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’.

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.

After leaving

Maen nhw’n dy alw drwy’r dydd
i nôl mawn neu hel mynydd …

It’s you they call, all day long
to fetch peat or gather sheep …

After leaving

In time past, a farm hand called ‘W.H.’ carved pictures of ships on the slate stones of a cowshed at Lasynys Fawr.

It’s you they call, all day long
to fetch peat or gather sheep,
to harvest oats for the stall,
lure a calf or thatch the rick,
to feed farmyards full of beasts,
cut rushes, pull lambs, clean arses
of horses before the fair,
to rush up to rough pasture
and pursue meadow cattle
at a trot, running all day.

It’s you they call, all day long – to jump to
your never-ending tasks:
wanting you yet faster,
it’s that or get a new place.

They call you, they call time and again
but for all they call a hundred times,
they cannot reach the damp white sail of
your mind’s eye – your soul’s roving long since,
every evening you’re further out to sea,
your term at an end, anchor aweigh.

© Myrddin ap Dafydd 2003, English adaptation © Susan Walton 2010

Wedi gadael

Rhyw dro, cerfiodd gwas ffarm o’r enw ‘W.H.’ luniau llongau ar lechfeini beudy’r Lasynys Fawr.

Maen nhw’n dy alw drwy’r dydd
i nôl mawn neu hel mynydd,
i gael y ceirch i’r gowlas,
i lithio’r lloi neu doi’r das,
i borthi llond buarthau,
lladd brwyn, tynnu ŵyn, glanhau
tinau’r ceffylau cyn ffair,
dy frysio i fyd y rhoswair
a dilyn gwartheg dolydd
ar duth, ar redeg drwy’r dydd.

Maen nhw’n dy alw drwy’r dydd – dy ysgwyd
i’th dasgau byth beunydd:
isio ’ti brysuro sydd,
hynny neu gael lle newydd.

Maen nhw’n galw, dy alw eilwaith
ond dy alw a gân nhw ganwaith,
ni alwan nhw lun o hwyl wen laith
o’th lygaid – mae dy enaid ar daith
eisoes, rwyt bob un noswaith ar y môr,
ym mhen dy dymor, yn mynd ymaith.

© Myrddin ap Dafydd 2003, reproduced with the author’s permission

This is one of two poems I chose to enter for The Times Stephen Spender Prize for poetry translation in 2010. It is from an award-winning collection by Myrddin ap Dafydd. This collection won the most prestigious prize for poetry – the Chair – at Wales’ National Eisteddfod in 2002.

I chose ‘Wedi gadael’ partly because I too have seen carvings of ships on old farm buildings. The other reason is that I understand the feeling of the farm hand. His carving expresses a dream he’s holding like a talisman while he’s at others’ beck and call throughout the day. Without expressing his dream materially, it might slip away under exhaustion and slurry. He’d glimpse the carving during the course of his daily grind, and it would secretly lift his heart.

Lynx in a zoo

‘Mae ’di’i cholli hi’, yw pitïo
llawer o gylch ei gell loerig o …

‘He’s lost it’, we sympathise as he
madly circles his lunatic cell …

Lynx in a zoo

‘He’s lost it’, we sympathise as he
madly circles his lunatic cell
but we’re drawn back later to watch him:

six paces southwards,
turns like a tramcar
with flinty eyes sparking holocaust;
a sulky march, mute
in his angled world,
backwards, forwards, onward for ever …

We’ll pass the stagnant python – the sleepy
sheepish bears, slothful goats
and the half-hearted tiger, – a lizard
like a statue drowsing
and lions in endless, endless meetings,
run without a chairman,

and we will come back later to watch his
paws grasping, pulsing a constant beat,
tirelessly running through matted grass,

with head held high, stately Mandela,
entitled still, hunting forever his
domain in Combe d’Ire under deep snow,
his night heavy with hunger,
moon-whitened shivering lake,
he’s there on the hills and through the ford
free to follow the trails of his world
going, still going, always alive.

© Myrddin ap Dafydd 2003, English adaptation © Susan Walton 2010

Lynx mewn sw

‘Mae ’di’i cholli hi’, yw pitïo
llawer o gylch ei gell loerig o
ond down yn ôl wedyn i’w wylio:

mynd i’r dde chwe cham,
yno troi fel tram
gyda fflam yn ei lygadau fflint;
martsh anniddig, mud
o fewn conglau’i fyd,
’nôl , ’mlaen o hyd, o hyd ar ei hynt …

Awn heibio’r beithon lonydd – yr eirth swrth
a swil, y geifr mynydd
diog a’r teigr diawydd, – madfall pren
â’i ben ar obennydd
a llewod mewn cyfarfodydd hirion,
hirion, heb gadeirydd,

a down yn ôl wedyn i wylio’i
bawennau’n dal, dal i bendilio,
yn rhedeg y ffèg heb ddiffygio,

yn benuchel, yn hen Fandela,
yn dal at hawl, dal ati i hela
a’i dir yn Combe d’Ire tan gnwd eira,
ei nos yn dew gan newyn,
golau lloer ar sigl y llyn,
yntau ar y rhiwiau a thrwy’r rhyd
yn rhydd i fynd ar drywydd ei fyd
yn mynd, dal i fynd, yn fyw o hyd.

© Myrddin ap Dafydd 2003, reproduced with the author’s permission

This is one of two poems I chose to enter for The Times Stephen Spender Prize for poetry translation in 2010. It is from an award-winning collection by Myrddin ap Dafydd. This collection won the most prestigious prize for poetry – the Chair – at Wales’ National Eisteddfod in 2002.

I chose to adapt ‘Lynx mewn sw’ because it parallels my late father’s situation towards the end of his life. He was confined to a hospital bed with a panoramic view of northern Snowdonia. He’d been to nearly every peak he could see, but knew he’d never walk in the countryside again. His illness sometimes tricked his mind into thinking he was elsewhere. Sometimes he was back in the mountains.