2 LamentA lament or lamentation is a song, poem, or piece of music expressing grief, regret, or mourning.Title: A lament is an elegy or a mourning of the passing of someone or something. Each item introduced by the preposition ‘for’ is being mourned.
4 Gillian ClarkeBorn 8 June 1937 is a poet, playwright, editor, broadcaster, lecturer and translator (from Welsh).Clarke was born in Cardiff and brought up in Cardiff and Penarth, though for part of the Second World War she was in Pembrokeshire. Although both of her parents were native Welsh speakers, she was brought up speaking only English, and she learnt to speak Welsh as an adult.After graduating in English from University of Wales, Cardiff, she spent a year working for the BBC in London. She then returned to Cardiff where she married and had a daughter, Catrin - about whom she has written a poem of the same name - and two sons.
5 Stanza 1For the green turtle with her pulsing burden, in search of the breeding-ground. For her eggs laid in their nest of sickness. Line 1: the green turtle is found in the Gulf. Nesting beaches occur particularly in Oman and Yemen.
6 Stanza 2For the cormorant in his funeral silk, the veil of iridescence on the sand, the shadow on the sea. Line 5: the veil of iridescence refers to oil slicks.
7 Stanza 3For the ocean's lap with its mortal stain. For Ahmed at the closed border. For the soldier in his uniform of fire.
8 Stanza 4For the gunsmith and the armourer, the boy fusilier who joined for the company, the farmer's sons, in it for the music.
9 Stanza 5For the hook-beaked turtles, the dugong and the dolphin, the whale struck dumb by the missile's thunder. Line 13: the hook-beaked turtles are an endangered species as is the dugong - Line 14: a large herbivorous marine mammal. The small population in the Gulf was further endangered by the spillages of oil in the Gulf conflict.
10 Stanza 6For the tern, the gull and the restless wader, the long migrations and the slow dying, the veiled sun and the stink of anger. Line 16: terns regularly migrate over enormous distances, some species from the Arctic to Antarctic. Some species of tern overwinter in the Gulf and some species breed there. Waders are long-legged birds which roam through marshes and coastal strips for food. Many of these also migrate. The word ‘restless’ refers to its movements as it searches for food. It is estimated that between 1 and 2 million birds overwinter or rest in the Gulf during migration.
11 Stanza 7For the burnt earth and the sun put out, the scalded ocean and the blazing well. For vengeance, and the ashes of language.
12 Exercises and Questions After reading the whole poem, write one sentence – (not using any of the words which Clarke has used in the poem) – exactly what or whom, in your view, the poem mourns.
13 Authors ExplanationThe 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.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
14 The following is a collection of photos from the Gulf War to help visualise some of the imagery.
23 Exercises and Questions There are two ‘for’s in the first stanza, two items to be mourned for. What are they?What feelings do the two words ‘pulsing’ and ‘burden’ suggest?What is your response to the metaphor, ‘nest of sickness’?
24 Exercises and Questions Explore the appropriateness of the metaphor, ‘in his funeral silk’ in Stanza 2Consider how the metaphor is extended, and how the third line of the stanza interrelates with the first two lines.What knowledge do you have of the effect of oil on sea-birds; how effective do they find Clarke’s representation of the environmental problem here?
25 Exercises and Questions Look up the word 'lap’ in the dictionary. Which meaning or meanings seems most appropriate here?What might the word ‘stain’ mean – literally first, and then metaphorically? Can you find any other words or phrases which can be interpreted both literally and metaphorically?‘the students’ change to ‘can you’
26 Exercises and Questions Clarke also looks at the human cost.Who is Ahmed? Why ‘Ahmed’?
27 Exercises and Questions The last three stanzas portray some of the environmental damage caused by the War.How does Clarke conjure up some of the atmosphere of the battleground itself ?Can you find any words which are used here at both literal and figurative levels? The word ‘veil’ was also used in the second stanza. Does this have a relevance here?
28 Exercises and Questions The poem ends, surprisingly perhaps, with a lament for ‘vengeance, and the ashes of language’.In many ways, the poem reaches a climax at this point. How has the poet built up to it?Write down in your own way what the last line means to you and discuss together the results.
29 ConsiderFinally, after reading the whole poem, you should try to establish in your own minds how it should be read.First you should think of the tone of voice they would read it in. Is it sad or angry or a combination of the two?Does the tone change as one reads through the poem?How does the listing technique affect the tone?Do the associations of the words at different points of the poem affect the way you would read it?Where would you want to pause and where to stress certain words?Then you should try to read it – preferably out loud, or, at least, letting it sound in your head.