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Llewelyn’s Last Morning
(Mass at Llanynis)

A bright morning
for Llewelyn.
Sun through cloud,
The white trees
in waiting.

River is hushed
And the hymns
urgent and quiet.

Before you and after you,
these stones:
Ship of God,
anchored in meadowland.

Before you and after you:
This carved stone pillar,
Woven knot
and lichen bright.

In memory,
to lay them at peace who fell,
Their names are
grass’s whisper only.

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The last native Prince of Wales, Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, is said to have had communion at this small church on the morning of 11th December 1282 before he and his troops were betrayed and ambushed a few miles away on their way to capture Builth castle. It is a small church, not now easy to find, and lies in the middle of a field with only one or two farms nearby. Across the River Irfon at Cilmeri is the well where Llewellyn’s severed head was washed. His troops were scattered and the cause of a Wales ruled by their own nasty, Welsh, nobility ( as opposed to nasty Anglo-Norman nobility), lost. The carved cross-stone looks to be an old grave slab, carved on three sides, but I have found no information about it. In general, these stones were carved between the 9th and 13th centuries – so it would probably have been in the church or churchyard in Llewelyn’s time.

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NOTES FOR A PAINTING

Sunlit meadow
Hidden river singing
Road winding into the mountains.

This road with the colour of itself roams and dips from pink to purple to the brown of a hunting dog. Laid as a wish upon bucking stone, a river of hope for dry feet.

River song
Singing heart
Road into the mountains.

Hidden river
Singing heart
Road into the mountains

Each footstep song, a rhythm of itself repeating with breath and sight, the same view, the slightly changing view, the folding and unfolding view.

Sunlit meadow
Somewhere the river
Singing to itself

This meadow slope lighted with its own green, radiant aura, hovers between dark wood and bright water. A vacant illumined shimmer.

Empty mountain road
Winding beside a river
The sound of sheep

Sheep on the hillsides
Sunshine on the meadow
Empty road.

The mountain faces are copper and lead. They yearn, as mountains do, to fade to mysteries invisible, and clamber towards unreachable towering midnights.

The road and I
Following the sound of the river
Into the northern hills.

This narrow road
Wanders into the hills.
The sound of the river.

The river, a sound of laughing sunlight, uncatchable as eels. We know it by what it is not. The colour of sky and leaves and earth and rock.

Aimless we both wander,
The narrow road and I,
Into the northern hills.

Narrow road –
I do not mind where it leads
Following the river’s song.

These bare branched trees, hazel and alder and oak down there with the birches. Lines drawn across time. A language of balance and holding still. They float more certain than the solid ground.

It will be autumn soon.
The narrow road lost in leaves,
Winding beside the river.

Narrow road and I,
Forgetting where we are
Following the river into the hills.

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LET GO

Into the slow heron lift of it
This stormy morning roar,
Like a city train, rattles roof and windows.

Druid trees with one eye shut
Stand on one leg and let go of nearly everything –
That is what their roots, deep as choirs, allow.

On green meadow and crashing hill
We push against a sting of rain.
Lost, but not lost as the ones by the sea,
Watching the waves eat the shore and the harbours drown
And all the long, safe years melted away
In a wall of water and sound.

It is a patient world, willing always to start again.
A reformulation of parameters, season by season.
What is gone is gone, the autumn trees say.
What is gone is gone, says the storm of grey morning.

Descant

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DESCANT

Sullied though we are,
The earth shall take us back to itself.
They remain, these fading memories,
And the scudding light over far hills.

Certain is our fate, and always has been:
Summer moves graceful on winter’s bones,
The dancer and the music of the dance.

In desolate darkness is the night,
Where the ashes fall, where the pines fall,
Where the oaks fall, owl-filled, moth-filled
By the slightest light of speeding stars
Through a roaring of winds, the river mind speaks.

And in sunless cwm the shepherd’s house.
Brown light as thick as honey,
Walls sullen and the ticking clock.
An accumulation of sorrows and a life
Of small dissappointments nested in dust.

Belonging is the key to it all,
The only pause in a precipitous dream.
But clinging is not the same.
Wrapped around the web of memories,
Too rent and uncertain to give much comfort.

What is that name we have given ourselves?
And where was the road we turned off to get here?
I have forgotten the names of stars and trees,
And the clarity of goodness and of light.
Above all, I rely on whispers from clouds
And the words flowering from the oldest books.
For they glimmer, (do they not?) , with what has been lost.

