All entries for June 2007

June 28, 2007

Delyth George on Women Writers in Wales

Welsh literature before the latter half of the twentieth century is considered to have been something of a male preserve. It was a literature largely dominated by one genre – poetry, and within that genre one poetic form in particular was accorded the highest esteem, that is ‘cynghanedd’ or the ‘strict metres’. The formal complexities of the strict metres required that they be taught in special bardic schools, or through a close teacher-disciple relation, and such opportunities to learn the craft were not generally made available to women. Although feminist critics like Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan and Marged Haycock have recently drawn our attention to the fact that a few women did manage, against the odds, to make something pf a name for themselves under these adverse conditions, in general they were necessarily few and far between. (199)

George, Delyth. ‘The strains of transition: contemporary Welsh-language novelists’. Our Sister’s Land: The Changing Identities of Women in Wales. Ed. Jane Aaron, Teresa Rees, Sandra Betts and Moira Vicentelli. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994. 199 – 213.

June 26, 2007

Dylan Thomas, 'Fern Hill'

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

The night above the dingle starry,

              Time let me hail and climb

Golden in the heydays of his eyes,

And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns

And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves

              Trail with daisies and barley

Down the rivers of the windfall light.


And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns

About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,

In the sun that is young once only,

              Time let me play and be

Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves

Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,

              And the sabbath rang slowly

In the pebbles of the holy streams.


All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay

Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air

       And playing, lovely and watery

              And fire green as grass.

       And nightly under the simple stars

As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,

All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars

                Flying with the ricks, and the horses

       Flashing into the dark.


And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white

With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all

       Shining, it was Adam and maiden,

              The sky gathered again

       And the sun grew round that very day.

So it must have been after the birth of the simple light

In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm

                Out of the whinnying green stable

       On to the fields of praise.


And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house

Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,

       In the sun born over and over,

                I ran my heedless ways,

       My wishes raced through the house high hay

And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows

In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs

              Before the children green and golden

       Follow him out of grace.


Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me

Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,

       In the moon that is always rising,

                Nor that riding to sleep

       I should hear him fly with the high fields

And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,

              Time held me green and dying

       Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Hear Dylan Thomas reading this poem at this link:
Thomas, Dylan. The Collected Poems. Ed. Walford Davies and Ralph Maud. London: J.M. Dent, 1988. 134 - 135.

R.S. Thomas, 'Judgment Day'

Yes, that’s how I was,
I know that face,
That bony figure
Without grace
Of flesh or limb;
In health happy,
Careless of the claim
Of the world’s sick
Or the world’s poor;
In pain craven—-
Lord, breathe once more
On that sad mirror,
Let me be lost
In mist for ever
Rather than own
Such bleak reflections.
Let me go back
On my two knees
Slowly to undo
The knot of life
That was tied there.

From Selected Poems: 1946-1968 (published 1986).

R.S. Thomas, 'Those Others'

A gofid gwerin gyfan / Yn fy ngbri fel taerni tân. – DEWIEMRYS

I have looked long at this land,
Trying to understand
My place in it—-why,
With each fertile country
So free of its room,
This was the cramped womb
At last took me in
From the void of unbeing.

Hate takes a long time
To grow in, and mine
Has increased from birth;
Not for the brute earth
That is strong here and clean
And plain in its meaning
As none of the books are
That tell but of the war

Of heart with head, leaving
The wild birds to sing
The best songs; I find
This hate’s for my own kind,
For men of the Welsh race
Who brood with dark face
Over their thin navel
To learn what to sell;

Yet not for them all either,
There are still those other
Castaways on a sea
Of grass, who call to me,
Clinging to their doomed farms;
Their hearts though rough are warm
And firm, and their slow wake
Through time bleeds for our sake.

From Selected Poems: 1946-1968 (published 1986).

R.S. Thomas, 'A Peasant'

Iago Prytherch his name, though, be it allowed,
Just an ordinary man of the bald Welsh hills,
Who pens a few sheep in a gap of cloud.
Docking mangels, chipping the green skin
From the yellow bones with a half-witted grin
Of satisfaction, or churning the crude earth
To a stiff sea of clods that glint in the wind—-
So are his days spent, his spittled mirth
Rarer than the sun that cracks the cheeks
Of the gaunt sky perhaps once in a week.
And then at night see him fixed in his chair
Motionless, except when he leans to gob in the fire.
There is something frightening in the vacancy of his mind.
His clothes, sour with years of sweat
And animal contact, shock the refined,
But affected, sense with their stark naturalness.
Yet this is your prototype, who, season by season
Against siege of rain and the wind’s attrition,
Preserves his stock, an impregnable fortress
Not to be stormed even in death’s confusion.
Remember him, then, for he, too, is a winner of wars,
Enduring like a tree under the curious stars.

