Better to fix than break

Gillian Clarke offers her views on the European referendum via both prose and a poem.


Europe is a family of nations with which we share so much: blood, culture, history, art, music, literature, rugby, cuisine, and, unlike in the bad old days, a glass of wine at a pavement cafe table in Cardiff, Aberystwyth, Aberdare.

I was in Berlin just after the wall came down. Joy and music filled the city. Students, studying my poems for the International GCSE exam, email from Paris, Rome, Madrid. At Ors in Northern France, our poet, Wilfred Owen, is celebrated where he spent his last night before being killed on the Sambre canal.

Thank God for poetry, the internet, the IGCSE, for croissants and cafe-au-lait, for a sip of the warm south in Italy, or a cooling Eiswein in Ceredigion, for cafe tables in the squares of Welsh ex-mining towns, for my European passport. I am Welsh, British, European, and through these eyes I read our common humanity.

Of course the EU needs fixing, so let’s do it. Better fix than break, better join than leave, create than destroy. Better stand firm than run for cover. It is our Europe. We can, we must mend it.



That was the day we walked on water,

the day they took the old walls down and laid

a path from the island to the continent.


We stepped ashore and took the road together

crossing the latitudes, points of the compass,

to join our histories; retraced


the wild swans’ way over the seas,

over steppe and tundra on their long migration

to winter on a western lake in Wales.


And the dream was, as we travelled over land,

crossing borders, time zones, languages,

our poets would speak in tongues. Being human


is our lingua franca. Mothers, fathers,

listen to the children find the words for road,

for sea, for sky, for welcome, croeso, home.

Gillian Clarke is the former National Poet of Wales.

2 thoughts on “Better to fix than break

  1. The Ulster poet John Hewitt addresses it more directly (we’re a prosaic lot):

    “Firstly, I am an Ulsterman steeped in the traditions of this place. Secondly, I am Irish, of this Ireland. Thirdly, I am British, and finally, in a more diffuse way, I am European. It may make it easier for you to understand if you remove one of those elements but if you do you are no longer describing who I am.”

  2. Now we see a better way.
    Democracy , More Hospitals , & schools, are needed
    Thus ! We will vote on Independence day>

Comments are closed.

Also within Culture