All the doors stand open, as they ever have.
All the maps spread out and referenced.
All the ways well trod, all the paths tended.
Yet we move as if none have moved on before us
As if nothing else mattered so much or was so dear.

But the earth shall take us back to itself,
And we who can not forgive
Will be forgiven.

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Verse Eight

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VERSE EIGHT

A flash of summer and the swallows are all gone,
Restless above the purple flowers of heather.
Everything that is hard work and driven deep into sorrow mountain
Looks heroic and sunlit from this serene, absent distance.
Held equally suspended before the slope,
fragmenting between memory and forgetting.

Last night’s rain has burst the river’s banks almost.
The leaves spin that have fallen, though the silent wood
remains there, green and dark,
Folded into the valley’s thigh.
Small things shelter, all there is a scurry
and birdsong and bright eye.
A dream language self-generated,
a precision of small hungers.

A moment flows and eddies
Reaching out for words to be clothed.
But now it is a roundness cold and naked,
Hollowed in leaden light, tumbled in cloud.
Hills drift bodiless, dew-ringed.
All the hearts that have ceased
And those that have begun again
Will fail to encompass the mystery.
A perfect river, inexhaustible.

NAMES WILL BURST THROUGH

How long will it be before the words form?
And the names, how long til they congregate?
How long until they accumulate weight enough
To press down and hold still and never ever be forgot again?
On lips, on paper, on stone, into the bark of trees.
These names are fragile, finite, unknowable as rivers are.
In their passing we believe we have known them.
A familiar dream. So familiar. So much of a summoning,
A stirring up, a fold and an ache in the hearts,
A fold and an ache in the valleys and on the hills.
The wind will blow them away and the rains shall erase them.
As a long day in sun, the language changes.
What is smooth grows harsh. What is bitter turns to poignance.
(The sobs of the dying, lost in mud- one more ridge, lads, one more.
We shall be remembered in stained glass,
On stained grass, on mud among the poppies of remembering
And poppies of forgetfulness, my love.)
They stretch out and pierce through the noise.
Given any chance they shall strain to matter.
Our dear dead ones and our forgotten ones.
Beneath the skin, beneath the soil, beneath the silence.
Their names echo around our lips as we sleep.
Under lids the eyeballs roll and flutter.
Is it for this, only for this, just for this,
And one more, one more kiss, lip to lip,
Breath to breath, sigh to sigh.
The river sweeping it all away.

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Remembering

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Remembering

How many times is it now, this land drained desolate by war?
The straight roads laid out to speed the killers and the already dead.
How they watched the sunlit shields from the heights above Beulah.
How they stood or melted away.
And the wheeling of the ravens and the hungry, circling foxes.

Cold ghosts in white shifts on every stair,
the cough and the chill that will not go.

Poetry is nothing
If not remembering.

As they pass by the curling paths the drovers will make the Welsh girls laugh,
Talking of their yearning for hills and mystery.
The always shaded hollow roads, singing the words of their own language,
Whistling their dogs to move the herds on.

Roads to remembering,
A dark poetry.

And John Dee, whose blood was Welsh,
Followed Giordano Bruno into the Palaces of Memory
From where, perhaps, he learned the distinguishing of angels from demons
And looked into the dark pools of silence and the language of eternity.
His roads were not smooth.

To find a true remembering
is the herding of sheep without boys or dogs.

Wherever we are, it will be a long road home to the place we remember.
Poor Silver John, made bad to scare children,
Lost on the back of night, drowned and lost in bogs.
His eyes, blind sightless moons.
He will never see home again,
All roads turning like eels,
Though the way he is sure he knows…

Memory comes like a summer shower:
Slanting certain rain from a blue sky.
Then in a moment gone and only the reflected puddles left
To join what was with what is.

And who shall there be to recall all the names of the lost?
We, who are now less than this bitter dust.
At our old nation’s heart the blistered blackened tower.
Encompassed by wheels of denial, unnamed, unnumbered.
A concrete void, eyeless, staring at a royal sky.
This tree of burning, falling fruit, shattered and poisoned, discarded,
Rubbed out.

There is nowhere, it seems, not one place, not one vestibule,
Not one chamber in the brain where memory can be found.
It swirls upon us like a holy fog, wrestles us unwilling as an angel on the road,
A ghost on the stairs landing, a voice at dead of night.
We fear we are nothing without it.
Our one purpose: to not forget, to re-infect the future with the past.
A line of names, a road of deeds,
Following the footsteps, fading, fading.

