Week 466: Cofio, by Waldo Williams

Waldo Williams (1904-1971) ranks as one of the most influential and beloved of twentieth-century Welsh-language poets, a mystic, pacifist, Welsh nationalist and passionate teacher. His country was the Preselis, an upland range in north Pembrokeshire, that I walked the length of a few years back, a wild lonely land of wind and sheep, tumbledown cairns, Bronze Age tracks dark and springy with peat, wheatears perched on doleritic outcrops and the mewling cry of buzzards overhead.

‘Cofio’ is one of Waldo’s most celebrated poems, dealing with memory and things beyond memory. The translation that follows is my own.

Cofio

Un funud fach cyn elo’r haul o’r wybren,
Un funud fwyn cyn delo’r hwyr i’w hynt,
I gofio am y pethau anghofiedig
Ar goll yn awr yn llwch yr amser gynt.
 
Fel ewyn ton a dyr ar draethell unig,
Fel cân y gwynt lle nid oes glust a glyw,
Mì wn eu bod yn galw’n ofer arnom –
Hen bethau anghofiedig dynol ryw.
 
Camp a chelfyddyd y cenhedloedd cynnar,
Aneddau bychain a neuaddau mawr,
Y chwedlau cain a chwalwyd ers canrifoedd
Y duwiau na ŵyr neb amdanynt ‘nawr.
 
A geiriau bach hen ieithoedd diflanedig,
Hoyw yng ngenau dynion oeddynt hwy,
A thlws i’r clust ym mharabl plant bychaìn,
Ond tafod neb ni eilw arnynt mwy.
 
O, genedlaethau dirifedi daear,
A’u breuddwyd dwyfol a’u dwyfoldeb brau,
A erys ond tawelwch i’r calonnau
Fu gynt yn llawenychu a thristáu?
 
Mynych ym mrig yr hwyr, a mi yn unig,
Daw hiraeth am eich ‘nabod chwi bob un;
A oes a’ch deil o hyd mewn Cof a Chalon,
Hen bethau anghofiedig teulu dyn?

Waldo Willams

Remembrance

One brief moment as the sun is setting,
One quiet moment as the night comes on
To bring to mind the things that are forgotten,
Lost now in the dust of time long gone.

Like the white foam of waves on lonely beaches
Like the wind’s song when there is none to hear
I know that they are calling to us, vainly –
The old forgotten things we once held dear.

The cunning and the craft of early peoples
That built alike small dwelling and great hall,
The well-wrought legends lost among the ages,
The gods of old gone now beyond recall.

The little words of languages long vanished
That once were merry on the lips of men
And lovely in the lisping of small children
That no tongue now will ever speak again.

And all the earth’s unnumbered generations,
Their pious dreams and fragile piety,
Is nothing left in all those hearts but silence
Where gladness and where grief were wont to be?

Often in the dusk, as I sit lonely,
Great longing comes, to bring you all to mind.
Do heart and memory somewhere still hold you,
You old forgotten things of humankind?