Joining the Imperial Bourgeoisie by Selwyn Pritchard

Bright as their regimental cap badges,
morning sun shines on crop-headed conscripts,
officer-cadets, temporary gents,
oiling their rifle bolts and easing springs.

It is all good chappery: some brown-nose
instructors making up teams… ‘Flower of
the fucking country!’ the RSM screams
back on the square. Oh it is just ‘not on’
not to be keen on shooting, hitting the bull.

The wind cracks red flags down the range;
snatches officerly cant; details march:
under the cloudy mystery of Wales,
beyond the buckling company marquee,
estuarial lawns run emerald down,
ravined and mollusced, to the Irish Sea.

Smartly we slip away, employ the fieldcraft
we have been taught, below the rims of streams
build dams, play like kids all day: Max, destined
soon in Penang to charge into his own
covering fire, a farmer’s only son;
myself, poet, gagging for thirty years
on thoughts ‘not on’ before Australia;
both eighteen, enjoying the higher talk
of God and Englit while the brine wind blew and bullets flew
then sliding back like spies from
the estuary of the Dee, scruffy as
the keenest shot amongst the rank and file.

by Selwyn Pritchard

Additional information: Selwyn Pritchard (4 August 1933 – 30 June 2005) was the third son of a Welsh carpenter. He left school at 16, was conscripted and served five years as a subaltern in The Royal Welch Fusiliers in Jamaica, Guyana, Dortmund and Berlin. He subsequently became a teacher before getting into Oxford to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics and graduating at the age of 35. He then taught philosophy for some years before moving to the Orkney Islands with his wife and three children. In 1980 they emigrated to New Zealand, then Australia. He began to write poetry on leaving the United Kingdom. His last post was as professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Jinan University in Guanghou, People’s Republic of China. Selwyn suffered a cardiac arrest at home on the evening of June 26. He was pronounced dead on June 30 2005.

Here is his website, a brief biography and an interview with him. There are even e-books available in PDF form for free on his website of some of his works and his last collection titled ‘Autumn Tiger‘.

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Elegy for the Welsh Dead, in the Falkland Islands, 1982 by Tony Conran

Gŵyr a aeth Gatraeth oedd ffraeth eu llu.

Glasfedd eu hancwyn, a gwenwyn fu.

Y Godoggin (6th century)

Men went to Catraeth. The luxury liner
For three weeks feasted them.
They remembered easy ovations,
Our boys, splendid in courage.
For three weeks the albatross roads,
Passwords of dolphin and petrel,
Practised their obedience
Where the killer whales gathered,
Where the monotonous seas yelped.
Though they went to church with their standards
Raw death has them garnished.

Men went to Catraeth. The Malvinas
Of their destiny greeted them strangely.
Instead of affection there was coldness,
Splintered iron and the icy sea,
Mud and the wind’s malevolent satire.
They stood nonplussed in the bomb’s indictment.

Malcom Wigley of Connah’s Quay. Did his helm
Ride high in the war-line?
Did he drink enough mead for that journey?
The desolated shores of Tegeingl,
Did they pig this steel that destroyed him?
The Dee runs silent beside empty foundries.
The way of the wind and the rain is adamant.

Clifford Elley of Pontypridd. Doubtless he feasted
He went to Catraeth with a bold heart.
He was used to valleys. The shadow held him.

The staff and the fasces of tribunes betrayed him.
With the oil of our virtue we have anointed
His head, in the presence of foes.

Phillip Sweet of Cwmbach. Was he shy before girls?
He exposed himself now to the hags, the glance
Of the loose-fleshed whores, the deaths
That congregate like gulls on garbage.
His sword flashed in the wastes of nightmare.

Russell Carlisle of Rhuthun. Men of the North
Mourn Rheged’s son in the castellated vale.
His nodding charger neighed for the battle.
Uplifted hooves pawed at the lightning.
Now he lies down. Under the air he is dead.
Men went to Catraeth. Of the forty-three
Certainly Tony Jones of Carmarthen was brave.
What did it matter, steel in the heart?
Shrapnel is faithful now. His shroud is frost.
With the dawn the men went. Those forty-three,
Gentlemen all, from the streets and byways of Wales.
Dragons of Aberdare, Denbigh and Neath –
Figments of empire, whore’s honour, held them.
Forty-three at Catraeth died for our dregs.

