Some Welsh poetry can seem a bit strained, as can of course some English poetry, but this sonnet by T.H. Parry-Williams (1887-1975; see also week 284) has a very natural feel to it. In it he describes how, perhaps against all reason, he still keeps on his parents’ house, the schoolhouse in the village of Rhyd-Ddu in Caernarfonshire, long after the death of those parents.
It’s a poem that makes me feel slightly guilty. Before she died I took my sister on a drive to see the bungalow we had grown up in, but we wouldn’t have recognised the place: garage at the side, new porch, new windows, the front garden paved over, the trees at the back cut down. I remembered my father entertaining the rather unrealistic hope that one day after his death one of his children would live there. ‘Dad, let’s face it, it’s not exactly a stately home’. I should have been kinder: coming from a poor background, to own his own home had been the great dream of his life. And maybe, with its damp walls and worm-eaten furniture, my parents’ 1920s bungalow may have had more in common with a stately home than I thought. This poem is about an attempt to keep the past unchanged, in a spirit of more deference to the dead than I am afraid my siblings and I could manage.
The translation that follows is my own.
Mae’r cyrn yn mygu er pob awel groes,
A rhywun yno weithiau’n‘sgubo’r llawr
Ac agor y ffenestri, er nad oes
Neb yno’n byw ar ôl y chwalfa fawr;
Dim ond am fis o wyliau, mwy neu lai,
Yn Awst, er mwyn cael seibiant bach o’r dre
A throi o gwmpas dipyn, nes bod rhai
Yn synnu’n gweld yn symud hyd y lle;
A phawb yn holi beth sy’n peri o hyd
I ni, sydd wedi colli tad a mam,
Gadw’r hen le, a ninnau hyd y byd,-
Ond felly y mae-hi, ac ni wn pam,
Onid rhag ofn i’r ddau sydd yn y gro
Synhwyro rywsut fod y drws ynghlo.
The chimneys smoke in spite of adverse winds,
And someone now and then will sweep the floor
And open windows, although no one since
The great dispersal lives there any more;
Only in August, for a month or so,
We come back for a break from life in town,
And stroll about, till those who see us stare
As in surprise that we should still come down,
Wondering what brings us back, and why
We who lost both our parents long ago
Should keep the old place on, a world away,
But so it is, and why I do not know,
Unless for fear those dead ones should at last
Sense somehow that the door is now shut fast.
Dear David Sutton
Just found your website, what a pleasure. I must also congratulate you on the superb quality of your translations – as native Welsh speaker I could not have come any where near your quality.
Having left North Wales in 1961, I am now enjoying re-visiting the poetry I enjoyed as a child – definitely getting older!
Thank you so much for your encouragement. I’m really only just getting into more modern Welsh poetry – I did study Old Welsh as part of my degree course many years ago, but the language seems to have moved on a bit since then – so watch this space! Any recommendations for particular poets gratefully received…
A longtime favourite of mine has been “Melin Trefin” by Crwys, the alliteration and musicality is most enjoyable and also very descriptive.
Thank you. Looks an interesting challenge. Will brood on it…