Today I thought I would suspend my usual Friday post of the countdown of the 100 greatest songwriters as determined by Rolling Stone Magazine and post, instead, a poem by one of my favourite Welsh-language poets – Waldo Williams. The poem I have chosen has been in the news a bit this week as BBC Wales have used an English translation of it in their trailer for tomorrow’s (Saturday’s) big rugby showdown between England and Wales.
As anyone who knows anything about Wales will tell you, we are big on rugby. It has become our religion. We get pretty excited about any rugby international, but when it is against England (the old enemy), and by beating England we can both scupper their chances of a Grand Slam and put us in a position to win the 6 Nations Championship, then the excitement goes into overdrive.
But, more about the rugby later in this blogpost, first Waldo Williams and the poem.
Who was Waldo Williams?
I feel a bit of a connection with Waldo Williams as he was born in Haverfordwest where I grew up. Then, at 7 years of age, he moved with his family to Mynachlog Ddu in the Preseli mountains, a place where some of my ancestors on my paternal grandfather’s side of the family also lived. He spoke only English before he moved to Mynachlog Ddu; his father was a Welsh speaker but his mother spoke only English. As Mynachlog Ddu was (and still is) a Welsh-speaking community he quickly became fluent in Welsh; but apparently always spoke to his sister in English as that is the language in which they had started their relationship.After graduating in English from the University College of of Wales, Aberystwyth (now Aberystwyth University) he became a teacher, and went on to become headmaster of the local school in Maenclochog (near Mynachlog Ddu). He became a Quaker in the 1950s, and during the Korean War he refused to pay his taxes as a protest against the war. For this refusal, he was sent to prison several times.
As a teenager I had a poster of one of Waldo’s poems on my bedroom wall, a beautiful poem called Cofio, which I will have to blog about in the future. I also included two lines from his poem Preseli at the beginning of my PhD thesis back in 1992. These lines are
Mur fy mebyd, Foel Drigarn, Carn Gyfrwy, Tal Fynydd
Wrth fy nghefn ym mhob annibyniaeth barn
which I translated as
The Wall of my youth, Bare Three Cairns, Saddle Cairn, Tall Mountain,
Behind me in all my independence of opinion
(Foel Drigarn, Carn Gyfrwy and Tal Fynydd are three mountains one can see from Mynachlog Ddu). The same words are on the memorial stone to Waldo, which stands overlooking these three mountains of his youth. I quoted these lines at the start of my Thesis as it summed up, for me, what growing up in the rugged countryside of Pembrokeshire engenders in its people; an independence of opinion and a preparedness to choose the path less followed.
Pa Beth yw Dyn?
Pa Beth yw Dyn? was published in Waldo’s only book of poetry, Dail Pren (The Leaves of the Tree), which came out in 1956.
Beth yw byw? Cael neuadd fawr
Rhwng cyfyng furiau
Beth yw adnabod? Cael un gwraidd
Dan y canghennau.
Beth yw credu? Gwarchod tref
Nes dyfod derbyn.
Beth yw maddau? Cael ffordd trwy’r drain
At ochr hen elyn.
Beth yw canu? Cael o’r creu
Ei hen athrylith.
Beth yw gweithio ond gwneud cân
O’r coed a’r gwenith?
Beth yw trefnu teyrnas? Crefft
Sydd eto’n cropian
A’i harfogi? Rhoi’r cyllyll
Yn llaw’r baban.
Beth yw bod yn genedl? Dawn
Yn nwfn y galon.
Beth yw gwladgarwch? Cadw ty
Mewn cwmwl tystion.
Beth yw’r byd i’r nerthol mawr?
Cylch yn treiglo.
Beth yw’r byd i blant y llawr?
Crud yn siglo.
Dr. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has done a translation of this poem, and it is his translation which is used in the BBC Wales trailer for tomorrow’s match. His translation reads
What is living? The broad hall found
between narrow walls.
What is acknowledging? Finding the one root
under the branches’ tangle.
What is believing? Watching at home
till the time arrives for welcome.
What is forgiving? Pushing your way through thorns
to stand alongside your old enemy.
What is singing? The ancient gifted breath
drawn in creating.
What is labour but making songs
from the wood and the wheat?
What is it to govern kingdoms? A skill
still crawling on all fours.
And arming kingdoms? A knife placed
in a baby’s fist.
What is it to be a people? A gift
lodged in the heart’s deep folds.
What is love of country? Keeping house
among a cloud of witnesses.
What is the world to the wealthy and strong? A wheel,
turning and turning.
What is the world to earth’s little ones? A cradle,
rocking and rocking.
This is an alternative translation by Tony Conran
To live, what is it? It’s having
A great hall between cramped walls.
To know another, what’s that? Having
The same root under the branches
To believe, what is it? Guarding a town
Until acceptance comes.
Forgiveness, what’s that? A way through thorns
To an old enemy’s side.
Singing, what is that? The ancient
Genius of the creation.
What’s work but making a song
Of the trees and the wheat?
To rule a kingdom, what’s that? A craft
That is crawling still.
And to arm it? You put a knife
In a baby’s hand.
Being a nation, what is it? A gift
In the depths of the heart.
Patriotism, what’s that? Keeping house
In a cloud of witnesses.
What’s the world to the strong?
To the children of earth, what is it?
A cradle rocking.
The England v Wales BBC Trailer
Now, finally, tomorrow’s (Saturday’s) big rugby match between England and Wales. It is the fourth weekend of the 2016 6 Nations, and as things stand England and Wales are the only two undefeated sides. England have 3 wins from 3, and Wales have 2 wins and a draw from 3. The winner at Twickenham tomorrow is almost certainly going to win the 2016 Championship, so the stakes could not be higher.
Wales and England have played each other 127 times. Remarkably, both sides are incredibly even; England have won 58 times and Wales have won 57 times, with 12 matches drawn. Wales have beaten England more times since 2008, and the last time we played (at Twickenham) was when we helped dump England out of the World Cup.
|Wales v England results since 2008|
|2015||Twickenham||2015 Rugby World Cup||25-28||Wales|
|2015||Cardiff||2015 6 Nations||16-21||England|
|2014||Twickenham||2014 6 Nations||29-18||England|
|2013||Cardiff||2013 6 Nations||30-3||Wales|
|2012||Twickenham||2012 6 Nations||12-19||Wales|
|2011||Cardiff||2011 World Cup Warm Up Match||19-9||Wales|
|2011||Twickenham||2011 World Cup Warm Up Match||23-19||England|
|2011||Cardiff||2011 6 Nations||19-26||England|
|2010||Twickenham||2010 6 Nations||30-17||England|
|2009||Cardiff||2009 6 Nations||23-15||Wales|
|2008||Twickenham||2008 6 Nations||19-26||Wales|
As this table shows, since 2008 Wales and England have played 11 times. Wales have won 6 times, England have won 5 times, and there have been no draws. It couldn’t be much closer!
Hopefully, with Wales having beaten England the last time they played, and it having been at Twickenham, Wales will have the edge tomorrow. I cannot wait for the match. And, to get you in the mood, here is the BBC Wales trailer, with Rowan Williams’ translation of Pa Beth Yw Dyn? read by Welsh actress Erin Richards…..