Remembrance Day, Aberystwyth by Sally Robert Jones

Spray by the castle hurls across the rail;

The mermaid stares forever across the sea,

Dry-eyed; they lay their poppies at her feet,

But she looks away, to the movement of a sail

Far over breakers; knows not their fallen dead,

Hears not their autumn hymn or the signal guns.

Spray by the castle, spray in November air,

Yearn for the land as she for the empty waves,

(As the dead, perhaps, for their lost and silent home).

Everything empty: castle and crowd and wreaths

Seperate beings; and over them, kissing the rain,

The shape of a fish in bronze, without speech, without soul.

On Sundays remember the dead, but not here.

This is another country, another lord

Rules in its acres, who has no respect for love.

Always the sea sucks at the stones of the wall,

Always the mermaid leans to the distant sail;

Already the wreaths are limp and the children wail.

By Sally Roberts Jones


Additional information:

Aberystwyth ( literally “Mouth of the Ystwyth [river]“) is a historic market town, administrative centre, community, and holiday resort within Ceredigion, Wales, often colloquially known as Aber. It is located near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol. Historically part of Cardiganshire, since the late 19th century, Aberystwyth has also been a major Welsh educational centre, with the establishment of a university college there in 1872.

The mermaid mentioned in this poem is a bronze statue at the base of the Aberystwyth town war memorial which is considered by some to be one of the finest in Britain. Contemporary reports record that the top figure represents Victory and the figure at the base, i.e. the mermaid, represents Humanity emerging from the effects of war.  It records the names of 111 Aberystwyth men who died as a result of action during the First World war and 78 men and women who died during the Second World War. It is one of a number in the town: others are in chapels, places of work and schools.

Aberystwyth Castle (Welsh: Castell Aberystwyth) is a Grade I listed Edwardian fortress located in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Mid Wales. It was built in response to the First Welsh War in the late 13th century, replacing an earlier fortress located a mile to the south. During a national uprising by Owain Glyndŵr, the Welsh captured the castle in 1404, but it was recaptured by the English four years later. In 1637 it became a Royal mint by Charles I, and produced silver shillings. The castle was slighted by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.

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The Witch with Eyes of Amber by Clark Ashton Smith

I met a witch with amber eyes

Who slowly sang a scarlet rune,

Shifting to an icy laughter

Like the laughter of the moon.

Red as a wanton’s was her mouth.

And fair the breast she bade me take

With a word that clove and clung

Burning like a furnace-flake.

But from her bright and lifted bosom,

When I touched it with my hand,

Came the many-needled coldness

Of a glacier-taken land.

And, lo! The witch with eyes of amber

Vanished like a blown-out flame,

Leaving but the lichen-eaten

Stone that bore a blotted name.

 

by Clark Ashton Smith

Rhyme [extract] by Yevgeny Baratynsky

You, like the faithful dove, bring back

a green branch to the waiting ark

and place it in his eager hand;

you only with your echoing voice

give inspiration a human face

and bring his dream to land.

 

by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)

(1840-43)

translated by Peter France


Fun fact: This extract refers to Genesis 8:11 where a a dove was released by Noah after the flood in order to find land; it came back carrying a freshly plucked olive leaf – a sign of life after the Flood and of God’s bringing Noah, his family and the animals to land.

Pen Llŷn by R. S. Thomas

Dafydd looked out;

I look out: five centuries

without change? The same sea breaks

on the same shore and is not

broken. The stone in Llŷn

is still there, honey-

coloured for a girl’s hair

to resemble. It is time’s

smile on the cliff

face at the childishness

of my surprise. Here was the marriage

of land and sea, from whose bickering

the spray rises. ‘Are you there?’

I call into the dumb

past, that is close to me

as my shadow. ‘Are you here?’

I whisper to the encountered

self like one coming

on the truth asleep

and fearing to disturb it.

 

by R. S Thomas

from Mass for Hard Times (1992)


Fun facts: Dafydd is the Welsh form of David and St David is the patron saint of Wales. However the Dafydd referenced here could be one of many. I assume it’s Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd (c. 1145 – 1203) who was Prince of Gwynedd from 1170 to 1195 but please comment if you know otherwise.

