Gillian Clarke’s Lament-Background Information

Clarke wrote Lament in the early 1990s during the Gulf War Crisis, which developed into a full-scale UN-authorised war between Iraq and a coalition force made up of some thirty-five countries. Her poem deals with the casualties of war, primarily the destruction of the natural environment as well as innocent people who were caught  up in the war, leaving them homeless and often stateless.

Whilst this war occurred over twenty years ago (not without repercussions), Clarke’s poem is still relevant today because there continues to be conflict in the Middle East, though the attention has most recently shifted to Northern Africa. Wars are man-made, and this is a pertinent point made by Clarke in her poem, ‘Lament’. Some of issues raised in this poem are:

  • man-made environmental disasters ie oil spill
  • refugees
  • soldiers from vastly different backgrounds and parts of the world in combat.
  • animal casualties birds, mammals
  • arguments

Gulf War 1 (August 2, 1990 – February 28, 1991), ) or the First Gulf War as it is also known, is regarded as being the world’s third largest oil spill. The speaker of Lament refers to this catastrophic  environmental disaster .

Clarke uses animals to reinforce the environmental disaster. Below are some of the ones she mentions.

Below is a short story written for children entitled ‘The Sad Cormorant’ set in Kuwait (incidentally the setting of Clarke’s poem)the cormorant is ‘sad’ because his habitat has been destroyed by an oil spill.


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