Monday, February 15, 2010

Sing O Muse Week: Amber

Something a bit different this week: poetry with a vintage theme, because in these cold days of late winter, we all need more sustenance than mere pretty pictures.

First up is Gillian Clarke's wonderful "Amber". In the poem she takes inspiration from authentic amber's tactile warmth and from its use as adornment since Neolithic times.

Coveted week after week on the market stall,
coiled, nonchalant, arrayed under the lid
of locked glass, they grew familiar.
She’d finger them, slip them over her head,
try them for size, spoilt for choice—
red-amber, yellow, cut Russian ruby,
or those sad rosaries, widow’s beads of Whitby jet.
In each bead surfaced the cloudy face of a woman.

Warmed by the sunlight on dressing tables,
or against a woman’s skin, then laid safe
in a drawer each night between the silk leaves
of her underwear. Never cold, as if
each bead were the unquenchable flame
that burned a million years like a sanctuary lamp
beneath the ice, each drip of sticky gold
hardening to honeyed gold.

As if nothing that has ever contained heat
can be cold again, mirrors never empty
and our rooms, furniture, hoarded amulets,
could reassemble themselves into a life
and still pass hand to hand from underneath
the permafrost, ice woman to living daughter.

If you'd like to learn more about amber and its uses, there's an excellent reference page here.

"Amber" by Gillian Clarke, from from Carol
Ann Duffy, ed., Out of Fashion, Faber and Faber, 2004