December 1282

… the heavens abort the stars

December 1282

Today (11 December) is the anniversary of the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last viable Prince of Wales.
Yesterday we had a violent storm. Tomorrow we have a potentially cataclysmic political event in the UK: a general election.

How was it that day?
Was it like yesterday:
driving rain, trees slashing, that brook flooding?
Were you soaked through as you fell in the mud?
Did rain soak your skin as much as the blood?

Or was the day sparkling bright, cold and calm,
each emerging star like a pinprick?
As you realised your fate, did you glance
from the corner of your eye and note
a startled wren fleeing for cover?

You, too, were contrived into battle
at the bitterest time of year.
Betrayed too, perhaps, by your allies;
and afterwards the sea would reclaim the land,
the heavens abort the stars,
and we would be left to linger.

The last three lines of my poem sample Llywelyn’s elegy, by court poet Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Coch. In that original lament the lines – in old Welsh – are:

Pony welwch chwi’r syr wedyr syrthiaw?

Och yt attat ti Duw na daw mor tros dir!
Pas beth yn gedir y ohiriaw?

which roughly translate as: See you not the fallen stars? … Why, God, does the sea not come over the land! / Why are we left to linger?

The image is the UK Met Office rainfall radar for 15.45 GMT – at about dusk – on 10 December 2019. Words ©Susan Walton 2019.


after W. S. Merwin


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.

To read more about the whole course, see Tŷ Newydd’s  blog.