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)

Come to our Revival Meeting by Idris Davies

And this is the sordid dream of the drunkard creeping to prayer,

And the maddened mob drowning the noise of the birds

Frightened and fluttering in the dusty trees,

And all the hysterical converts insulting the heavens,

The brown pond sticky with the thighs of the damned;

And here comes a fellow to shake your liver

For out of his nightmare he leapt

When the moon crept up behind the Iron Bridge

And the garage heap, where the trollop sat waiting

To sell her filth to the fool. And I saw

All this shabby mockery of April

As a neurotic’s delirium, his hallucination

Of apes and angels and dog-headed ghosts

Mingling and whirling and circling and dancing

Among the decaying boughs that laced like serpents

The ripped edges of the darkening sky.

 

O Lord God, save us from tinned donkey,

From Soviet scientific magazines,

From the Scottish Sabbath, from American war films,

From the demagogues of Aberdare and abadan,

And above all, O Lord God, save us from the Pentecostals.

 

by Idris Davies


Fun facts: There are a number of iron bridges in the Aberdare area due to its industrial heritage but it is perhaps the one across the Aberdare Canal being referred to.

The Scottish Sabbath is the practise of doing nothing on a Sunday including all shops and other businesses being closed to keep the sabbath sacred.

Aberdare is a town in the Cynon Valley area of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales, at the confluence of the Rivers Dare (Dâr) and Cynon. Aberdare is 4 miles (6 km) south-west of Merthyr Tydfil, 20 miles (32 km) north-west of Cardiff and 22 miles (35 km) east-north-east of Swansea. During the 19th century it became a thriving industrial settlement, which was also notable for the vitality of its cultural life and as an important publishing centre.

Abadan, famous for its oil refinery, was the site of the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, also known as the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia, was the joint invasion of Iran in 1941 during the Second World War by the British Commonwealth and the Soviet Union. The invasion lasted from 25 August to 17 September 1941 and was codenamed Operation Countenance. Its purpose was to secure Iranian oil fields and ensure Allied supply lines (through the Persian Corridor) for the USSR, fighting against Axis forces on the Eastern Front.

Pentecostalism or Classical Pentecostalism is a renewal movement within Protestant Christianity that places special emphasis on a direct personal experience of God through baptism with the Holy Spirit. The term Pentecostal is derived from Pentecost, the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. For Christians, this event commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

The Ballad of a Bounder by Idris Davies

He addressed great congregations

And rolled his tongue with grease,

And his belly always flourished,

In times of war or peace.

 

He would talk of distant comrades

And brothers o’er the sea,

And snarl above his liquor

about neighbours two or three.

 

He knew a lot about public money –

More than he liked to say –

And sometimes sat with the paupers

To increase his Extra pay.

 

He could quote from Martin Tupper

and Wilhelmina Stitch,

And creep from chapel to bargain

With the likeliest local bitch.

 

He could swindle and squeal and snivel

And cheat and chant and pray,

and retreat like a famous general

When Truth would bar his way.

 

But God grew sick and tired

Of such a godly soul,

And sent down Death to gather

His body to a hole.

 

But before he died, the Bounder

Said: ‘My children, be at peace;

I know I am going to heaven,

So rub my tongue with grease.’

 

by Idris Davies


Fun facts: Martin Tupper was an English writer, and poet, and the author of Proverbial Philosophy. Wilhelmina Stitch was one of the pen names of Ruth Collie, an English born poet who started her writing career in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Marx and Heine and Dowlais by Idris Davies

I used to go to St John’s Wood

On Saturday evenings in summer

To look on London behind the dusty garden trees,

And argue pleasantly and bitterly

About Marx and Heine, the iron brain and the laughing sword;

And the ghost of Keats would sit in a corner,

Smiling slowly behind a summer of wine,

Sadly smiling at the fires of the future.

And late in the summer night

I heard the tall Victorian critics snapping

Grim grey fingers at London Transport,

And sober, solemn students of James Joyce,

Dawdling and hissing into Camden Town.

 

But now in the winter dusk

I go to Dowlais Top

and stand by the railway bridge

Which joins the bleak brown hills,

And gaze at the streets of Dowlais

Lop-sided on the steep dark slope,

A bettered bucket on a broken hill,

And see the rigid phrases of Marx

Bold and black against the steel-grey west,

Riveted along the sullen skies.

And as for Heine, I look on the rough

Bleak, colourless hills around,

Naked and hard as flint,

Romance in a rough chemise.

 

by Idris Davies


Fun facts:

Dowlais is a village and community of the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil, in Wales. Dowlais is notable within Wales and Britain for its historic association with ironworking; once employing, through the Dowlais Iron Company, roughly 5,000 people, the works being the largest in the world at one stage.

Marx, I assume, refers to Karl Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) the German philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, journalist and revolutionary socialist.

Heine, refers to Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (13 December 1797 – 17 February 1856) was a German poet, journalist, essayist, and literary critic. He is best known outside of Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder (art songs) by composers such as Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert. Heine’s later verse and prose are distinguished by their satirical wit and irony. He is considered part of the Young Germany movement. His radical political views led to many of his works being banned by German authorities, which however only added to his fame. Heine spent the last 25 years of his life as an expatriate in Paris.

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. Joyce is best known for Ulysses (1922), a landmark work in which the episodes of Homer’s Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles, most famously stream of consciousness. Other well-known works are the short-story collection Dubliners (1914), and the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939). His other writings include three books of poetry, a play, his published letters and occasional journalism.

Tiger Bay by Idris Davies

I watched the coloured seamen in the morning mist,

Slouching along the damp brown street,

Cursing and laughing in the dismal dawn.

The sea had grumbled through the night,

Small yellow lights had flickered far and near,

Huge chains clattered on the ice-cold quays,

And daylight had seemed a hundred years away…

But slowly the long cold night retreated

Behind the cranes and masts and funnels,

The sea-signals wailed beyond the harbour

And seabirds came suddenly out of the mist.

And six coloured seamen came slouching along

With the laughter of the Levant in their eyes

And contempt in their tapering hands.

Their coffee was waiting in some smoke-laden den,

With smooth yellow dice on the unswept table,

And behind the dirty green window

No lazy dream of Africa or Arabia or India,

Nor any dreary dockland morning

Would mar one minute for them.

 

by Idris Davies


Fun fact: Tiger Bay (Welsh: Bae Teigr) was the local name for an area of Cardiff which covered Butetown and Cardiff Docks. It was rebranded as Cardiff Bay, following the building of the Cardiff Barrage, which dams the tidal rivers, Ely and Taff, to create a body of water. The development of the Cardiff Docks played a major part in Cardiff’s development by being the means of exporting coal from the South Wales Valleys to the rest of the world, helping to power the Industrial Age. The coal mining industry helped fund the growth of Cardiff to become the capital city of Wales and contributed towards making the docks owner, The 3rd Marquess of Bute, the richest man in the world at the time