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LLYM AWEL verse 7, Improvisations.

‘Ottid eiry ar gwarthaw reo;
Gosgupid guint blaen guit tev;
Kadir yscuid ar yscuit glev.’

Snow fall on top of ice;
Wind sweeps the top of thick trees;
Fine is the shield on the shoulder of the brave.

In the second line the trees are described as ‘tev’, thick. This is an unusual use of the adjective and because it is not idiomatic, seems a little clumsy. However, it is difficult to find a substitute that will bring all the meanings that ‘thick’ brings in this context. We could use ‘thicket’, but that is particularly associated with a tangle of smaller plants, rather than large, mature trees. ‘Thick’ means, or suggests here, heavy, large, mature, as well as closely spaced, packed together. With this one word the poet creates the picture of a grove of closely growing, large, heavily boughed trees.
The word ‘tev’ might have been selected because it has an echo of the word for ‘company’, ‘war band’ ‘teufi’ (tewfi). This meaning ties the image of the strong, dense group of sturdy trees to the following line describing the ‘brave’ with their shields. With this in mind an alternate word for ‘thick’ might be ‘serry’, ‘serried’. Now only usually seen in the military term ‘serried ranks’ meaning ‘tightly packed, locked together, crowded together’. But then, the imagery would now only suggest a military comparison, so I left ‘thick’ as it was.

Cold falls on cold.
Snow on ice.
What is slain lays low.
What covers is covered.
The weight of it,
The silence, the
Inescapability.
Accumulation of
Immobility, a
Clenched fate.
Wind roars through
A sweep of tangled
Tree tops,
A settled silence
Below.
An upper wind thickens
Without repeal.
Beautiful remorselessness
Trembles down on all,
Helpless to conceal.
This serry rings,
Holds close, side by
Side, each with their chant,
Their blood cry:
Strong oak next to
Strong oak, strained
Sinew and bone hard.
Whip fast the holly,
Smooth white its wood,
Curved and needle sharp
Its nails.
Upright is the ash,
Its shivered spear,
Black, resounding.
Stalwart the pine,
Far-sighted, bellowing
Like the sea.
All the trees swaying
Together, thick with
Hunger, a winter
War-band, a stern
Throng.
How bright the brave
With shields shouldered.
How bright the fallen
Freed in fire. An
Endless song, futile, fearless.
Numberless as flakes
Of snow, the cold fallen.
A road of burning ice,
This river, tree-bordered.
Tattered their flags,
Their leaves. Gathered up,
Swept away.
Snow on ice. When shall
This roaring cease?
This utter beauty,
This brittle glory.
Black root,
Grim rock.

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St. David’s Day

ST. DAVID’S DAY

This storm is born
In the crowns of the big trees.
See them, down in the valley fold,
Sway and surge in sea-echoed ecstasy.
The roar of threaded airs
Woven and slung out,
Spat with hail and sudden squall.
Dark their limbs,
And dark the thick air.
But bright the song of the chaffinch.
Bright the morning
And the baby’s cries on the cliff.
The sun shall lift the hills
And praise will rise.
Tonight, the owl’s amen shall resound
As round and cold
As the clear moon.

Cloud Valley

CLOUD VALLEY

Cloud valley,
a cleft of mist
Where trees
breathe white
In smoke drifting
shadow.

A hidden,
silent place,
Its own winds
and weather.
Where long yesterdays
Drip
and linger,
A cushioned,
cultivated moss.

Above a winding
flight of kites,
Wheeling the way
the sun does.
And the shout of ravens,
Stern as castles.

The heart may watch for hours
The roll of dark and light,
The folds of far off land,
But it is in cloud valley
Where spirit longing loiters,
The shroud of matter,
A weightless dance,
Once more revolved,
Tasted.

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6

Ottid eiry, guin aren;
Segur yscuid ar iscuit hen;
Ryauar guint, reuhid dien.

This verse has a beautiful rhythm and some clearly visible rhymes. The last word on each line rhymes ( aren, hen, dien), bringing a clear finality to the clipped imagery. The second line emphasises internal ‘s’ sounds and a sonic and semantic similarity between ‘yscuid’ (shield) and ‘iscuit’ ( shoulder). The third line rolls with repeated ‘r’s. ( ryauar, reuhid).

A fairly literal translation is:

‘Falling snow, white hoar-frost;
An idle shield on an old man’s shoulder;
Very great wind, grass freezes.’

The second line may have been a well-known epithet regarding uselessness, appropriateness, wasted effort or similar. Whatever it is alluding to, there is a clear contrast and comparison between the external conditions of winter and the frailty or limitations of humans.

A shield on
An old man’s
Shoulder is a
Useless weight.
This battle lost:
Blood freezes,
Hair whitens.
A rattling breath,
Needle cold in
The lungs.
Cold wind scythes
The land, all falls
Cold and motionless.

A shroud of memory shields the real.
A heavy weight is its covering.
A welcome numbness dulls each sharp edge.
White is the weight of snow,
White the beard of frost.
White the hair, white the vision.
White the mountain shield above the mist.

Heavy and lame the old man’s hand.
Dead weight the shouldered shield.
Neither weapon nor defence,
No comfort, but an accretion of habit,
Laden down, a bitter burden.
A cloak, a blanket would better serve.

The only blanket is snow.
The only battle, against cold.
The one breath, a wild wind
Turning grass to steel.
A bitter blade of winter
On bitter blades of grass.

St. Valentine’s

ST. VALENTINE’S

Frost curls
the crisp,
cold shade.

In cwm,
on slope,
the snow remains.

But all the birds
of little Llangammarch
Sing and sing
in sun drift treetops.

They feel the slow
and sudden
Spring,

Dream the
geometry of nests
And the long,
warm skies
of summer.

Our Poet Undone

Our Poet Undone.

Here’s a line or two –
And take him all to your heart,
For he is drunk and foolish
And dying far too young.
Away from home but longing,
Measuring the golden cup of words
And singing it down
As if a drought were all
There was to come, and maybe
So in eternal rest –
A resurrection of blackbirds,
A mistle thrush.
A drunken
Return of jackdaws,
Singing home much too loud,
Down echoing streets
And clattered rooftops:
The missed opportunities,
The secreted passions,
The lean-to promised land,
Webbed and oil-stained,
Slowly rusted,
Smelling of apples
And wood shavings.

Down the Valley and Back

DOWN THE VALLEY AND BACK

The Towey practices its slow, bright curves.
From a distance watch indulgent, guiding hills.
Coaxed to soft mudded shore, the quilted morning
And a pearly sea, we are a downward drift, and aimless.
Caught up in salt breeze, its notions taught by brick cliffed roads,
The red deserted, bleak-eyed, stuttered cities,
Crouched and stripped of worth and hard work,
Neutered by bigger plans, a thrombosis of roadworks.
Unformed, uniformed, scrubbed up, led away
To an anaesthetised future, one size fits all, a shabby lie.

The world is bone and snowdrops
A sketched slope of towsled brown.
Fields pressed down and drowned in pools,
Mired and marred.
Scribed by hawk the white grey sky,
A scatter for crows.

The Towey dives back
To its deep, delved loins,
An upper silence reconstituted
And holy, disembodied,
Become mist and dew,
An older language,
Petalled lilt,
A catalogue of sighing valleys,
Wooded oak and ash,
Forgiving and lean,
Slowly choired and gathering voice.
Skywards ( the distant sunlit views),
Scrubbed of green, a whiter shade,
The rain-washed road.

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