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Llym awel

LLYM AWEL ( part1)

Llym awel, llum brin
Anhaut caffael clid
Llicrid rid, reuhid llin,
Ry seiw gur ar vn conin.

This long sequence of ancient Welsh verse is named from its first phrase. I was curious to see if I could use some of these words in my artworks. There is a magnetic mystery in words on the horizon of understanding, whether because the language is very old or because it is unknown. Language freed in this way from meaning turns into the music of rhythm and the shape of the mouth. Language is a vessel of sound. Meaning is what fills that shape up in some way. But meaning is not one thing. These gnomic verses, like much ancient poetry, is terse and ambiguous. Translate one way and it carries a completely different mood from translating another way. After all, vocabulary is not meaning. Language builds a picture in the reader/hearer’s mind, and because it is created by another human, it carries its own emotional energy, which may or may not be transmitted whole. Language is translation of a unique experience by and for another. Translation from one language to another first of all loses the implicit rhythms of the original language, and then it often misplaces some of the original emotional intent by a less than perfect matching of word meanings.

‘Llym awel’ seems to be generally translated as ‘sharp wind’, but this itself is a metaphor. Wind does not cut, nor bite, gnaw or pierce. It has no teeth and no sharp edges. The wind, ( if it is wind), is to be perceived through our physical experience. That is what is transferred ( or not) in the meaning. I cannot speak Welsh, neither modern nor Medieval. I have relied in this investigation on accepted academic translations, commentaries and the automatic translations of modern computer programmes. All these provide different viewpoints from whence the original genuine emotional might be unearthed, or else an interesting improvised variation might grow.
Most words have synonyms. Poetry relies often on these to select appropriate metre and rhyme. Bardic Welsh poetry is hugely complex in its internal structure, playing with sounds all the time, following convoluted rules and templates. Translation cannot hope to match any of this well. Poetic commentary and improvised variations may be the best way to approach the feel of the original material, without pretending it translates word for word…..

The first query I came across was the meaning of ‘awel’. My translator insisted on ‘breeze’, giving a completely different word ( in modern Welsh) for ‘wind’. Now the feel and mood of ‘wind’ and ‘breeze’ are very different. So too, ‘llym’ was given as ‘sharp’, ‘ keen’, ‘acute’ – all of related meanings but all with very different emotional energy.
Language relies heavily on habitual idiom and familiar metaphors. We do not question ‘sharp wind’ because we understand that this is not a literal, objective statement. Literal meaning slur and smudge in the creation of a mental picture. By practice we learn to understand when familar phrases mean something rather different. This somewhat complacent use of language is often very different from the meticulous choice of the skilled bard and poet, so it is important not to fall into using the blurred edges of familiar idiomatic phrasing when it can distort or disguise the precise clarity intended by the poet.

We all pass over ‘sharp wind’ very quickly. We get the general drift of meaning, the flavour, but ‘sharp breeze’ makes us pause and reconstruct. It is at once less usual, and a much more particular equation. A breeze is not a buffeting force. It is more akin to an occassional breath. A more harmless movement of air. So when this gentle, slight thing is felt as ‘sharp’ or ‘keen’, then we can automatically readjust the experience. How cold must the air be, for even a slight breeze to cut through to the skin?

So my commentaries and improvisations on these two words were:

Llym awel,
Sharp breeze,
This small stirring drains warmth,
Negates clothing.
Breath breeze makes cold colder.
This breeze breathes ice.

Sunday Hymns

SUNDAY HYMNS

What
Is a language
That is not spoken?
Silence.

Silent as the empty cottages,
As the deserted fields,
The grass-grown tumps,
The heaped-up midden.

Good men, great men and brave,
One by one, or leading others.
Seeming a wash of tides,
Motions of change,
Revolution of planets.
So they may be,
Or ripples on a pond,
A perturbation,
A breeze upon the forest tops:
Here, a noise, then gone.

Where are the great waves
As the tides recede?
Their roar growls less.
Sorrow and joy only.
Now a tale,
A whisper,
An epitaph,
A place for ivy fingers
To cleave to,
Slurring every mark,
Knife and chisel.

To end the silence,
Or to restore the silence?
To weave it.
Become substance,
Become word,
Become rhythm.

When does habit
Turn tradition?
When, pleas and moans,
Prayers?

Sunlight on
The distant mountain.
A wren seeks grubs
Among broken
Flowerpots.

—-

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YEW GROVE AT LLANAFAN FAWR

1
Light sensible, thick as darkness
And light veiled, filtering downwards.

One red cup, one seed dropped,
Rippled out, measured by millenia.
A ring of sinew trunks, weighted, poised.

2
Where the old road
Cups the round, green breast
Of Llanafan Fawr.

Where the quiet mound
Floats above the heads of valley oaks
(Distant voice of rock-sided Chwefri).

Where the dead bask in sun,
Sleep in shade,
Their names carefully chiselled,
Painted, kissed in lichen.

3
Rising up
From the Underworld
Where the dead become stars,
Where bones multiply,
Where dreams are born
And shadows grow their own souls.
There, the umbilical roots
Bind light to darkness
Making song
That wheels this world.

