Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’


Here is my entry to the Llanwrtyd Eisteddfod this year. Entries were in Welsh and English, as usual from all over Wales. The first place (as proper), went to an experienced Welsh-language poet. I was lucky enough to come second.
There are about a couple of months to think through the subject that is chosen each year, which allows enough time to allow ideas to collect and flow. It is not the way I work very often, but usually the first few trials turn out to be the ones I submit. Two poems that survived the process are here below.

Y LLYN (rivers stand still)

It is a palimpsest of all silences
where rivers stand still a while to watch the sky.
A rainbow lake, a grey lake, weathered with the dust of things.
A song in chains, a perfect replica of night.

If you wake here before dawn
(woken by a dream or by a drift of light),
you will see all the valley drowned in mist.
The hilltops, all islands, in a lake of white dew.
Then there is almost nothing as silent as this –
the slow change as breath of light rises
and things of day stir to wake.

All the poets are commingled here
as glimmering fishes, dancing together, dancing apart.
Their mouths silently working, feeding on rhyme and reason.
They hunt the fire within the lake
so they may become someone else.
(Taliesin nods, smiles and winks).

There is not a breath across its surface,
not a moment it does not reflect upon.
In its black belly walk memories and bones of things:
Bones of snow, bones of ice, bones of sheep,
Knuckle-bones of disappointment, sinews of remorse.
This poets’ house contrived of wind and water,
held so still in the patient hands of old valleys,
(for loss is loss and never to be forgotten).

A plaid of wind ripples the lake surface –
as if it were about to say something.


Y LLYN (johnny tomorrow)

Johnny Tomorrow, always returning to the lake that drowned his childhood.
Cool eyes gaze skywards measuring the rain, and the sedges rattling
like the last breath of one happy to be leaving, dust-filled
and with too much darkness to carry on living much beyond the grey lake morning.
He has marked the spot where his ash shall settle,
committed to memory the cloud patterns and the play of ripples along the shore.

How long has Fannog farmhouse been beneath the steel cold waters?
How long its walls become wet caves for tiny fishes?
All the past has dimmed now in fluid liquid distance,
all the present rocking ungainly on doubtful waves.
Only the future is certain: that these clouds shall build and build then pass.
And there shall be a sweet warm breeze of blackberries
from the stretched and torn blue sky high above Dinas
and skylarks, skylarks, skylarks, visible and invisible
(like angels singing the praises of the Almighty).

Johnny Tomorrow, measuring days, rearranging the sorrows of the past.
Beneath each clear reflected memory there is a deeper current, more felt than seen.
As if he knows he should once have offered the best cheeses, the best bread,
the best grain, again and again, until the waters slipped silky aside
and he would be given the joy he patiently awaited, the beauty he dreamed.
For a time, for a time, a sort of perfection, a mirror clear of ripples.
Until the undoing, when all the bright things, all the brightnesses,
walk away without a word, without a look backwards, and all the dreams
silently walking into the slow blue waters as if nothing had been there,
a slow diminishing of rippled surfaces until a perfect sky, a perfect hill,
closes the door on anything other than here and now.

Johnny Tomorrow, waiting for the triple sacrifice, willing to let go
of yesterday, of today, of tomorrow – all those cold chains released,
offered up and sinking into the deep dark waters,
become sediment, settled, longing to be forgotten.
Now, now free, he, too, sinks.
He floats, he rises, knowing not which is sky, which is water,
which is tree, which the root of his tongue’s exultant shout.

Walking into sunrise with no shadow, all music merged into one breath,
bright-browed and open, he whispers: ‘Upon a lake, that is not a lake,
there rests a boat, that is not a boat’.
And the lake, at least, understands.
The doors swing wide and just like this, like this,
he enters the lake’s eye, the depths of an older tale.
It will be a bright tomorrow over the green hills.
A gentle rain rustling across the water, and mayflies dancing.

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The bones of the hills

The bones of rivers

The bones of the mist

The bones of meaning.

How shall we talk to the bones

Of things, the sweet marrow?

That great grey slope,

A rising falling sine wave,

A rumbling note bending horizons.

Converse with it dressed thus in cloud

And become a stranger removed from illusion.

Untied, drifting, anchored only to words

And a dance that is so so slow, it brings worlds to their end

And changes them that new languages are needed

To begin to know it, to begin to know it.

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Tra mor, tra Brython,

Haf ny byd hinon;

Bythawt breu breyryon

Ae deubyd o gwanfret,

Vch o vor, vch o vynyd,

Vch o vor, ynyal ebryn,

Coet, maes, tyno a bryn.

Small gods consume lesser gods

To become great gods.

Simple ideas coalesce

To plot the downfall of worlds.

Ye prophetic poets who starve in corners.

Ye warrior kings who walk on mothers’ sons.

Ye ocean depths. Ye wild autumn skies.

Ye ultimate icy silences. Ye forests singing.

Words that lack mouths fall impotent.

Memories that lack accuracy

Become stories for the bored and enervated.

Today, like every day,

Is the last day of this bright world.