From Selected Poems: 1946-1968 (published 1986).

R.S. Thomas, 'On the Farm'

There was Dai Puw. He was no good.
They put him in the fields to dock swedes,
And took the knife from him, when he came home
At late evening with a grin
Like the slash of a knife on his face.
There was Llew Puw, and he was no good.
Every evening after the ploughing
With the big tractor he would sit in his chair,
And stare into the tangled fire garden,
Opening his slow lips like a snail.
There was Huw Puw, too. What shall I say?
I have heard him whistling in the hedges
On and on, as though winter
Would never again leave those fields,
And all the trees were deformed.
And lastly there was the girl:
Beauty under some spell of the beast.
Her pale face was the lantern
By which they read in life’s dark book
The shrill sentence: God is love.

From Selected Poems: 1946-1968 (published 1986).

R.S. Thomas, untitled poems from The Echoes Return Slow

I have no name:

time's changeling.

Put your hand

in my side and disbelieve


in my godhead.

Her face rises

over me and sets;

I am shone on


through tears. Charity

spares what should be

lopped off, before

it is too late.

(p. 3)


Entered for life, failing

to qualify; understudied

for his persona, became identical

with his twin. Confronted

as the other, knew credit

was his for the triumph

of an imposture. Slipped easily

into the role for which

his double was cast, bowing

as low as he to appropriate

the applause. When volunteers

were called for to play

death's part, stood modestly

in the wings, preferring rather

to be prompter than prompted.

(p. 21).


And this one says to me:

               You are an occasion

merely; an event synchronous

with other events,

                        not caused by them.

I switch my attention.

There are voices supperannuating

              the Bible. I must learn,

they say, to believe in a presence

             without existence.

                                   Is it

the Orient infiltrating

             our science, or science bringing

a myth up to date?

                         In a dissolving

             world what certainties

for the self, whose identity

              is its performance?

                            You have no address,

says life, and your destination

is where you began.

                          But love answers it

in its turn: I am old now and have died

many times, but my rebirth is surer

                than the truth embalming itself

in the second law of your Thermo-Dynamics.

(p 33).

Thomas, R.S. The Echoes Return Slow. London: Macmillan, 1988.

Chris Williams: ‘Problematizing Wales: An Exploration in Historiography and Postcoloniality’

In this essay, Williams begins by rejecting any models of Wales as a post-colonial nation, but he does embrace aspects of postcolonial theory such as ‘ambivalence, hybridity and post-nationality’ which might be useful in considering Wales as a marginal region (13). William sees ambivalence as bound up with Wales’ complicity with the English and British. There is also hybridity in the ‘migration, settlement and intermarriage’ in Wales: what Williams calls ‘Wales’ “fuzzy borders” and its long inheritance of multicultural experiences, if not of multiculturalism’ (14). Williams is adamant that hybridity has often been ignored by critics and commentators in Wales, yet possibilities might be found in the view of selfhood that defines postcolonial theory.

Our preoccupation with cultural identity has gradually been relaxed from seeing identity in the singular (Welsh, English, Irish etc.), to being prepared to view identity as hybridized or hyphenated (Anglo-Welsh, English-speaking Welsh, Irish-Welsh, Black-Welsh etc.) and has moved on to embrace concepts of situational or multiple identities. But an essentialist notion of self (even if it is hyphenated) is one in which questions of national identity are more pre-eminent than any other. Some postcolonial ideas, however, from their origin in the experience of the diaspora, advance the idea of the fragmented, performative or multiple self, whereby one’s authenticity flows not from the membership of a particular collective group, but from one’s existence as an individual. (15)

Williams rejects ‘monoculturism’ and he directs the reader towards the ‘postnationality’ of Habermas, Held and the critics in the field of Subaltern Studies. In contrast to postnationality, nationalism works ‘by “othering”, by identifying borders between “us” and “them”’ (16). It is these ‘reactive and essentialist binarisms’ that ‘erect psychological barriers between peoples, excite unnecessary antagonisms towards others, and render marginal or invisible those whose characters do not fit those of the imagined nation’ (16). Williams vision of ‘post-national Wales’ offers ‘a partially autonomous Wales where that autonomy has a liberating effect for all citizens, and not just for those who subscribe to conventional views of what the characteristics and direction of that nation-state should be’ (16). This society would reject ‘the notion of a homogenous nation-state with singular forms of belonging, in favour of inclusivity and diversity’ (16).

The concept of a postnational citizenship crosses existing political borders and cultural boundaries, aiming for a consensus of universal moral values that enshrines the rights of the individual through democratic participation, that speaks in terms of respect for all human beings of all levels of wealth and status, that aims to reduce inequality within and between countries and continents and that seeks human societies that are more in tune with environmental pressures and demands. (16).

