to Northern Ireland. The talks that led to this were also having a "difficult birth" over that Easter time. Gillian Clarke says (on her Web site) that the Easter setting of this poem also hints at the old story of Jesus's crucifixion and rising from the dead. This double meaning appears in the first stanza - where the poet (and presumably her husband) look forward to good news. That is that something that has gone on for years seems about to change - "eight decades since Easter 1916". They have planned to celebrate the good news from the peace process, but have to put this off to look after the "restless" ewe.

4 The ewe's waters break, releasing the fluid in the amniotic sac that protects the unborn lambs, and she has licked this up. But her lamb is stuck. Someone (we do not know who, but this person is identified as "you") phones for the vet. The writer seems to rebel against this - men thinking they know best, even about birth. So she eases her hands in, grips the lamb's head and front hooves. She pulls hard, and at last the lamb comes out in "a syrupy flood", which the ewe licks up. The "you" character returns to this scene - "peaceful, at a cradling that might have been a death". Then the second lamb comes. The poem presents the poet and the ewe as working with a common purpose - "we strain together". The poem is set out in stanzas of regular length and a loosely iambic metre. The last line, which shows that the miracle has occurred, is shorter than the rest.

5 Gillian Clarke mixes up details of the peace talks and the narrative of the lambing - "While they slog it out...exhausted, tamed by pain,/she licks my fingers". We realize that "exhausted, tamed by pain" refers to the sheep, but could almost equally well apply to the peace negotiators. And there may be a contrast between the violent history of men working against each other and the peaceful cooperation of females that can overcome the difference in species. We might easily miss the point as a "second lamb slips through" the "opened door" - that the first step towards peace is the hardest. The poem is resonant with echoes. The ending suggests the miracle of the first Easter - the stone rolled away from Christ's empty tomb. "Easter 1916" marks the uprising that would lead to Irish independence and later, indirectly, to the troubles in Northern Ireland - but it is also memorable as the title of a poem by W.B. Yeats that records the event as the first part of a heroic struggle. Yeats writes, in the chorus, that "a terrible beauty is born". And "peaceful, at a cradling" suggests images of human mothers and children, perhaps even the nativity at Bethlehem.

6 In this poem, Gillian Clarke relates two of her greatest concerns - a love of the natural world around her and the political processes that bring war or peace to the world. How does the difficult birth of the first lamb parallel events in the Irish peace process? Is this an optimistic or pessimistic poem in your view? What do you think of the contrasts the poet makes between people (like her) and experts (men in white coats)? What view of nature do you find in this poem?

7 This poem could be compared to Seamus Heaney's At a Potato Digging. Both writers depict natural events, familiar to country people or farm workers, and relate them to history and wider political perspectives - specific to Ireland in both cases. Seamus Heaney looks at arable farming on a large scale (at one point discussing the whole Irish potato crop), while Gillian Clarke looks at pastoral farming on a small scale - one ewe among the little flock she raises with her husband.At a Potato Digging Seamus Heaney admires farmers, and recognizes their abilities - which he admits he cannot match. But he also sees much of country life as cruel, arduous and alarming - something he may exaggerate in his poems, to explain why he is a writer and observer but not a farmer. Gillian Clarke, on the other hand, evidently enjoys both writing and animal husbandry. Where Seamus Heaney (admittedly as a boy) runs from the sight and sound of menacing frogs, Gillian Clarke is quite ready to slip her hands inside a ewe as it gives birth and help pull the lamb out by the head.

8 An old ewe that somehow till this year Had given the ram the slip. We thought her barren. unexpected after so long Good Friday, and the Irish peace deal close, link with Christianity and tonight she’s serious, restless and hoofing the straw. We put off the quiet supper and bottle of wine last supper we’d planned, to celebrate if the news is good. celebrate what?

9 Her waters broke an hour ago and she’s sipped her own lost salty ocean from the ground. While they slog it out in Belfast, eight decades important date? since Easter 1916, exhausted, tamed by pain, Easter risings she licks my fingers with a burning tongue, long labour/long battle lies down again. Two hooves and a muzzle. But the lamb won’t come. You can phone for help and step into the lane to watch for car lights.

10 But the lamb won’t come. You can phone for help peace- Christianity and step into the lane to watch for car lights. Who? Irish? This is when the whitecoats come to the women, experts? English? well-meaning, knowing best, with their needles and forceps. Demanding- power struggle? So I ease my fingers in, take the slippery head in my right hand, two hooves in my left. Of God?

11 We strain together, harder than we dared. Working together for peace I feel a creak in the limbs and pull till he comes sense of struggle or reluctance in a syrupy flood. She drinks him, famished, and you find us link with Christianity peaceful, at a cradling that might have been a death. Peace deal v war Then the second lamb slips through her opened door, peace- lamb of God the stone rolled away. Hidden life – media has opened door Short last line – sense of finality but also beginning of something Regular rhythm – 4 verses,4 lines (same length) Last verse present tense


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