Pen Llŷn refers to the Llŷn Peninsula (Welsh: Penrhyn Llŷn or Pen Llŷn) extends 30 miles (50 km) into the Irish Sea from north west Wales, south west of the Isle of Anglesey. It is part of the modern county and historic region of Gwynedd. Much of the eastern part of the peninsula, around Criccieth, may be regarded as part of Eifionydd rather than Llŷn, although the boundary is somewhat vague. The area of Llŷn is about 400 km2 (150 sq miles), and its population is at least 20,000. The Llyn Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers c. 62 square miles.

Historically, the peninsula was travelled by pilgrims en route to Bardsey Island (Welsh: Ynys Enlli), and its relative isolation has helped to conserve the Welsh language and culture, for which the locality is now famous. This perceived remoteness from urban life has lent the area an unspoilt image which has made Llŷn a popular destination for both tourists and holiday home owners. Holiday homes remain a bone of contention among locals, many of whom are priced out of the housing market by incomers.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, a Welsh nationalist group known as Meibion Glyndŵr claimed responsibility for several hundred arson attacks on holiday homes using incendiary devices, some of which took place in Llŷn. R S Thomas was a well known nationalist who endorsed their actions.  In 1990 the poet and priest R. S. Thomas called for a campaign to deface English-owned homes.

Hireling by R. S. Thomas

Cars pass him by; he’ll never own one.

Men won’t believe in him for this.

Let them come into the hills

And meet him wandering a road,

Fenced with rain, as I have now;

The wind feathering his hair;

The sky’s ruins, gutted with fire

Of the late sun, smouldering still.

 

Nothing is his, neither the land

Nor the land’s flocks. Hired to live

On hills too lonely, sharing his hearth

With cats and hens, he has lost all

Property but the grey ice

Of a face splintered by life’s stone.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Tares (1961)

Ears In The Turrets Hear by Dylan Thomas

Ears in the turrets hear

Hands grumble on the door,

Eyes in the gables see

The fingers at the locks.

Shall I unbolt or stay

Alone till the day I die

Unseen by stranger-eyes

In this white house?

Hands, hold you poison or grapes?

 

Beyond this island bound

By a thin sea of flesh

And a bone coast,

The land lies out of sound

And the hills out of mind.

No birds or flying fish

Disturbs this island’s rest.

 

Ears in this island hear

The wind pass like a fire,

Eyes in this island see

Ships anchor off the bay.

Shall I run to the ships

With the wind in my hair,

Or stay till the day I die

And welcome no sailor?

Ships, hold you poison or grapes?

 

Hands grumble on the door,

Ships anchor off the bay,

Rain beats the sand and slates.

Shall I let in the stranger,

Shall I welcome the sailor,

Or stay till the day I die?

 

Hands of the stranger and holds of the ships,

Hold you poison or grapes?

 

by Dylan Thomas


The poem read by the Welsh actor Philip Maddoc:

Воронеж (Voronzh) by Anna Akhmatova

for Osip Mandelstam

All the town’s gripped in an icy fist.

Trees and walls and snow are set in glass.

I pick my timid way across the crystal.

Unsteadily the painted sledges pass.

Flocks of crows above St Peter’s, wheeling.

The dome amongst the poplars, green and pale in

subdued and dusty winter sunlight, and

echoes of ancient battles that come stealing

out across the proud, victorious land.

All of a sudden, overhead, the poplars

rattle, like glasses ringing in a toast,

as if a thousand guests were raising tumblers

to celebrate the marriage of their host.

 

But in the exiled poet’s hideaway

the muse and terror fight their endless fight

throughout the night.

So dark a night will never see the day.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by Peter Oram


A different translation of the Воронеж (Voronzh) poem. The alternative on this site is translated by D. M Thomas and is also titled Воронеж (Voronzh).

The poet Osip Mandelstam who was living in the city of Voronezh when Akhmatova visited him in February 1936. Peter the Great built a flotilla here and the Field of Kulikovo, where the Tartars were defeated in 1380 isn’t far away.