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TWENTY YEARS ( OF DRUID TRAINING)

1

It was like a rope of light

let down into the chaotic darkness.

Only later would we see

it was a deadly serpent

and the chains of enslavement.

But such is the nature of knowledge

and we shrugged, accepting all costs.

.

Nyt o vam a that

Pan y’m digonat

.

It was not from a mother and a father

That I was made.

.

2

One year we were held in complete silence.

No word spoken

but internal recitation of all the masters’ words.

Becoming each one, and their lilt,

moving into their expressions,

reclothed in passions,

Eyes opening in other worlds.

.

A’m creu a’m creat

O naw rith llafanat;

.

And my creation was created for me

From nine forms of consistency:

.

3

Another year we each were given

one word only, to unwrap.

To follow, to hunt to its uttermost,

to its bright birth,

In a name that has become ours alone.

A map of our journey,

a seal on our circumference.

.

O ffrwyth, o ffrwytheu,

O ffrwyth Duw dechreu;

.

From fruit, from fruits,

From God’s fruit in the beginning;

.

4

Once the words were learned

all the rhythms and the hidden wealth:

We could see how nothing existed

outside of those patterns of plaid.

No move, no colour, no conceit,

nothing that was not drawn

from that well of words.

And so we learnt to see around us,

in every hall, in every byre,

where each would walk

and where in each tale

they would place themselves.

And how with a word

it might be shifted

and how with a gesture

the plot might be moved on.

.

O vriallu a blodeu,

O vlawt gwyd a godeu,

.

From primroses and flowers,

From the blossom of trees and shrubs,

.

5

One year we were given

the gift of madness.

.

Prid o pridet

Pan y’m digonet,

.

From earth, from the sod

Was I made,

.

6

Another year we slept all the long days

and at night gathered around still pools

to learn the dance of stars, and their songs.

Our dreams would be strange then,

and our names, unpronounceable

.

O vlawt danat,

O dwfyr ton nawvet.

.

From nettle blossom

From the ninth wave’s water.

.

7

One year we would speak only lies,

until we knew that truth is itself a lie,

and that the tides beneath us

are drowning darknesses

and screaming passions.

.

A’m swynwys-i Vath

Kyn bum diameth.

.

Math created me

Before I was completed.

.

8

A year as birds

soaring and rising on thermals,

to find the fulcrum of the winds

and to twist the cloud rivers to rope

for sun or rain or storm.

To placate, to restore.

.

A’m swynwys-i Wytyon

Mawrut o brithron.

.

Gwydion fashioned me

Great enchantment wrought by a magic staff;

.

9

A year abiding by trees –

some would not return,

fertilising the world

with their eternal silences.

.

O Eurwys, o Euron,

O Euron, o Vodron;

.

By Eurwys, by Euron,

By Euron, by Modron;

.

10

Another, we hunted and slew all the gods,

taking their women and siring new progeny.

These we fed with our own blood and souls,

so that they would know us when we summoned them.

.

O pymp keluydon

Arthawon eil math –

Pan ymdygyaed.

.

By five enchanters

Of a kind like godparents –

Was I reared.

.

11

One year to placate and cajole poisons.

Those songs were enticing, sweet as death.

.

A’m swynwys-i wledic

Pan vei let loscedic.

.

A ruler fashioned me

When there would have been a burning extent.

.

12

Then we did all return to our own families

To serve one year, unrecognised, in their midst.

For many that was the final chain broken to the past.

Allegiance of blood once sweet, now rancid, old, bitter.

.

A’m swynwys sywyt

Sywydon kyn byt,

.

The wisdom of sages fashioned me

Before the world was made.

.

13

A year of folding secrets into the mundane;

Of speaking to the deep;

Of remaining human.

Learning that love and hate

Are the gravity that keeps us here.

.

Pan vei genhyf-y vot,

Pan vei vach veint byt.

.

When I had being,

When the extent of the world was still small.

.

14

A year polishing swords and mirrors

And placing the singing spells

Of vision and death within them.

.

Hard bard bud angnawt,

Yt uedaf ar wawt

A traetho tauawt.

.

A fair poet, of unusual gifts,

I control in song

That which the tongue utters.

.

15

The genealogies of the lost

And the equations of gods;

Their doorways, their doorkeepers.

The mysteries under the earth

Where the stars wander,

Passionate light on an endless river.

.

Gwaryeis yn llychwr,

Kysceis ym porffor.

.

I played in the light,

I slept wrapped in purple.

