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.

Matthew Francis

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