I was born in Rhymney by Idris Davies

I was born in Rhymney

To a miner and his wife –

On a January morning

I was pulled into this Life.

.

Among Anglicans and Baptists

And Methodists I grew,

And my childhood had to chew and chance

The creed of such a crew.

.

I went to church and chapel

Ere I could understand

That Apollo rules the heavens

And Mammon rules the land.

.

And I woke on many mornings

In a little oblong room,

And saw the frown of Spurgeon:

‘Beware, my boy, of doom.’

.

And there was the family Bible

Beneath a vase of flowers,

With pictures of the Holy Land

That enchanted me for hours.

.

And there was my Uncle Edward,

Solemn and stern and grey,

A Calvinistic Methodist

Who made me kneel and pray.

.

He would carry me on his shoulders

When I was six or seven

And tell me of the golden days

When chariots flew to heaven.

.

He was furious against Pharaoh

And scornful about Eve,

But his pathos about Joseph

Could always make me grieve.

.

He knew the tribes and custom

And the apt geography

Of Jerusalem and Jericho

And the hills of Galilee.

.

And Moses was his hero

And Jehovah was his God.

And his stories were as magical

As Aaron’s magic rod.

.

But sometimes from the Bible

He would turn to politics

And tell of Gladstone’s glory

And Disraeli’s little tricks.

.

But even William Ewart Gladstone

Of beloved memory

Would fade and be forgotten

When it came to D.L.G.

.

The little Celt from Criccieth,

The Liberal on fire,

He was the modern Merlin

And Moses and Isaiah!

.

The ghost of Uncle Edward

In a solemn bowler hat,

Does it haunt the plains of Moab

Or the slopes of Ararat?

.

Or lurks it in the Gateway,

Where Peter holds the key,

To welcome on the harp strings

The ghost of D. L. G.

.

I lost my native language

For the one the Saxon spake

By going to school by order

For education’s sake.

.

I learnt the use of decimals,

And where to place the dot,

Four or five lines from Shakespeare

And twelve from Walter Scott.

.

I learnt a little grammar,

And some geography,

Was frightened of perspective,

And detested poetry.

.

In a land of narrow valleys,

And solemn Sabbath Days,

And collieries and choirs,

I learnt my people’s ways.

.

I looked on local deacons

With not a little awe,

I waved a penny Union Jack

When Asquith went to war.

.

I pinned my faith in Kitchener

And later in Haig and Foch,

And pitied little Belgium

And cursed the bloody Boche.

.

We warred along the hillsides

And volleyed sticks and stones,

And sometimes smashed the windows

Of Mrs Hughes and Jones.

.

We stood in queues for apples,

For paraffin, and jam,

And were told to spit on Lenin,

And honour Uncle Sam.

.

But often in the evenings

When all the stars were out

We played beneath the lamp-post

And did not stop to doubt

.

That the world was made for children

Early on Christmas Day

By a jolly old whiskered Josser

In a mansion far away.

.

And there were the hours for Chaplin,

Pearl White, and Buffalo Bill,

And the hours for nests and whinberries

High on the summer hill.

.

And O the hour of lilac

And a leopard in the sky,

And the heart of childhood singing

A song that cannot die!

.

I learnt of Saul and Jesus

In the little Sunday School,

And later learnt to muse and doubt

By some lonely mountain pool.

.

I saw that creeds could comfort

And hypocrisy console

But in my blood were battles

No Bible could control.

.

And I praised the unknown Artist

Of crag and fern and stream

For the sunshine on the mountains

And the wonder of a dream.

.

On one February morning,

Unwillingly I went

To crawl in moleskin trousers

Beneath the rocks of Gwent.

.

And a chubby little collier

Grew fat on sweat and dust,

And listened to heated arguments

On God and Marx and lust.

.

For seven years among the colliers

I learnt to laugh and curse,

When times were fairly prosperous

And when they were ten times worse.

.

And I loved and loved the mountains

Against the cloudy sky,

The sidings, and the slag-heaps

That sometimes hurt the eye.

.

MacDonald was my hero,

The man who seemed inspired,

The leader with a vision,

Whose soul could not be hired!

.

I quoted from his speeches

In the coalface to my friends –

But I lived to see him selling

Great dreams for little ends.

.

And there were strikes and lock-outs

And meetings in the Square,

When Cook and Smith and Bevan

Electrified the air.

