Hafod a Hendref
In that hafod our summer lasted
six months : from the snow through which we drove
to the dense flourishing of August.
After two years of working through my
eyes, picking up a pencil seemed like
enacting some antique ritual :
I had to learn again the patient
solitude of writing, tolerate
the callus on my middle finger.
In London if you should (unwary)
call yourself a writer they mostly
say : Yes, but what do you really do ?
In Welsh society, however,
the writer has always had his place,
accepted for himself : so was I.
For once in my life I felt secure,
could work at my limits ; physical
stress symptoms subsided, disappeared.
Though my mother contracted cancer,
and I also went to law against
a newspaper which had libelled me,
nothing broke that elemental peace
nor did I miss the city I had
gladly lived in almost all my life.
I became that old absurdity
a thinking man holding a pencil
making marks on a sheet of paper
at a southern window up the bank
of a reserved valley as near as
may be to where poetry began.
Welsh in the streets, in the shops :
I as if insinuate
my angular tongue into
your private, distant Aber,
where I observe you proudly
carrying Wales in your heads.
Here with your backs to the sea
you fight. No trains on Sundays,
soon perhaps no trains at all—
which I think almost pleases
(unperversely) most of you.
It is no more and no less
than a symbol that your first
and most Welsh college lodges
in a failed railway hotel.
The roads, too, into Aber
are relatively minor :
the one over Pumlumon
impassable in winter,
unwelcoming in summer
(is the road still subtly up
at Goginan, for tourists ?)
and the others very much
the desultory long ways round.
No motorway is likely
to whiteweal the hillthighs here.
Still the grey sea stings the land.
From that insignificant
quay the cold thousands took ship
for Argentina (where your
tongue took) and all those other
but less favourable new worlds :
they like those unforthcoming
passengers who did not fill
the neo-Gothic hotel
understood there was little
new or different here for them.
You are well rid of both, Welsh,
have been quietly fortunate
as well as resilient :
less knowing peoples have fought
to the death in the first place
And while I may find bizarre
the teaching of (say) Physics
through the medium of Welsh,
I recognize that there is
just no other way for you :
what else could you really do ?
It may be in your National
Library here that (given, as
who understanding does not,
the nuclear witlessness
to come) the only copies
of my books (and me) survive,
the statutory cities gone :
thus in your continuance
I have another interest
take comfort that at holding
out you are by now pedants,
consummates of survival.
In that church there, when
newly built, I said
to her who is with
me even when I
am alone, a great
poet wrote : "Sod all
these women for not
letting me have it !"
—Though in Welsh, of course,
and better expressed.
But the point is that
Dafydd speaks across
six hundred odd years
to you Welsh today
in a way which is
in England : for what
poet is even
to most English now ?
And this conjunction
here of poetry,
love, presence, language
is not uncommon :
sometimes I feel that
each bend in the road
has some similar
With such things living,
Welsh, in what sense are
you dying ?
Since trying to become other-wise
the weight of Wales bears on me here in
London, hendref, like a loved woman.
A few days before we left I dropped
an old ceramic sink (serving as
a child's aquarium) heavily
on my thumb—I forget now, a year
later, which. But the bloodblack nailstain
was for the months it took to grow out
an emblem for more permanent marks.
So this, in your public tradition,
is both my way of thanking you and
recording something of what I felt.
No doubt there are some (in Wales far more
than in London every poet feels
all the others reading as he writes)
who will say I understand nothing :
but is it possible to respect
(and envy) something not understood ?
I believe I now know more of Wales :
if you will not allow me nearer,
at least permit me to understand
that that is part of your surviving.
Once at Gregynog, not long after
arriving, we walked across a field
maculate with snow and lambing blood
and amongst the scattered animals
came upon a lamb so newly born
it had not yet laid eyes on its dam :
some instinct set it unsteadily
towards us as though we must have caused
the monstrous expulse it had suffered
were the womb to which it could return—
I should not stretch the image too far
for my purposes ; but certainly
it parallels the raw helplessness
I feel in moving towards your so
much benigner and more properly
valued older civilisation :
a feeling I have hardly had since
bribing glass in hand outside a pub
I was a child, waiting for parents.
I found my own hafod a thousand
feet up by a stream in a hollow
towards the farther end of a lane.
You will be pleased to hear that I failed
to purchase it for either summer
or any other sort of dwelling—
not through any lack of will of mine :
I could have written there as nowhere
else, I feel (perhaps romantically).
Another winter has seen the place
derelict : does that seem preferable ?
I grieve for Plas Helyg without you.
Or perhaps you would like a foreman
from (say) Standard-Triumph, Coventry,
to outbid your local labourers :
and even men from Rio Tinto
Zinc might seem more acceptable
than a fat obscure writer from London :
at least the others bring in money.
O my Welsh, waelisce, foreigners
friends : are you certain you know from which
direction the enemy now comes ?
Can you in turn understand that how
you feel about the bastard English
I feel about the Americans ?
For perhaps our time has come to start
the resistance, learn how to survive,
burrow in, prepare for the long siege !
the confusion here of images,
impressions, unsureness typifies
this latest experience of Wales,
attempt at involvement with the Welsh :
but what I think I want is to move
from the West westward to live in Wales,
and though I must always be a sais
there seems a chance my children's children
(if they should come) might be nearly Welsh.
The thought of writing in a language
understood by little more than half
a million people I find welcome :
from that you may judge the strength of my
desire to move on and back to you.
But at the moment, Welsh, as much out
of respect I stay outside, return
only as a visitor, tourist,
hope at most to be a guest again.