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.

Гроза моментальная навек (Storm, Instantaneous Forever) by Boris Pasternak

Then summer took leave of the platform
and waiting room. Raising his cap,
the storm at night for souvenir
took snap after dazzling snap.
 
The lilac darkened. And the storm
came bounding in from the meadows
with a sheaf of lightning flashes
to light the office windows.
 
And when malicious delight ran
down corrugated iron in torrents,
and like charcoal on a drawing
the downpour crashed against the fence,
 
the avalanche of consciousness began
to glimmer: light, it seemed, would soon
food even those corners of reason
where now it is bright as noon.


by  Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
from Сестра моя - жизнь
(My Sister, Life)
(1919)
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France
Pasternak’s poem recited by Sergei Yursky

Below is the original version of the poem in Cyrillic.

А затем прощалось лето
С полустанком. Снявши шапку,
Сто слепящих фотографий
Ночью снял на память гром.

Меркла кисть сирени. B это
Время он, нарвав охапку
Молний, с поля ими трафил
Озарить управский дом.

И когда по кровле зданья
Разлилась волна злорадства
И, как уголь по рисунку,
Грянул ливень всем плетнем,

Стал мигать обвал сознанья:
Вот, казалось, озарятся
Даже те углы рассудка,
Где теперь светло, как днем!

Once it was the Colour of Saying by Dylan Thomas

Once it was the colour of saying

Soaked my table the uglier side of a hill

With a capsized field where a school sat still

And a black and white patch of girls grew playing;

The gentle seaslides of saying I must undo

That all the charmingly drowned arise to cockcrow and kill.

When I whistled with mitching boys through a reservoir park

Where at night we stoned the cold and cuckoo

Lovers in the dirt of their leafy beds,

The shade of their trees was a word of many shades

And a lamp of lightning for the poor in the dark;

Now my saying shall be my undoing,

And every stone I wind off like a reel.

 

by Dylan Thomas


Fun Facts: ‘Mitching’ is Skivving, bunking, skipping school.

Snow Baby by Mike Jenkins

You were a snow baby. We should’ve called you Eira. You were almost marooned in hospital: jaundiced face yellow as egg-yolk, clutched head the shape of a shell.

You grew to your name, Bethan, grew round. Your plum cheeks swelled to its sound.

And now in town you let the flakes settle in your long hair, saying ‘Ne’ mind. I like ’em there.’

I played you Ommadawn: layers of cloud frost, hail and sun climbing till that lightning moment when you were born.

Wrapped still throught frozen nights, layers of a nest taken from the strands of our house: broken violin string, discarded lace and strap of a watch you never wore.

Your dreams hatch and drift with feathers of the pillow-bird you believe in no more.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Red Landscapes

 


Fun Fact: Mike Jenkins’ daughter is the Welsh politician Bethan Jenkins AM, (born 9 December 1981), who has represented the South Wales West Region for Plaid Cymru as a Member of the National Assembly for Wales since 2007.