By Tony Conran

Additional information: It is the fortieth anniversary of the Falklands War at the time this poem is being posted.

The quote before the poem is from the Medieval Welsh poem Y Godoggin. The lines translate as: “Men went to Catraeth , keen was their company. / They were fed on fresh mead, and it proved poison.”

Tony Conran (7 April 1931 – 14 January 2013) was an Anglo-Welsh poet and translator of Welsh poetry. His own poetry was mostly written in English and Modernist in style but was very much influenced by Welsh poetic tradition, Welsh culture and history. To some extent there are parallels in Conran‘s writing with that of R. S. Thomas, but Conran can also be seen in the line of Pound, Bunting and MacDairmid.

The battle of Catraeth was fought around AD 600 between a force raised by the Gododdin, a Brythonic people of the Hen Ogledd or “Old North” of Britain, and the Angles of Bernicia and Deira. It was evidently an assault by the Gododdin party on the Angle stronghold of Catraeth, perhaps Catterick, North Yorkshire. The Gododdin force was said to have consisted of warriors from all over the Hen Ogledd, and even some from as far afield as Gwynedd in North Wales and Pictland. The battle was disastrous for the Britons, who were nearly all killed. The slain warriors were commemorated in the important early poem Y Gododdin, attributed to Aneirin.

Islas Malvinas is the Spanish language name for the Falkland Islands an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf. An interesting fact is that a Patagonian form of Welsh is spoken in Patagonia due to some Welsh settlers.

Conran notes the areas of Wales the fallen come from: Connah’s Quay, Tegeingl, Pontypridd, Cwmbach, Rhuthun, Carmarthen, Aberdare, Denbigh and Neath.

Rheged sticks out amongst the above mentioned locations as it refers to one of the kingdoms of the Hen Ogledd (“Old North”), the Brittonic-speaking region of what is now Northern England and southern Scotland, during the post-Roman era and Early Middle Ages. It is recorded in several poetic and bardic sources, although its borders are not described in any of them. A recent archaeological discovery suggests that its stronghold was located in what is now Galloway in Scotland rather than, as was previously speculated, being in Cumbria. Rheged possibly extended into Lancashire and other parts of northern England. In some sources, Rheged is intimately associated with the king Urien Rheged and his family. Its inhabitants spoke Cumbric, a Brittonic dialect closely related to Old Welsh.

Friesian Bull by Gillian Clarke

He blunders through the last dream

of the night. I hear him, waking.

A brick and concrete stall, narrow

as a heifer’s haunches. Steel bars

between her trap and his small yard.

A froth of slobbered hay droops

from the stippled muzzle. In the slow

rolling mass of his skull his eyes

surface like fish bellies.

 

He is chained while they swill his floor.

His stall narrows to rage. He knows

the sweet smell of a heifer’s fear.

Remembered summer haysmells reach him,

a trace of the herd’s freedom, clover-

loaded winds. The thundering seed

blows up the Dee breathing of plains,

of cattle wading in shallows.

His crazy eyes churn with their vision.

 

By Gillian Clarke

from Letters from a Far Country (1982)


Fun fact: The River Dee (Welsh: Afon Dyfrdwy, Latin: Deva Fluvius) is a river in the United Kingdom. It flows through parts of both Wales and England, forming part of the border between the two countries.

London Welsh by Idris Davies

We have scratched our names in the London dust,

Sung sometimes like the Jews of Babylon

Under the dusty trees of Hyde Park Corner,

Almost believing in a Jesus of Cardigan

Or a Moses on the mountains of Merioneth;

We have dreamed by the Thames of Towy and Dee,

And whistled in dairy shops in the morning,

Whistled of Harlech and Aberdovey.

We have grown sentimental in London

Over things that we smiled at in Wales.

Sometimes in Woolwich we have seen the mining valleys

More beautiful than we ever saw them with our eyes.

We have carried our accents into Westminster

As soldiers carry rifles into the wars;

We have carried our idioms into Piccadilly,

Food for the critics on Saturday night.

We have played dominoes in Lambeth with Alfred the Great,

And lifted a glass with Henry VIII

In the tavern under the railway bridge

On Friday nights in winter;

And we have argued with Chaucer down the Old Kent Road

On the englynion of the Eisteddfod.

We have also shivered by the Thames in the night

And know that the frost has no racial distinctions.

 

by Idris Davies