Part of the Canu Llywarch Hen saga

… ni chiliodd
… he stood firm

Gwên, with legs like steel, kept watch last night
Beside Rhyd Forlas:
As he is a son to me, he stood firm.

Gwên, bras ei forddwyd, a wyliodd neithiwr
Ar ochor Rhyd Forlas:
Gan ei fod yn fab i mi, ni chiliodd.

English adaptation © Susan Walton 2018

This is one, tiny part of Canu Llywarch Hen (the Songs of Llywarch Hen). The core of this collection is thought to have been written in the 9th or 10th centuries.

Rhyd Forlas means ‘the ford on the Morlas [brook]’. In this part of the saga, Llywarch Hen sends his son, Gwên, to guard the ford, a vulnerable point on Wales’ border with England. Gwên dies in the subsequent battle, the last of Llywarch Hen’s twenty-five sons to die fighting.

The ford can still be seen today (Ordnance Survey grid reference SJ311383), and it is still on the border. Visiting it brings to mind R. S. Thomas’ lines: ‘To live in Wales is to be conscious / At dusk of the spilled blood’.

Behold Creation

A choed y maes sydd eto, oll fel yn curo dwylo
And trees extend their branches, invite us to their dances

Behold Creation

Sweet turtle dove is singing and all the world rejoicing
In jubilation
And trees extend their branches, invite us to their dances
In exultation
Pure kin – all blooming fur and fin.

The host sings praises, earth harmonises
Exulted chorus, all glowing from within
Their brilliant anthem to him wakes hills and valleys green.

In time, great saviour of the world
Took his dominion, to show compassion
To tainted children born from her hidden sin
Long live the grace of Jesus, his whole dominion cries.

© Susan Walton 2018


Gwêl yr Adeilad

Mae’r dirtir bêr yn canu a’r byd yn gorfoleddu
Mewn gwir fyw lwyddiant
A choed y maes sydd eto, oll fel yn curo dwylo
Mewn clôd a moliant
Câr gwyn a gwridog fawl am hyn.

Llu’r nêf a’i moliant, a’r llawr cyd-ganant
Hwy’n un enynant, pob un a’i dant yn dynn
A’i tanllyd anthem iddo nes deffro bro a bryn.

Mewn pryd, iachawdwr mawr y byd
Death ar ei orsedd, i rhoi drugaredd
I blant y llygredd, fu mhwll ei camwell cudd
Teirnasa dirion Iesu, yw gwaedd ei deulu gyd.

 

My adaptation of this traditional plygain carol, ‘Gwêl yr Adeilad’, was commissioned by the Welsh harpist Bethan Nia. You can hear her singing the original here .

These extracts from Welsh Folk Customs* explain the plygain:

“In many parts of Wales … Christmas meant rising early (or staying up overnight) to attend the plygain service at the parish church.

Plygain, and its earlier forms pylgain and pylgaint, are derived from the Latin pulli cantus: ‘cock’s crow’

Seen against its historical background the plygain is a survival of a pre-reformation Christmas service modified to suit the new Protestant conditions

The carols sung at the plygain were written in the traditional metres and set to old airs ”.

 

*Owen, Trefor M., Welsh Folk Customs (Cardiff, 1978)

 

Blaen Pennant

… ‘Hen Flaen’ he said, pointing.
And three generations dropped away.

Blaen Pennant

And now that I was finally here,
I stood at the doorway.
And all that was left was the doorway:
Made of stronger wood than the door, perhaps.

Sheep wandered in and out
And foxgloves rose in place of flames.
The bed where Hen Flaen* collapsed, drunk,
Had fallen with the wormy joists,
Heaped and tangled with the roof’s blue slates.

And now I was finally here, my features fitted:
While holding wide the gate at the lower farm,
An old man looked past my dreads, my t-shirt and my modern shoes –
‘Hen Flaen’ he said, pointing.
And three generations dropped away.

© Susan Walton 2017

This poem was written on a course at Tŷ Newydd that covered a range of ways in which existing works of art can give rise to new poems. This is the most original piece I wrote on the course, the starting point being the line ‘I stood at the doorway’, provided by another attendee. The poem describes an actual event. Someone I know went looking for the ruin of the farm where his mother was born, and was recognised as a descendant of ‘Hen Flaen’ on physical appearance alone.

*‘Flaen’ is the mutated form of ‘Blaen’; ‘hen’ = ‘old’.
Country people in Wales are often nicknamed after their farms.

After Prufrock and after T. S.

… But will the risk be worth the gain,
Among the cups of porcelain?

After Prufrock and after T. S.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
I’ll blend in, my morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest; I hope I will blend in.
 
I’ll listen, I’ll record, I’ll keep an eye. I’ll spy.
Although my breasts are slightly breasting,
The collar mounting to the chin, the necktie, should disguise.
This is where the men collect, this is where the deals are done.
Although the marmalade and tea are grand,
The bottom line is what’s at hand.
Lord So-and-so’s son can tip the wink,
And so it goes, and so they think.
 