.

But the greatest of our battles

We lost in ’26

Through treachery and lying,

And Baldwin’s box of tricks.

.

I began to read from Shelley

In afternoons in May,

And to muse upon the misery

Of unemployment pay.

.

I stood in queues for hours

Outside the drab Exchange,

With my hands deep in my pockets

In a suit I could not change.

.

I stood before Tribunals

And smothered all my pride,

And bowed to my inferiors,

And raged with my soul outside.

.

And I walked my native hillsides

In sunshine and in rain,

And learnt the poet’s language

To ease me of my pain.

.

With Wordsworth and with Shelley

I scribbled out my dreams,

Sometimes among the slag-heaps,

Sometimes by mountain streams.

.

O I shook hands with Shelley

Among the moonlit fern,

And he smiled, and slowly pointed

To the heart that would not burn.

.

And I discovered Milton

In a shabby little room

Where I spent six summer evenings

In most luxurious gloom.

.

I met Macbeth and Lear,

And Falstaff full of wine,

And I went one day to Stratford

To tread on ground divine.

.

And I toiled through dismal evenings

With algebraical signs,

With Euclid and Pythagoras

And all their points and lines.

.

Sometimes there came triumph

But sometimes came despair,

And I would fling all books aside

And drink the midnight air.

.

And there were dark and bitter mornings

When the streets like coffins lay

Between the winter mountains,

Long and bleak and grey.

.

But season followed season

And beauty never died

And there were days and hours

Of hope and faith and pride.

.

In springtime I went roaming

Along the Severn Sea,

Rejoicing in the tempest

And its savage ecstasy.

.

And there were summer evenings

By Taf, and Usk, and Wye,

When the land was bright with colour

Beneath a quiet sky.

.

But always home to Rhymney

From wandering I came,

Back to the long and lonely

Self-tuition game,

.

Back to Euclid’s problems,

And algebraical signs,

And the route of trade and commerce,

And Caesar’s battle line,

.

Back to the lonely evenings

Of triumph and despair

In a little room in Rhymney

With a hint of mountain air.

.

O days I shall remember

Until I drop and die! –

Youth’s bitter sweet progression

Beneath a Rhymney sky.

.

At last I went to college,

To the city on the Trent,

In the land of D. H. Lawrence

And his savage Testament.

.

And history and poetry

Filled all my days and nights,

And in the streets of Nottingham

I harnessed my delights.

.

I loved the leafy villages

Along the winding Trent,

And sometimes sighed at sunset

For the darker hills of Gwent.

.

And the churches of East Anglia

Delighted heart and eye,

The little steepled churches

Against the boundless sky.

.

And lecture followed lecture

in the college by the lake,

And some were sweet to swallow

And some were hard to take.

.

I read from Keats and Lawrence,

And Eliot, Shaw, and Yeats,

And the ‘History of Europe

With diagrams and dates’.

.

I went to Sherwood Forest

To look for Robin Hood,

But little tawdry villas

Were where the oaks once stood.

.

And I heard the ghost of Lawrence

Raging in the night

Against the thumbs of Progress

That botched the land with blight.

.

And season followed season

And beauty never died,

And I left the land of Trent again

To roam by Rhymney’s side,

.

By the narrow Rhymney River

That erratically flows

Among the furnace ruins

Where the sullen thistle blows.

.

Then I tried for posts in Yorkshire,

In Staffordshire and Kent,

For hopeless was the striving

For any post in Gwent.

.

I wrote out testimonials

Till my hands began to cry

That the world was full of jackals

And beasts of smaller fry.

.

At last, at last, in London,

On one November day,

I began to earn my living,

To weave my words for pay.

.

At last I walked in London,

In park and square and street,

In bright and shady London

Where all the nations meet.

.

At last I lived in London

And saw the sun go down

Behind the mists of Richmond

And the smoke of Camden Town.

.

I watched the Kings of England

Go riding with his queen,

I watched the cats steal sausage

From stalls in Bethnal Green.

.

I tried the air of Hampstead,

I tried the brew of Bow,

I tried the cake of Kensington

And the supper of Soho.

.

I rode in trams and taxis

And tried the social round

And hurried home to Highgate

On the London Underground.

.

In little rooms in London

The poetry of Yeats

Was my fire and my fountain –

And the fury of my mates.

.

