Chalk by Dannie Abse

Chalk, calcium carbonate, should mean school –
a small, neutral stick neither cool nor hot,
its smell should evoke wooden desks slamming
when, squeaking over blackboards, it could not
decently teach us more than one plus one.

Now, no less pedagogic in ruder districts,
on iron railway bridges, were urchins fight,
an urgent scrawl names our failure – BAN THE BOMB,
or more peculiarly, KEEP BRITAIN WHITE.
Chalk, it seems, has some bleeding purpose.

In the night, secretly, they must have come,
strict, clenched men in the street, anonymous,
past closed shops and the sound of running feet
till upstairs, next morning, vacant in a bus,
we observe a once blank wall assaulted.

There’s not enough chalk in the wronged world
to spell out one plus one, the perfect lies.
HANDS OFF GUATEMALA – though slogans change,
never the chalk scraping on the pitched noise
of a nerve in violence or in longing.

by Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green (1962)

Additional information: Dannie Abse CBE FRSL (22 September 1923 – 28 September 2014) was a Welsh poet and physician. His poetry won him many awards. As a medic, he worked in a chest clinic for over 30 years. He was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.

Editor’s note: Posted on a week when teachers went on strike in Britain.

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Never Tell by Anonymous

The saplings of the green-tipped birch
Draw my foot from bondage:
Let no boy know your secret!

Oak saplings in the grove
Draw my foot from its chain:
Tell no secret to a maid!

The leafy saplings in the oak
Draw my foot from prison:
Tell no babbler a secret!

Briar shoots with berries on –
Neither a blackbird on her nest,
Nor a liar, are ever still.

by Anonymous
12th century

A Day in the Life by Ceri Stafford

Sitting alone in the throes of the winter,
Whispering words that died with the sun,
Staring with eyes that are stinging and bitter,
Crying inside, for the music has gone.

Walking alone in the curve of the coastline,
Cursing the demon that murdered the fire,
Cold as the heart that is dying inside him,
Mad as the heart that gave birth to the liar.

Standing alone in the kingdom of tears,
Watching for life through the knives of the rain,
Dying in memory, silently waiting,
Hate for himself growing strong with the pain.

Leaving along, left alone in the storm
By a dove disillusioned by silence and stone.
Racing through crashing night, chased by a man
who will always be spurned, who will never be home.

by Ceri Stafford

Robin Ddiog a.k.a Tŷ Bach Twt (Idle Robin a.k.a. Tidy Little House) – A Traditional Welsh Folk Song

I have a neat little scrap of a house,
A scrap of a house, a scrap of a house,
I have a neat little scrap of a house,
A windy door in the morning.
Hey di ho, di hey di hey di ho
A windy door in the morning.

A fraction open the door ajar,
The door ajar, the door ajar,
A fraction open the door ajar,
You’ll see the rolling ocean.
Hey di ho, di hey di hey di ho
You’ll see the rolling ocean.

I went last night to my father’s house,
My father’s house, my father’s house,
I went last night to my father’s house
To get for free my welcome.
Hey di ho, di hey di hey di ho
To get for free my welcome.

My mam she arose to give me some food.
Dear flesh and blood, to give me some food,
My mam she arose to give me some food,
Dear flesh and blood, my own one.
Hey di ho, di hey di hey di ho
Dear flesh and blood, my own one.

My father arose, he stood on the floor,
A stick he bore, he stood on the floor,
My father arose, he stood on the floor,
A great big stick he was holding.
Hey di ho, di hey di hey di ho
A great big stick he was holding.

When I’d been trounced in a scrap of a house,
A scrap of a house, a scrap of a house,
When I’d been trounced in a scrap of a house,
A windy door in the morning.
Hey di ho, do hey di hey di ho
A windy door in the morning.

Traditional Welsh folk song
Also often titled ‘Lazy Robin‘ or Tŷ Bach Twt (‘Tidy Little House’)
translated by Tony Conran

A version sung by Meredydd Evans – known colloquially as Merêd, was a collector, editor, historian and performer of folk music of Wales. A major figure in Welsh media for over half a century, Evans has been described as influencing “almost every sphere of Welsh cultural life, from folk music and philosophy to broadcasting and language politics”

Additonal information: Below, in Welsh, is a shorter version of the traditional folk song taught as a children’s nursery rhyme and performed at circle dances. As you can imagine there are numerous variations.

The version I learned, featured below, omits the stanzas involving the mother and father fighting and replaces them with a penultimate stanza which translates, roughly, as: “And here I’ll be happy my world / happy my world, happy my world, / And here I’ll be happy my world /With the wind blowing to the door each morning.”

Apparently, the version Tony Conran translated is from North Wales? If anyone wants to leave a comment or give the translation for the mother and father stanzas you are more than welcome as I only included the Welsh version I am familiar with.

Another variant of the folk song more in line with the version Tony Conran translated (but still different).

Robin Ddiog a.k.a. Tŷ bach twt

Mae gen i dipyn o dŷ bach twt
o dŷ bach twt, o dŷ bach twt
Mae gen i dipyn o dŷ bach twt
A’r gwynt i’r drws bob bore

Hey di ho di hey di hey di ho
A’r gwynt i’r drws bob bore

Agorwch dipyn o gil y drws
o gil y drws, o gil y drws
Agorwch dipyn o gil y drws
Cewch gweld y môr a’r tonnau.

Hey di ho di hey di hey di ho
Cewch gweld y môr a’r tonnau.

Ac yma byddaf yn llon fy myd
yn llon fy myd, yn llon fy myd
Ac yma byddaf yn llon fy myd
A’r gwynt i’r drws bob bore

Hey di ho di hey di hey di ho
A’r gwynt i’r drws bob bore

A male voice choir version of the song
A female voice choir perform the song on S4C (the UK’s Welsh language broadcast channel).

Editor’s note: I don’t usually do these (well…officially… though I’ve often made comments in the ‘additional information’ sections of course) but I just wanted to wish anyone reading this on 25 December 2022 a Happy Christmas or as we say in Welsh Nadolig Llawen!

The website’s annual New Year update post will be a day early so I can keep to the Sunday upload schedule.