4
Fed by scintillating constellations,
A certain, mutual apotheosis,
A rippling out of layered years
Laid down in sinuous orbits,
A hug of dimensions,
A vessel for longevity, for remaining.
Only holding on.
Only breathing.
A mirror from each metalled yuga,
Withstanding heaven’s gobby adolescence.

5
Three great props to prop the sky.
As the gods choose their own forms
Grown from curse and pleadings,
From a universal need, the deepest science
Of leaning upon
They have measured up,
Filled the matrices,
Solved the quadratic and the algebraic,
Judged the swing of planetary orbit.
Readjustments made, reconfiguring
A weighty gravitation,
Collapse, expand, spin.
(Those three doors all life dances through)

6
Old before the brazen, gaudy eagles
Meticulously trampled lands not theirs
To glut the slovenly cities of the South.

Old before the contrivance of contorted guilt,
The crosses to be borne or cast away,
The ring of truth, the hope of doves.

Old before the King of the North and his kin
Bred saints amongst sacred hills.
Before Dewi and Afan, (who, maybe,
Were as eloquent as uncle Taliesin),
Sheltered wise candles from the wild storms:
The slick guttering stroke of marauding steel,
Thud and groan and a pouring out of life
In a red gush, anguished and final, among the silent trees.

Old as the penetration of water through rock,
The endless drip to sunless oceans below,
Is the strife of men, the lamentation of their women.

Old, and the richest of composts.
The most intricate of tallies,
A long genealogy, a swirl of lusts.
All commingled, compressed, considered,
All fit and meet, an elevated sight,
A blossoming of poison and beauty,
A perfect circle, a sunlit ripple.
One tree is a forest,
One grove a memorial
To these thousand thousand lives,
Drawn up, drawn in,
Held, encompassed.

—-

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Apple/Afal

Apple

A mist, apple-scented.
My love:
A lake that is not a lake,
A scinter of song,
Small eternal longing.
A thousand shattered dancing suns
Dying on the ripples
And reborn.

Afal

Mae niwl, persawrus-afal.
Mae fy nghariad:
A llyn sydd ddim yn llyn,
A sglein o gân,
hiraeth tragwyddol bach
A mil o haul dawnsio chwalu
Marw ar y crychdonnau a ail eni.

Voice and name

VOICE AND NAME
(Says the yew of Llandovery)

A song uninterpretable.
Vast as mind.
As black and white,
As dark,
As ocean elided.
None of the small, bright words,
Clear and ambiguously bright.
No fluttered pennants, simple and gay.
No battle standards, maces of cerebral dogma.
No knife-edged brilliant certainty.

It is a howling void of the real,
Resolving in beauty only on fullest surrender.
What is your name?
It would take an eternity to say it,
And then nothing would be unknown,
Nothing left out.

Dark time, invisible to counting.
Inconsequential moment
By-passed, mistaken, overlooked.
A beggar’s bowl by the roadside,
Never full, never empty.

Yew at Llanymddyfri

YEW AT LLANYMDDYFRI

I am a fire banked up.
No loud voice
No chanted, righteous psalms,
No holy threats.
Quietly I suck the dead,
Draw from what they no longer need.
Green leaves and slow, dark sap.
A skein of green dressed in veils of ivy.

Not large, not small,
I go on regarding, regardless.
My hymns are quiet,
A gravity for time and space
To dance around.

Disregard me.
I am as undistinguished
As you shall be
As you fall forgotten
Mixed with mud and misty memories.
But I shall see days you shall never know.

A stone’s throw from eternity’s grey walls.
Lived in by wrens, lived in by blackbirds,
Priest and brown sexton.
Banked up against the long hill,
The green valley cowled and shaded,
A cave for meditations.

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An attempt at translation from English into Welsh using iTranslate. Some words were altered to find correlates – it didn’t like ‘held’, ‘unbelonged’, ‘lorn’, ‘furled’. I would welcome any comments from Welsh speakers- apart from a few words that I recognise, I do not know how well the software has worked, but would be interested in finding out how close or far from the mark it is!

Sleepless, I must wait
Tight-wrapped,
Held white and unresolved,
Dissolving,
An unbelonged thing.

Di-gwsg,
rhaid i mi aros
Dynn-lapio,
Cipio gwyn a heb eu datrys,
Diddymu,
A beth nad ydynt yn perthyn.

Wait, and I shall meet you
Down by the bridge, by the ford.
Where the river always murmurs sense.
In twilight, in evening,
Furled suspended time,
Honeysuckle warm
And the whisper of moths.

Arhoswch, a byddaf yn cwrdd â chi
i lawr ger y bont, gan y rhyd.
Lle mae’r afon bob amser yn si synnwyr,
Yn cyfnos, yn y nos.
Amser plygu atal dros dro,
Gwyddfid cynnes
A sibrwd o wyfynod.

But lorn I am
On this longest shore.
White, cold white, the horizon.
The far breakers’ withdrawn roar
Leaving naked the still, black rocks,
A salt taste of wheeling gulls.
A spun void.

Ond gwan wyf
Ar y lan hiraf.
Gwyn, gwyn oer yw’r gorwel.
Rhuo Mae’r torwyr bell ‘tynnu’n ôl
Gadael noeth y dal, creigiau du,
Blas halen o gwylanod gwthio.
Mae gwagle nyddu.

—-

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