Clock

The London Magazine - - MATTHEW FRANCIS -

The poet Dafydd ap Gwilym is dis­turbed in his sleep, c. 1350

Once more he’s walk­ing through the streets of sleep be­side a grey wall with flow­ers grow­ing out of it run­ning his right hand along its nub­bly flank,

warm from the day’s sun

He’s with a woman whose face he can never re­mem­ber, but she’s wear­ing it now, be­cause this is a dream. She walks half-danc­ing, as a pony might.

Her voice is a bell,

and the bell is a rider in ar­mour crash­ing back­wards in an apoc­a­lypse of plates, flanges and riv­ets. The lance is full in his chest. His helm rings

and he wakes, gasp­ing,

in the scratchy dark of a bed in some hostelry. The bell has just stopped, but he can hear or see the metal­lic squig­gles of sound fad­ing around him:

the first clock in Wales,

so new it has no hands yet, only a bell to cleave the night into hours. He pictures the weights drag­ging the rope from its drum, cogs clack­ing out

their brazen sec­onds.

Nearby, the monks are sleep­walk­ing with can­dles to pray in the sack­cloth gloom of a chapel. They’ve made a morn­ing of their own, called Matins,

for their dawn cho­rus.

The clock is a sleep­less cob­bler ham­mer­ing the black­ness out­side and in­side his head, a mill grind­ing it into par­ti­cles

that sift all round him.

But now he is feel­ing his way back to her, by the crum­bling wall held to­gether by flow­ers where they’ll con­sort a lit­tle more, till the bell

clangs it to bits.

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