Today, like every day,

Will become ashes glowing in the cooling evening.

What will you do to sustain?

What will you do to glorify?

What will you do, O foolish ones,

To mimic eternity, and fail?

I am Taliesin and I am bitter dust.

Bright browed and grown from circumstance.

A seed swallowed by a great mother, hatched and thrown adrift.

If my words bite hard, they are to waken you.

Your footsteps are poison

Wherever you tread.

How shall reparation be made?

Pop arawt heb erglywaw – nebawt

O vynawe pop mehyn.

Yt vi brithret a lliaws – gyniret

A gofut amwehyn:

Dialeu trwy hoyw gredeu bresswyl.

The words in Welsh are from The Prophecies of Taliesin:

At the beginning:

As long as there is sea, as long as there are Britons,

There will be no fine weather in the summer;

Feeble will be the lords who come to them

Through deceiving the weak.

An attack from the sea, an attack from the mountain,

An attack from the sea, the uninhabited region in tumult,

The wood, the field, the hollow and the hill.

and at the end:

Every supplication going completely unheeded

By the lord of every place.

There shall be turmoil and tumult in the host,

And spreading tribulation:

Acts of vengeance mixed with constancy of fair promises.

Prophecies accumulate their own veracity.

They become the origin and end point of themselves.

Boulders thrown into a stream,

Turbulence upstream and down.

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This sudden moment slows.

Wingbeats in the mist.

One drop of rain, then another.

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Who would choose to leave this Llangammarch

Wrapped in birdsong on a warm and sunny morning?

Who would lift their eyes from the glistening waters

Draped with alder shade and grasses?

Throughout the houses it has now the soft hush of loss.

The hollowness of a hollowed name, a rehearsal of memories.

Llangammarch threaded between wood and waters;

An easy confluence neat folded against the green grey heights

of Epynt and its sighing skies, its distances tasting of blue.

Except those who tend the dead ( the small things singing), no one lives on Epynt now.

It is a roofless, empty house, shadowless, and singing winds.

Perhaps it is there our departed go, congregating to watch the unfolding world,

At ease and in peace, soothed by a longer perspective on sorrow and joy.

Who would leave Llangammarch, warm and dreaming?

Those with dreams urgent and golden;

Following the light upstream,

the open skies, the warm winds,

the curlew berating heaven.

A floating world, a breath away.

One breath away.

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Glass-smooth the sea,

Its light a silk knife

Whispering sighed names:

The hidden islands.

Bathed in rainbow words,

There and not there,

Not to be focused upon.

To be rolled upon the tongue,

Tasted and weighed,

Melted to a honey meaning.

Sung in fickle keys

Near impossible to memorise.

A world away, here between breaths.

Suffers none to name it

Nor clothe it in anything

Other than it is.

Unknown by knowing,

Reached by rudderless boat

Through mist to sunlit sands.

Their mouths say one thing,

Their eyes another,

Their hands dance around,

Gestures in hypnotic weave.

Hope is not there,

Nor is it elsewhere.

Those who want shall

Never be satisfied.

To remember perfectly

And to forget perfectly,

And to continue, nonetheless.

That is how to belong there.

From the lands of eternal dreaming

We seem here to vanish continually,

Swept away,

The tides of joy and pain,

Doomed and mortal.

But without time

What can be done?

The perfected go nowhere,

Nothing accomplished.

Sun and moon and stars hold still,

All roads vanish in the mists.

Wordless songs.

We dream of them,

They dream us,

The in and out of breath.

A golden chain,

Link needing link.

We must dance together.

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Whether you are mortal or immortal

Just depends on how much

Of your mind you inhabit.


Even the gods are constrained by their natures

And the expectations of their worshippers.

Obliged to inhabit forms thrust upon them,

Wearing bodies too tight, too clichéd.


The ancestor who lived in a hut on the mountain

Has become the mountain.

The mountain walks out in the morning mists

Along paths of nodding yarrow, cream and pink and golden.


His blood has become rivers, his thoughts the vast slow winds,

His desires the vague hopeful hungers and fears

Of small things he hardly sees, so fleeting they have become.


Bioluminescence: we travel out on rays of light,

Swaying forests dripping guttering stars.

The pools there, and their reflection,

We take as real to us, a similar mirror-smooth view.


Encysted on distant moons desiccated

The dead deities await a new rain of praise

To swell and sprout new thoughts in old minds.


There is a storm in the mountains and a fire on the sea.

We shall not escape the certain stirrings in the cauldron of chance.

The food of gods and the home of gods,

We shall succumb to the very smallest of them –

The ones we created, the ones created for us,

The ones that created us.


Their burning footprints will come this way,

Their burning eyes, their flashing tongues,

Their numinous promises.


The huge creatures of the past, where are they now?

They lumber in the vocabulary of our cells,

Eloquent and vast in warmer, salty oceans with a brighter sun

And a flash of coloured feathers.


We will be gone soon

Leaving strange food for new gods.

Ones that will finally be freed from our dreams

And breathing the air of vast open space

Iridescent with stars.

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