But will the risk be worth the gain,
Among the cups of porcelain?
 
© Susan Walton 2017
 
This poem was written on a course at Tŷ Newydd that covered a range of ways in which existing works of art can give rise to new poems. This poem incorporates snippets of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. The course attendees were given different snippets at random by the tutors. You can hear ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ being read in its entirety by its author, T. S. Eliot (1888–1965), here. It was intriguing find the Eliot rhythms and patterns persisted through something I’d made up on the spot.

Tonight

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche …
Tonight I can write of my sadness, but how? …

Tonight

Tonight I can write of my sadness, but how?
 
In commonplace cliché, like
‘My heart is aching/breaking/longing’.
 
The night wind howls around the heavens.
 
Tonight I can write of my sadness, but how?
Remembering the moments when she loved me.
 
On nights like these we lay together.
Under infinite heavens we’d kiss.
 
At times I loved her too, how could I not?
Those night-dark, constant eyes.
 
Tonight I can write of my sadness, but how?
Realising she is lost to me. Realising she is gone.
 
The night presses in on me.
My verse distils a few drops onto my soul.
 
Why care now that my love fell short?
Our stars shine on, but she is gone.
 
That is all. Far off there is music. Far off.
My soul stirs – she should be here!
 
As if to call her, I turn my head.
I silently wish, but she is gone.
 
The moonlight, the night, the trees, the stars.
They’re all the same, but we are not.
 
I no longer love her, I realise, but, God, how I did.
My voice sought out the wind to touch her ear.
 
She loves once more, as she did before.
With her voice, her air, her limbs, her infinite eyes.
 
I say I no longer love her, but perhaps I do.
The explosion is brief, the half-life too long.
 
Remembering nights like these when we lay together,
my poor soul thirsts, it is still scabbed.
 
But this will be the last time I will pick at my scab,
and the last time I’ll write of you.
 
© Susan Walton 2017
 
This poem was written on a course at Tŷ Newydd that covered a range of ways in which existing works of art can give rise to new poems. This adaptation was based on an existing, literal translation into English of the original Spanish poem by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904–73), supplied by the course tutors. The original is from a collection called Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperadacan published in 1924, and can be read in the original Spanish here.

To live in Welshpool

after R. S.

To live in Welshpool

To live in Welshpool in the 80s
when the Smithfield was central
(where Tescos now is)
was to be woken on Mondays a touch before dawn
by heaving lorries and braying beasts.
 
That was the only day
to hear Welsh on the streets.
Not much food there, then, for the learner – me.
 
I heard of a family of native Welsh speakers,
and cornered their tastiest son.
While stripping his sunburn in my single room
I learned more, and more, and mwy.
 
© Susan Walton 2017
 
This poem was written on a course at Tŷ Newydd that covered a range of ways in which existing works of art can give rise to new poems. This poem took R. S. Thomas’ ‘Welsh Landscape’ as its starting point; you can hear R. S. himself reading ‘Welsh Landscape’ here.

Mortality

after W. S. Merwin

Mortality

With every year that passes
I know my time is shorter.
I know the final breath will slip,
And one day the fight will slide.
 
The awkward will be ordered.
The world’s horror will subside.
My wife’s unending goodness understood.
 
I ponder these things, and give thanks.
Although not really comprehending,
Or knowing what’s to come.
All I know is days of rain have ceased
And birds are singing, bright and clear.
 
© Susan Walton 2017
 
This poem was written on a course at Tŷ Newydd that covered a range of ways in which existing works of art can give rise to new poems. This poem was created from the anonymised information content of an existing, published poem: ‘For the Anniversary of My Death’ by W. S. Merwin, which can be read here. Another attendee had already stripped away the original poem’s vocabulary and form, presenting it to me as prose.

The grave of Hedd Wyn, under snow

Mor frau dros yr erwau hyn – yw’r heddwch …
So frail over lonely leys – lies the peace …

The grave of Hedd Wyn, under snow

So frail over lonely leys – lies the peace
Descending down this day,
Even so, snow fell slowly,
Peace held sway… it was holy.

© Tudur Dylan Jones, English adaptation © Susan Walton 2014

Bedd Hedd Wyn, o dan eira

Mor frau dros yr erwau hyn – yw’r heddwch
Sydd ar heddiw’n disgyn,
Er hynny, fesul gronyn,
Roedd yno hedd… roedd yn wyn.

© Tudur Dylan Jones, reproduced with the author’s permission

Visiting the Yr Ysgwrn, the home of Ellis Evans (Hedd Wyn), I was moved by this poem. Before Yr Ysgwrn’s re-vamp, this poem was displayed above the fireplace in the same room as his famous Black Chair. A chair is the most prestigious prize for poetry at Wales’ eisteddfodau, and the so-called Black Chair was awarded posthumously to Ellis Evans at the 1917 National Eisteddfod. Hedd Wyn was the bardic name of Ellis Evans, who had been killed at Passchendaele some weeks before the Eisteddfod. His grave is in the Artillery Wood Cemetery, Boezinge, Belgium. If you are eligible to use the BBC’s iPlayer app, you can listen to a half-hour Radio Four programme about Hedd Wyn here.