.

16

The transmutation of the body into smoke;

To see without eyes;

To move the shining streams.

.

Neu bum yn yscor

Gan Dylan Eil Mor,

.

I was in the citadel

With Dylan Son of the Sea,

.

17

To become free in chains;

To remember the first cauldron

And the journey from there.

Brightness remaining.

To give everything away,

Yet remain undiminished.

.

Yg kylchet ym perued

Rwg deulin teyrned.

.

My bed in the interior

Between the knees of kings.

.

18

To summon guards and guardians;

To curse the dreams of kings;

To know the stars’ positions in daylight;

To travel out on rays of light;

.

Yn deu wayw anchwant:

O Nef pan doethant.

.

My two keen spears:

From Heaven did they come.

.

19

To know one’s manner and time of death;

To move into other forms;

To prophesy and to escape from prophecy.

Transformation at the moment of death;

To remember every name and

The shape and hungers of souls.

.

Yn Annwfyn llifereint

Wrth urwydrin dybydant.

.

In the streams of Annwfn

They come ready for battle.

.

20

To return to simple words,

To return to silence;

To remember and forget,

To move freely without ripples.

Three drops spinning –

Their taste, the honey moment.

To know that all is song.

That all is one song, one river,

And to listen to the winds from the hills there,

From the rapids, from the shallows,

To leap upstream, to float downstream.

To inhabit the world that inhabits the wise.

.

Ef gwrith, ef datwrith,

Ef gwrith ieithoed.

.

He made, he remade,

He made languages.

.

Llachar y enw llawffer,

Much llywei nifer;

.

Radiant his name, strong his hand

Brilliantly did he direct a host;

.

Ysceinynt yn ufel

O dosas yn uchel.

.

They were scattering in sparks

From a drop in the heights.

The Welsh is taken from ‘Cad Godeu’, a long and mysterious poem attributed to Taliesin. It is not meant as a commentary on my verses, nor the other way round. But perhaps they both come from the same place and act as a counterpoint in time and space.

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THE PERFECT MEMORY

Chapel oak frames the bright morning.

Crow’s wings: black, white, black, in the early sun.

I have reached into perfect memory

And drawn out a continuous stream,

Beyond names, beyond form.

A song from the bright, wondrous world.

.

My heart is burst into four,

Sundered and cast again into gold.

It hangs by threads strong enough for eternity.

Morning now as hushed as breath of nine maidens.

The slow, rotating mists that rise and sigh.

This summit cannot be reached by thought,

But by the rhythm of steady walking.

It goes beyond names, it goes beyond forms.

.

We have moved beyond safety in the ship of chant.

The confederacy of the senses murmurs in discontent.

Currents and cross-tides and the hidden lands beneath

Steer us whether we choose or not.

It has always been so: these sea roads as fixed as stars

And the stones that measure them staring from the shoreline cliffs.

.

A year and a day: that shall be the last feast.

Months-long travel for the final gathering of memory.

The sowing of seed, the tilling of the soil, the hiding of light.

The letting go, the letting go.

Bones buried, doors locked.

.

Pink thrift on the foreshore.

The horizon unsullied.

We shall sink down in grief here.

Washed away, washed away.

.

White crow, black crow, of perfect recollection.

Beyond names, beyond forms.

We are all gathered up –

The long roads mapped between stars,

The final feast where all is swallowed up.

.

Bright are the beams of its hall.

Its fires, a delight, and its succour complete.

Light and dark the chapel oak holds firm.

Vast are the teachings within silence.

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CRAZY OLD MAN

We will not know

how great or small

our gods are

until we have searched

through all the rooms

of this house, uncovering

all the angels and monsters

that live there.

What we are,

in silence,

in the bright darkness

of the eternal starry night.

Whether nothing

or everything,

a spark or a whirlwind

or a bitter flaming tree.

They have left ripples

carved in rock.

They have put up

gateways of stone.

They have veered the hills

around the sunrise.

They have left songs

in the soil

that shepherded

the seeds there.

Dreaming, dreamer, dream:

a dream of awakening

does not bring any

dawn closer.

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CLOTHED

Clothing himself in these common borrowed words,

A certain style, a certain habit, turns it all around.

Anonymous ubiquity becomes an intimate paced voice,

The poet emerges from the rough hedge glowing in the darkening evening.

Everyone has seen the full moon a thousand times,

Yet still now sighs and stands still.

