Week 442: Melin Trefin, by William Williams (‘Crwys’)

A couple of weeks back I promised my correspondent Albert that I’d have a go at translating one of his favourite Welsh poems, so here’s the result; hope it passes muster.

The poem in question is by William Williams (1875-1968), who took the bardic name ‘Crwys’. I guess bardic names are quite useful in a country like Wales that seems rather short on variety when it comes to personal nomenclature; actually given the number of David Suttons around I rather wish I’d thought of one for myself.

The Welsh text is slightly different from that found elsewhere online, but I’ve taken mine from ‘Blodeugerdd o Farddoniaeth Gymraeg Yr Ugeinfed Ganrif’, so I’m assuming that’s right.

Crwys was a preacher and archdruid as well as a poet. I came across this account of how he to came to write the poem; such accounts seem to be rare among poets but I always find them interesting where they do exist.

‘”I had been invited to preach at Trefin,” he said, “and, as was the custom of the time, I was put up by a member of the congregation, a Mrs Owen whose husband had come from North Wales to manage a quarry nearby. After supper, I walked down to the little cove nearby and saw the ruin of this old mill. I then went back to the house and I removed the cup and saucer that were still on the supper table and pushed back the tablecloth and began to write. It all came to me quite easy, except for the last four lines – they came from above!”’

Melin Trefin

Nid yw’r felin heno’n malu
Yn Nhrefin ym min y môr,
Trodd y merlyn olaf adre’
Dan ei bwn o drothwy’r ddôr,
Ac mae’r rhod fu gynt yn rhygnu
Ac yn chwyrnu drwy y fro,
Er pan farw’r hen felinydd
Wedi rhoi ei holaf dro.

Rhed y ffrwd garedig eto
Gyda thalcen noeth y tŷ,
Ond ddaw ned i’r fal ai farlys,
A’r hen olwyn fawr ni thry;
Lle dôi gwenith gwyn Llanrhiain
Derfyn haf yn llwythi cras,
Ni cheir mwy ond tres o wymon
Gydag ambell frwynen las.

Segur faen sy’n gwylio’r fangre
Yn y curlaw mawr a’r gwynt,
Dilythyren garreg goffa
O’r amseroedd difyr gynt,
Ond ’does yma neb yn malu,
Namyn amser swrth a’r hin
Wrthi’n chwalu ac yn malu,
Malu’r felin yn Nhrefin.

William Williams (‘Crwys’)

The Mill at Trefin

Tonight the mill at Trefin,
That stands beside the foam,
Grinds nothing: the last pony
Has borne its last load home.
The grating wheel whose grumbles
Once filled the country round
Stopped when the old miller died.
Tonight it makes no sound.

The kindly stream still running
Beside the mill’s bare brow
Turns the big old wheel no more.
None bring their barley now.
Where white wheat from Llanrhiain
Lay heaped at summer’s close
Now seaweed trails, and only
The scattered green rush grows.

The idle stone keeps vigil
In wind and driving rain,
Unlettered monument to days
That will not come again.
For nothing now is ground here,
Yet time and weather still
Graft on at their grim labour
And grind down Trefin mill.


5 thoughts on “Week 442: Melin Trefin, by William Williams (‘Crwys’)

  1. Hello again David

    Just found your translation, again excellent or “”gwych” as we would say in Welsh!. I hope it gave you some of the pleasure that it has given me over the years, also the interesting note about how Crwys came to write the work. I have been “out of circulation” for a couple of weeks and had missed it in April.

    I was recently delighted to have been able to buy a replacement copy of Y Flodeugerdd, 4th edition 1946, in excellent condition; brought back happy memories of studying for my O level in Welsh Lit in 1958.

    Hope you are well despite the strange year that we have had, keep up the good work.

    Best wishes

    Albert Roberts

  2. Thank you, David.

    Here’s a neat example of one of the difficulties that face the translator. In the opening, “melin” – mill – precedes “malu”, so that “malu” clearly has its original meaning of grinding corn. But at the end the words are reversed; the mill itself is being destroyed, and “malu” comes first. “Grind” will hardly do. The dictionary suggests “shatter, smash, trample…”, but I can’t think of a way to preserve the irony of the original, or to suggest the slow inexorable process.


    • Thanks for the comment. I still feel ‘grind’ is not that far off the mark, since it preserves the ironic role reversal and does suggest the slow inexorable process, especially given its figurative use in expressions like being ‘ground down by life’. Still, always happy to consider better alternatives if anyone can come up with one.

    • My pleasure. I know the Trefin area quite well having stayed just outside St David’s some years back, and I remember driving out to Strumble Head one beautiful autumn day and seeing seals and porpoises in the bay below, but at the time I had no knowledge of the poem so missed out on a chance of stopping off to see the remains of the old Mill.

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