This poem appears in a volume of poetry (Canrif yn Cofio – Hedd Wyn 1917–2017, edited by Ifor ap Glyn) that collects together poems that  are responses to the Hedd Wyn story. It appears under the title ‘I deulu’r Ysgwrn’ in the book.

Hedd Wyn’s name means ‘blessed peace’ (hedd = peace; [g]wyn = blessed/holy/white). Tudur Dylan Jones’ poem in the original Welsh contains a pun on the words ‘hedd’ and ‘wyn’, and so in one way the poem can be about no one else. However, to me it is about all the World War I soldiers who lie under blanketing snow, far from their homes. The photograph accompanying the poem is of my Great Uncle Jack who, like Ellis Evans, never came back.

The Man on the Horizon

… A sacrifice is vital;
And for that, Wales, keep looking to
The man on the horizon.

The Man on the Horizon

Not all that’s fragile is feeble,
As man exists, not every mote is dust.
And for this, Wales, behold
The man on the horizon;
Incisive his mind,
Infinite his idiot faith.

On his face the print of a dream,
In his voice a holy depth.
But for his learning and modest coming
He would be ignored,
Like that earlier Supreme Being
Who was crucified for them.

He bravely loves a land
And a people cast aside.
He shaped his heart to them
And a cell was their thanks.
For a genuine Welsh act
Persecution came, not praise.

Indifferent Wales, the day will come
When you will see your shame.
A parliament’s not won with words
A sacrifice is vital;
And for that, Wales, keep looking to
The man on the horizon.

‘Y Gŵr Sydd ar y Gorwel’ © Gerallt Lloyd Owen 1972 from Cerddi’r Cywilydd, Gwasg Gwynedd; English adaptation © Susan Walton 2011, published online with the permission of Gerallt Lloyd Owen

Translating ‘Y Gŵr Sydd ar y Gorwel’ by Gerallt Lloyd Owen was sparked by a conversation about the arrest of a pub landlord in a village near mine for brandishing a gun after he had told customers to order their drinks in English, not Welsh.

The following day I was taken aback to hear that a young, Welsh (and Welsh-speaking) acquaintance had declared that locals shouldn’t get so het-up about the use of Welsh. It was apparent that he was too young to be aware of the civil-rights struggles of the 60s and 70s that resulted in the Wales of today, where Welsh has an equal legal status with English. If a young man in one of the Welshest parts of Wales is blissfully ignorant of the battles others had fought for rights he enjoys, how many other, non-Welsh speakers are?

Gerallt Lloyd Owen died in 2014. His obituary in the Telegraph is here, and in the Independent here.

On a quarry footpath

Ar eu pedwar, pwy ydynt …
Who are they, crawling crabwise …

On a quarry footpath

When the Llithfaen workers walked to work at the Nant quarries in winter, they had to claw their way along the path through the pass on all fours in very stormy weather.

Who are they, crawling crabwise
to their work in the teeth of a gale?

Men tied to this rock for bread
And their fingernails there like chisels,
Summer or winter, the same yoke
Of rock around their shoulders.

But they, on a path in the sky,
Bent, stumbling to the mountain
Top, they are the cornerstones
Of our walls – and we,
So far from the cutting wind,
Are off-cuts of what they were.

© Myrddin ap Dafydd 2008, English adaptation © Susan Walton 2011

Ar lwybr chwarel

Pan gerddai gweithwyr Llithfaen i’w gwaith yn chwareli’r Nant yn y gaeaf,
 byddai’n rhaid iddynt grafangu ar hyd llwybr y bwlch ar
eu pedwar pan fyddai’n stormus iawn.

Ar eu pedwar, pwy ydynt
’ddaw i’w gwaith drwy ddannedd y gwynt?

Gwŷr caeth i fara’r graig hon
A’u gwinedd ynddi’n gynion,
Haf neu aeaf, yr un iau
O gerrig ar eu gwarrau.

Ond hwy, ar lwybr yr wybren,
Yn plygu, baglu i ben
Y mynydd, hwy yw meini
Conglau ein waliau – a ni,
Mor bell o gyllell y gwynt,
Yw’r naddion o’r hyn oeddynt.

© Myrddin ap Dafydd 2008 from Bore Newydd, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch; reproduced with the author’s permission

The original, Welsh poem can be seen carved into the sculpture sited between the village of Llithfaen and the precipitous descent to Nant Gwrtheyrn (formerly Porth y Nant). The poem refers to the nearby Nant granite quarries. Porth y Nant was derelict for many years, but was resurrected in the 1980s as the Welsh language teaching centre of Nant Gwrtheyrn.

More of my adaptations of  Myrddin ap Dafydd’s verses (and those of other poets) accompany Martin Turtle’s photographs of Llŷn in the bilingual book Hud a Lledrith Llŷn / Llŷn a Magical Place.