Week 252: Y Llwynog, by R. Williams Parry

I would guess that the rich heritage of Welsh poetry is still relatively unknown to most English poets. Let’s face it, Welsh can prove a difficult language for English speakers in a way that, say, French, German or Italian may not do, and I think that in particular any attempt to translate Welsh poetry into English, if it is to be at all successful, must attempt to reimagine the poem in the target language’s own terms, largely accepting the loss of the original’s complex sound patterns, since what may be art in Welsh tends to sound like mere artifice in English. 

This is one of my favourites, a famous sonnet by the poet Robert Williams Parry (1884-1956), in which he celebrates his own brand of Sunday communion. The translation that follows is my own. 

Y Llwynog

Ganllath o gopa’r mynydd, pan oedd clych
Eglwysi’r llethrau’n gwahodd tua’r llan,
Ac annrheuliedig haul Gorffennaf gwych
Yn gwahodd tua’r mynydd, – yn y fan,
Ar ddiarwybod droed a distaw duth,
Llwybreiddiodd ei ryfeddod prin o’n blaen
Ninnau heb ysgog ac heb ynom chwyth
Barlyswyd ennyd; megis trindod faen
Y safem, pan ar ganol diofal gam
Syfrdan y safodd yntau, ac uwchlaw
Ei untroed oediog dwy sefydlog fflam
Ei lygaid arnom. Yna heb frys na braw
Llithrodd ei flewyn cringoch dros y grib;
Digwyddodd, darfu, megis seren wîb.

R. Williams Parry (1924)

The Fox 

Just as we neared the summit, when below
The Sabbath bells were calling all to service
And when a July sun’s unstinted glow
Was calling to the mountain – in that place
He came, unwary, on quiet feet, alone
In his rare beauty. And the three of us
Stood there, transfixed, a trinity in stone,
And he too, frozen in mid-step, his eyes
Above one poised foot like twin flames, quite still,
Watching us. And so, just for that moment,
We stood, and did not move or breathe, until
Unhurriedly and without fear he went
And it was done: beyond the ridge red fur
Flashed for an instant, like a falling star.

Week 251: Et År er Gått, by Arnulf Øverland

The Norwegian poet Arnulf Øverland (1889-1968) reminds me somewhat of A.E.Housman: the same clarity and formal control giving a quality of chiselled memorability. I would like to know more about the background to this poem: I am guessing that Beate (three syllables) was a child, but whether the poet’s own or not I don’t know.

The translation that follows is my own.

Et År er Gått

Et år er gått, Beate,
Det vet du ikke av.
Der gikk en solløs sommer hen.
Beate, det er høst igjen.
Her står jeg ved din grav.

Hvor tyst må natten vaere
der intet mere finnes,
og når vi ikke minnes
og intet minnes mere.

Du vilde gjerne leve,
men mørket favner om din sjel.
Gud vandret over jorden
Og helt tilfeldig trådte
Han på dig med sin hæl.

Et år er gått, Beate.
Det strømmer, tidens golde hav.
Det liv du fikk forlate,
Fikk jeg for meget av.

Arnulf Øverland

A Year has Passed

A year has passed, Beate,
That you know nothing of.
I watch a sunless summer wane.
Beate, autumn’s come again.
I stand here by your grave.

How quiet it must be, that night,
When all that happens is no more,
With nothing to remember now
Nor memory of things before.

How glad you would have been to live,
But in the dark your soul was shut.
God wandered over land and sea
And as he went quite casually
He trod you underfoot.

A year has passed, Beate.
Onwards it streams, time’s golden sea,
That granted you too little life
And left too much for me.

Week 250: Those Winter Sundays, by Robert Hayden

A sad piece, this one by the American poet Robert Hayden (1913-1980), and one that speaks to me powerfully of that dislocation between the generations that perhaps always exists, but was particularly acute for those of us who came to adolescence during the nineteen-sixties, when we rejected so much that seemed to us foolish or wrong-headed about our parents’ world – its deference, its intolerance, its unquestioning acceptance of class and racial divisions, its lip-service to a religion whose more demanding precepts it cheerfully ignored, its militaristic preoccupation with shiny black shoes and short haircuts – and then were faced with the problem, as all generations must be, of preserving what had been good about that world and of recognising that for all our differences we had been loved, and that parental love carries responsibilities, which we in our turn must now take on.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm he’d call,
And slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house.

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Robert Hayden

Week 249: Yesterday Lost, by Ivor Gurney

The artist John Constable once wrote ‘The world is wide: no two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither are there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of the world’

I think he would approved of this little poem by Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) on a similar theme. As with many of Gurney’s poems, the syntax may seem a bit odd in places, but the individuality and sincerity of the man shine through. Who else, except perhaps Gerard Manley Hopkins, could have written that ‘precise unpraisèd grace’?

Yesterday Lost

What things I have missed today, I know very well,
But the seeing of them each next day is miracle.
Nothing between Bredon and Dursley has
Any day yesterday’s precise unpraisèd grace.
The changed light, or curve changed mistily,
Coppice, now bold cut, yesterday’s mystery.
A sense of mornings, once seen, for ever gone,
Its own for ever: alive, dead, and my possession.

Ivor Gurney