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.
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)
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.
Welsh is a lovely language – and to hear North Welsh, which this writing was, I think, an added beauty.
Great thanks for this, and the work of love you have put into it.
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Beautiful translation, thanks.
Thank you, Ann. I always feel very diffident about my translation efforts, so any encouragement is much appreciated.
Thanks for the translation ,I recite this poem in Welsh to my English friends and then give them your translation . I was born in Porthmadog in 1943 bur have lived abroad since 1960 but Wales will always be home and Welsh still my first language . . Dioch o galon . Tom Williams
Thank you – getting the nod from a native speaker means a lot to me.
Falling star should be shooting star. This is important for the simile. The fox’s tail is the last thing you see as he disappears over the ridge. It is a streak of ginger with a white point at the end – like a shooting star.
Thanks for the comment. But ‘falling star’ is just another name for a ‘shooting star’, so the simile works in exactly the same way, and I would contend that ‘falling’ sounds better here – sort of flows better and picks up the previous f’s of ‘fur’ and ‘flash’