Footnotes:
How clear, how obscure should a poem be? It is not an essay, so meaning might be subordinate to sound and image. But nonetheless, meaning should walk the knife edge if a certain stream of thought is being shared. This piece was for the 2017 Llanwrtyd Eisteddfod with a set title of ‘Cofio’ (‘Remembering’) and a maximum of 50 lines. As usual, a month or two was spent mulling over some themes and then I returned to the first that I wrote, making a few small adjustments and changing line lengths to fall within the required length. ( other poems published here this month are also fragments on the same theme).
The words should stand and the sounds should dance. The meaning might come and go, depending on whether the reader recognises the references or not -something upon which the poet has no control, never has, never will. But in our (Welsh/British) tradition, poetry was a means to transmit knowledge, to be mnemonic. To entrance, but also to remind the listener of the vast corpus of traditional information and to create meaningful links between past, present and future.

The first verse is located in the Irfon valley where I live and where Llanwrtyd is nestled. It pictures specifically the Roman legions who built roads and forts here to keep watch and subdue the inhabitants, the Ordoviciae. Luckily for the Romans, this Celtic British confederacy of the central uplands of Wales supported the rebellion of the Iceni under Boudicca, thereby justifying a complete and utter genocide of that tribe as retribution ( genocide was one of the Romans favourite means of ‘civilising’, though warring Celtic tribes were not aversed to similar actions). This event is merely a model and prelude to all other armies and rightful rulers emptying this land of its people and resources. The First and Second World Wars continued, indirectly, to the fragmentation of traditional rural communities. Above the village of Bealuh ‘land between heaven and earth’, the ridges of an Iron Age enclosure look down on the valley floor.

Roman roads replaced by the drover’s roads that criss-cross Wales and along which the vast herds of cattle and flocks of sheep were driven into England to the big cities and their markets. If one knows a little Welsh, one knows to be wary of some pronunciations. The drover’s may be talking to the girls about the landscapes they love, or they may be talking about sex and genitalia. ( one of the words for ‘hill’ being very close to the word for ‘sex’, and one of the words for ‘mystery’ also a euphemism for ‘genitals’).

John Dee, the advisor of Queen Elizabeth I, was born in London but his father came from Radnorshire. He was undoubtedly a genius of his age, drawn into the metaphysics of alchemy and the scientific revelations of fervent Protestantism. It is known that he met Giordano Bruno, an Italian metaphysical intellectual who used the ancient Classical mental device of the Memory Palace to hold vast stores of information and near perfect memory recall. Dee conversed with angels, formulated an angelic language, was employed by European monarchs to transmute gold, and was the first to suggest the creation of a ‘British Empire’, based on naval supremacy. He died in poverty with his vast library of books, one of the best in Europe, pilfered and destroyed by neglect and ignorance.

Back in the Radnor hills, a well-respected animal healer, John Lloyd, was murdered one night for his earnings. His body was discovered under the ice of a frozen pool. His memory was used as a way to scare children into good behaviour: “if you are not good, Silver John will come and get you..” and perhaps Robert Louis Stephenson picked up the tale somewhere for his Long John Silver bogeyman.

And then to the current forgotten dead. Three months since the fire in Grenfell Tower, a certain indelible stain on the state of the nation. Evidence scurried away, denials all round, media silence where there should be unremitting howls to reveal all the truth and all the lies. Such a symbol at the centre of the land. The beam in the eye. The burning money tree, the cast away human fruit.

Finally, a wee bit of science and religion. Though there are organs and structures within the brain that need to function correctly to be able to lay down and recall memories, there is no ‘storehouse’, no location in the brain where memories are piled up. Remembering is a whole brain process where pathways and roads of habit are somehow stimulated to recreate a past internal or external event. A passing second reference to angels, messengers of God, who, like memories, insist on being listened to by hook or by crook – as Tobias found out when he was divinely mugged on the road. Paths, roads, incursions, disruption, discomfiture, knowledge, revelation, forgetting. All a web spun out by a freewheeling poetic mind only just under conscious control, in much less time than it took to unravel some of the imagery. ‘Not sure what it all means’. Well, that is the nature of the poetry of the deep mind. And long may it confuse and feed us

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