*Williams uses ‘post-colonial’ to signify ‘a particular period or epoch (literally, after colonialism […])’, and ‘postcolonial’ to denote the theoretical issues surrounding colonial rule and post-colonial development (3-4).

Postcolonial Wales. Ed. Jane Aaron and Chris Williams. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2005. 3 – 22.

June 15, 2007

Images of Welsh Women


Deidre Beddoe begins her essay with a plain statement: ‘Welsh women are culturally invisible’ (227). She adds that Welsh identity is based on three male groups of mass proportions: ‘coalminers, rugby players and male voice choirs’ (227). In comparison the Welsh woman is ‘a bit of trimming on the male image of Wales’ (227).

Beddoe wonders why this is the case and she suggests that the three factors involved are ‘Patriarchy, Capitalism and History’ (228). She describes Wales as ‘a patriarchal society, in which the activities and views of men are held in far higher esteem than those of women’ (228). Through coal-mining and other industries, capitalism has dominated Welsh culture with the ambiguous figure of the coalminer representing both ‘wealth’ and ‘rebellion’ (228). Women’s unwaged roles in capitalist societies often go unnoticed and Beddoe believes that this is the case in Wales. There is also the problem of the selective bias of history which is ‘not only divided along class lines but along gender lines too’ (229).

Beddoe now considers representations of Welsh women as opposed to images of women in other parts of the UK and she suggests that there are a number of types:
• The Welsh Mam. ‘[H]ardworking, ‘pious’ and clean, a mother to her sons and responsible for the home, she appears in Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley (1939). Considering the Mam historically, Beddoe notes that before the rise of industry in the 19th century, women worked on the land alongside men, yet later they became ‘economically dependent upon her husband’s and son’s wages’ (230). She held sway in the domestic sphere only.
• The Welsh Lady in National Costume. A device of tourism, the Welsh costume was invented by Augusta Hall, Lady Llanover (1802-96) who led the ‘romantic revival’ in Wales. It was created at a time when ‘the old peasant costume was dying out’ (233). The invented costume was decorous and difficult to work in.
• The Pious Welsh Woman. There are many stories of Welsh women who committed spiritual acts of self-sacrifice for religious reasons. Beddoe refers to the painting, Salem, by Sidney Curnow Vosper.
• The Sexy Welsh Woman. Beddoe refers here to the Welsh custom of “bundling” or ‘premarital “courting in bed” ’ (234). She also notes: ‘Pre-marital sex between couples who intended to marry seems to have been normal practice in old Wales, especially before the rise of nonconformity’ (234). This was criticised by the 1840s commissioners sent ‘to investigate the state of education in Wales’ (243).
• The Funny Welsh Woman. Beddoe notes that ‘English people still regard Welsh people, along with Irish people, as inherently funny’ (236).

Beddoe, Deidre. ‘Images of Welsh Women’. in Wales: the Imagined Nation, Studies in Cultural and National Identity. Ed. Tony Curtis. Bridgend: Poetry Wales Press, 1986. 225-238.

How to Write Anglo–Welsh Poetry by John Davies

It’s not too late I suppose…
You could sound a Last Post or two,
and if you could get away with saying
what’s been said, then do.

First, apologise for not being able
to speak Welsh. Go on: apologise.
Being Anglo-_any_thing is really tough;
any gaps you can fill with sighs.

And get some roots, juggle name like
Taliesin and ap Gwilym, weave
a Cymric web. It doesn’t matter what
they wrote. Look, let’s not be naive.

Now you can go on about the past
being more real than the present -
you’ve read your early R.S. Thomas,
you know where Welsh Wales went.

Spray place-names around. Caernarfon.
Cwmtwrch. Have perhaps a Swansea
sun marooned in Glamorgan’s troubled
skies; even the weather’s Welsh, see.

But a mining town is best, of course,
for impact, and you’ll know what to say
about Valley Characters, the heart’s dust
and the rest. Read it all up anyway.

A quick reference to cynghanedd
always goes down well; girls are cariad;
myth is in; exile, defeat, hills…
almost anything Welsh and sad.


Style now. Nothing fancy: write
all your messages as prose then chop
them up – it’s how deeply red and green
they bleed that counts. Right, stop.

That’s it, you’ve finished for now -
just brush your poems down: dead, fluffed
things but ayour own almost. Get
them mounted in magazines. Or stuffed.

in Wales: the Imagined Nation, Studies in Cultural and National Identity. Ed. Tony Curtis. Bridgend: Poetry Wales Press, 1986. 66-67.


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