Clothing ourselves in another’s memory

Or dreaming a dream not even ours:

The profoundest philosophy here,

A truth of who we are, think we are,

Where our edges blur and meet,

Where our voices change key and tone,

And slip into accents unfamiliar,

Where we stop being who we think we are,

And for a moment, if only ever for a moment,

We leap from the endless river, glinting and free

Into unfamiliar harvests of air and evening

On the floating view of somewhere we can never stay,

Returning so rapidly to the noisy rush of time and space,

Swept downstream, singing tunes with a cadence now not ours,

Now not solely ours.

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A MANTRA OF HEALING

in flowering mist

the vague precisions of light.

amongst the deep sounds

of singing silence

a spinning word

casts out tentative meaning

what are we, if not

remembered stories?

paths not yet faded

into oblivion.

stumbled upon brilliance,

gracefully falling

into new forms.

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SHADOWS

These lines – the chiselled shadows of words.

Consonants moth-whispered, vowels, lichen-grown.
.

A sunlit porch and laughter.

.
Light swings round the mountain

throwing a cooling shadow

across wood and field.

.
Ghosts do not tip-toe here.

As if they own the place, as if they always have,

Squeezing us between regret and reminiscence,

stained by poetry, small life blooming

on cold fallen hearths.

.
Their lilt of names and

who lived where

and who they loved

and who they hated,

whose sheep on which pasture,

whose son left and lost in another war,

whose daughter run off to a bigger life.

.
Pipesmoke and murmurs,

paraffin and oiled rags.

.
The long light stretches between October trees.

In the cities the streetlights flicker on.

On the farms ashes raked,

Cold stoves chivied back to life.

Small lives shadowed by greater things.

.
The chink of tools, the warm scent of sawdust.

.
A gentle downward slope into night.

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NOW THEN

Now then
This memory
Bright and ruthless
Still here.

One moment sparkles
One moment shatters
And the one who goes before it
And the one leaving after it
Are one but not the same.

A language of licked lips and discrepency
A bartering of meanings.
They bring here with pride
The skill of conjurors and pickpockets.

The language of rivers:
The song of things
Worn smooth by sound.

The heart of starlight
Is loneliness and beauty.
The silence of the deep.

Out of the eternal past
A poet’s voice
Leads the dead,
Revivifies the earth.

Words fall golden,
Free of meaning
Time rusts,
Becoming earth.

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THE CORNERS OF SPACE

Follow the sun beyond the horizon
And there will never be a sunset,
Never a horizon.

The old poets knew this – that their voice
(River and root of it) runs through distance
And no ends are there to those meanings.
Each sound, a door to deeper dimensions.

(No owls tonight, though a slivered, smiling moon.
Between the song of the pines and the river:
Restless tumbling dreams.)

Here is the vertiginous well of the sky
And its steps, and its chambers.
The view of horizons and their echoes.

(Confusion arises with questions:
Clouds billow and change shape;
Gravity has little hold in dream states
Except by habit.)

Circumference, the vastness of mind,
The corners of space, encompassed
By a single breath,
Dissolves on exhalation.
A rainbow disease brought to a stunning collapse –
Endless blue.

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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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THIRD BRANCH

In brown light, thick as honey,
A book of instruction lies open that is a door.
Listen now, listen to these pictures.

How the reckless, (and even those we once thought wise),
Rush after what has been lost.
Into the fortress of emptiness,
Into deserted palaces and courtyards calling, calling.
And how they, we, I, reach for a clear golden perfect thing
And in that moment become immovable, entranced,
The fountain of all life bubbling inches out of reach.
The golden chains, (each link a true remembering
Of the one before), disappearing up into eternal blue
That holds the perfect vessel, that is equally curse and blessing.

If it has but one clear meaning, then it is not our poetry.
(A vessel chased and engraved with hypnotic flow,
Imperfect symmetry of ripples on a summer stream.)
If we are not led astray, it is not our poetry.
If we do not forget ourselves, wondering how we came here,
What it may all mean, then it is not our poetry.
We shall become poisoned by it and purged by it,
Blessed by it and made full with it. Stripped of skin,
Made shining and given new names, the names of ghosts long gone.
For the truth is: it shall revive the dead, made perfect again but speechless.
Only through our own voices now can they wander this world,
And we haunt them as they inhabit us.
Memory and forgetfulness.

A patch of sunlight sweeps the hills
And is gone.
These clouds, these hymns, these voices.
For a moment we shall fly upward, then remembering,
Fall down once more below the soil.

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