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.

This is an adaptation into English of a paraphrasing of the original old Welsh into modern Welsh:

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

Modern Welsh adaptation ©Gwyn Thomas, reproduced with the permission of the author’s estate
English adaptation ©Susan Walton 2018

And here is the old Welsh:

Gwen vordwyt tylluras a wylyas neithwyr
Ygoror Ryt Uorlas.
Kan bu mab ymi ny thechas.

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’.

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.