Thursday, October 13, 2016

Welsh Landscape - R.S. Thomas

                             To live in Wales is to be conscious

                             At dusk of the spilled blood
                             That went to the making of the wild sky,
                             Dyeing the immaculate rivers
                             In all their courses.
                             It is to be aware,
                             Above the noisy tractor
                             And hum of the machine
                             Of strife in the strung woods,
                             Vibrant with sped arrows.
                             You cannot live in the present,
                             At least not in Wales.
                             There is the language for instance,
                             The soft consonants
                             Strange to the ear.
                             There are cries in the dark at night
                             As owls answer the moon,
                             And thick ambush of shadows,
                             Hushed at the fields’ corners.
                             There is no present in Wales,
                             And no future;
                             There is only the past,
                             Brittle with relics,
                             Wind-bitten towers and castles
                             With sham ghosts;
                             Mouldering quarries and mines;
                             And an impotent people,
                             Sick with inbreeding,
                             Worrying the carcase of an old song. 

This, certainly, is my Wales, the one that loomed steep and dark and lyrical through the mists along the Severn estuary, the humbled Celtic land viewed from my own Celtic Somerset where I spent a dozen years: outsider looking upon outsider. And this the poem, more than any other, that induced me to write my own "A Song In Welsh".

As I wrote there, to the ancient Saxons, Wales (pronounced Wa-lès) literally meant "outsider", or "foreigner", as Habiru – Hebrew - did in ancient Egypt; a term of derogation, of ostracism; a sending away to the margins of what is no longer your own country. Thomas nonetheless is wrong (and in truth he knows it): there is a present in Wales, but it is an English present, or Anglo-Saxon anyway, of industrialised farmers and unemployed miners, of dark satanic mills imposed on green and pleasant land, of the tolling and tolling of the sad bells of Rhymney, their peals arranged in London, not Caer Dyff.

But even this is not the real tragedy of Cymru (though it is also the same tragedy as the one in Catalunia, the Basque regions of France and Spain, Brittany, Palestine, Crimea, Kurdestan, and rather more non-countries in the world than you might even be aware of, but all of whom are listed here); rather it is that a man like Thomas, steeped in the Welsh language, steeped in history, culture, tradition, that a patriot like Thomas, whose voice, whose landscape, whose lexicon, whose characters and melodies, whose very punctuation describes a Welsh lilt, that such a man should be reduced to the pathetic bitterness of writing those last three lines in English.

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