I found cherries in Jane Austen

And grapes in Hemingway,

And truth more strange than fiction

In the streets of Holloway.

.

And da Vinci and El Greco

And Turner and Cézanne,

They proved to me the splendour

And divinity of man.

.

I gazed at stones from Hellas,

And heard imagined trees

Echo across the ages

The words of Sophocles.

.

And often of a Sunday

I hailed the highest art,

The cataracts and gardens

Of Wagner and Mozart.

.

I studied Marx and Engels,

And put Berkeley’s theme aside,

And listened to the orators

Who yelled and cooed and cried

.

O the orators, the orators,

On boxes in the parks,

They judge the Day of Judgement

And award Jehovah marks.

.

O the orators, the orators,

When shall their voices die?

When London is a soap-box

With its bottom to the sky.

.

In many a public library

I watched the strong men sleep,

And virgins reading volumes

Which made their blushes deep.

.

Sometimes I watched the Commons

From the narrow galleries,

My left eye on the Premier,

My right on the Welsh MPs.

.

In Christopher Wren’s Cathedral

I heard Dean Inge lament

The lack of care in breeding

From Caithness down to Kent.

.

And once in the ancient Abbey

I heard Thomas Hardy sigh:

‘O why must a Wessex pagan

Here uneasily lie?’

.

To Castle Street Baptist Chapel

Like the prodigal son I went

To hear the hymns of childhood

And dream of a boy in Gwent,

.

To dream of far-off Sundays

When for me the sun would shine

On the broken hills of Rhymney

And the palms of Palestine.

.

With Tory and with Communist,

With atheist and priest,

I talked and laughed and quarrelled

Till light lit up the east.

.

The colonel and his nonsense,

The busman and his cheek,

I liked them all in London

For seven days a week.

.

O sometimes I was merry

In Bloomsbury and Kew,

When fools denied their folly

And swore that pink was blue.

.

And sometimes I lounged sadly

By the River in the night

And watched a body diving

And passed out of sight.

.

When the stars were over London

And lights lit up the Town,

I banished melancholy

And kept the critic down.

.

When the moon was bright on Eros

And the cars went round and round,

The whore arrived from Babylon

By the London Underground.

.

O I stood in Piccadilly

And sat in Leicester Square,

And mused on satin and sewerage

And lice and laissez-faire.

.

I saw some royal weddings

And a Silver Jubilee,

And a coloured Coronation,

And a King who crossed the sea.

.

In springtime to the shires

I went happy and alone,

And entered great cathedrals

To worship glass and stone.

.

I had holidays in Eire

Where the angels drink and dance,

And with a Tam from Ayrshire

I roamed the South of France.

.

For week-ends in the winter

When cash was pretty free,

I went to stay in Hastings

To argue by the sea.

.

For Sussex in the winter

Was dearer to me

Than Sussex full of trippers

Beside the summer sea.

.

In the wreck of Epping Forest

I listened as I lay

To the language of the Ghetto

Behind a hedge of May

.

And in the outer suburbs

I heard in the evening rain

The cry of Freud the prophet

On love and guilt and pain.

.

And on the roads arterial,

When London died away,

The poets of the Thirties

Were singing of decay.

.

I saw the placards screaming

About Hitler and his crimes,

Especially on Saturdays –

That happened many times.

.

And I saw folk digging trenches

In 1938,

In the dismal autumn drizzle

When all things seemed too late.

.

And Chamberlain went to Munich,

An umbrella at his side,

And London lost her laughter

And almost lost her pride.

.

I saw the crowds parading

And heard the angry cries

Around the dusty monuments

That gazed with frozen eyes.

.

The lands were full of fear,

And Hitler full of scorn,

And London full of critics

Whose nerves were badly torn.

.

And crisis followed crisis

Until at last the line

Of battle roared to fire

in 1939.

.

And then evacuation,

And London under fire,

And London in the distance,

The city of desire.

.

And the world is black with battle

in 1943,

And the hymn of hate triumphant

And loud from sea to sea.

.

And in this time of tumult

I can only hope and cry

That season shall follow season

And beauty shall not die.

.

.

By Idris Davies

(6 January 1905 – 6 April 1953)

Published by

MrHearne

Russian and Welsh poetry. Updated every Sunday. Also reviews of literature, films, theatre, food and drink, etc. Any support or engagement is appreciated.

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