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.

Walking on water (almost)

I’d almost done it; now was no time to slip! I’d walked both shores of the Menai Strait except for …

Walking on water (almost)

I’d almost done it; now was no time to slip! I’d walked both shores of the Menai Strait except for the stretch on the mainland side between the two bridges. This was the last piece of the jigsaw and, even though I’d waited for the lowest tide of the year, I still had to paddle through shallow water. There wasn’t any sort of beach for me to walk on there: the tide didn’t go out far enough. Shoreward a tangle of huge rocks with a thick coating of slippery, strappy seaweed loomed over me. Close by on my other side a green, deep and dangerous channel of sea moved like a lazy snake, even now at slack water.

I’d started this journey almost two years before, as a result of many sunny evenings spent gazing across the water from the Anglesey Arms in Caernarfon.  There’s a a group of Scots pines on a little headland on the opposite, Anglesey shore which always drew my gaze. Bit by bit I’d walked as much of the Strait shores below high water as possible. I went from Abermenai Point to Trwyn Du on the Anglesey side, and Fort Belan to Llanfairfechan on the mainland. Where I couldn’t walk on the shore itself I’d walked as close as I could on public paths and roads. I thought I knew the Strait shorelines: I’d been for many walks down to the water, and gazed on it from buses, trains and cars. But this walk took me to places I’d never imagined.

Some of the most unexpected things I saw were on the Anglesey side: derelict lime kilns, huge stepping-stone cubes in the Afon Braint that look like modern art, and a hidden, high sea wall nearby. I saw the familiar from new perspectives: in new lights and new colours, and from different angles. A shift in sunlight, and the water could change from petrol blue to jade green to slabby grey in a few seconds. One November dusk, in a freezing wind, I watched as the western side of the Britannia Bridge turned from mustard-yellow to pale mauve-grey. In the dying light I counted thirteen cormorants perched on the vertical face of the bridge, on the shaded, eastward side, in the teeth of the wind. Why were they on the cold side? A solitary, fluffed up grey wagtail had a better idea: it was on the western side, catching the last of the sun.

I saw four great egrets at Aber Braint, and saw the sea at Trwyn Du roiling with shoals of herring and whitebait. I saw eighty or ninety swans feeding, and a similar number of grey lag geese, while wading across the river at Aber Ogwen. On a muggy May evening, in the shoreline woods between Plas Newydd and Pwll Fanogl, a sparrowhawk sliced silently past me. I came across a fuddled guillemot in dazzling noonday sun on the endless sandy beach at Abermenai, and found an oystercatcher’s skull at dusk on the stony beach by Waterloo Port. The bone was perfect, cleaned by salt water. But none of these was my most breathtaking encounter with wildlife.

The moment, or rather the ten minutes, came at Porth Penmon. I was sitting at the top of the beach, looking out idly across the water. My eye caught movement among the seaweed-covered rocks further down the beach, newly revealed by the ebbing tide. Nothing in my wildlife-watching experience had prepared me for what I saw when I raised my binoculars: a stoat on a beach. It was quartering the rocks horizontally, in exactly the same way stoats normally hunt in a vertical dry-stone wall. Up and over, in and out, seaweed pushed through and flipped aside. It moved behind some larger rocks, and I stood up cautiously to follow it with the binoculars. Out it popped, taking no notice of me. As I walked away along the beach it was still hunting, either oblivious or unafraid.

© Susan Walton 2010

Drinking beer outside the Anglesey Arms in Caernarfon inspired me to walk the foreshores of the Menai Strait. I wanted to get up close to those picturesque Scots pines on the opposite shore.