Return to Cardiff by Dannie Abse

‘Hometown’; well, most admit an affection for a city:
grey, tangled streets I cycled on to school, my first cigarette
in the back lane, and fool, my first botched love affair.
First everything. Faded torments; self-indulgent pity.

The journey to Cardiff seemed less a return than a raid
on mislaid identities. Of course the whole locus smaller:
the mile-wide Taff now a stream, the castle not as in some black
gothic dream, but a decent sprawl, a joker’s toy facade.

Unfocused voices in the wind, associations, clues,
odds and ends, fringes caught, as when, after the doctor quit,
a door opened and I glimpsed the white, enormous face
of my grandfather, suddenly aghast with certain news.

Unable to define anything I can hardly speak,
and still I love the place for what I wanted it to be
as much as for what it unashamedly is
now for me, a city of strangers, alien and bleak.

Unable to communicate I’m easily betrayed,
uneasily diverted by mere sense reflections
like those anchored waterscapes that wander, alter, in the Taff,
hour by hour, as light slants down a different shade.

Illusory, too, that lost, dark playground after rain,
the noise of trams, gunshots in what they once called Tiger Bay.
Only real this smell of ripe, damp earth when the sun comes out,
a mixture of pungencies, half exquisite and half plain.

No sooner than I’d arrived the other Cardiff had gone,
smoke in the memory, these but tinned resemblances,
where the boy I was not and the man I am not
met, hesitated, left double footsteps, then walked on.

By Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green
(1962)

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Additional information: Dannie Abse 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.

The River Taff (‘Afon Taf’ in Welsh) is a river in Wales. It rises as two rivers in the Brecon Beacons; the Taf Fechan (little Taff) and the Taf Fawr (great Taff) before becoming one just north of Merthyr Tydfil. Its confluence with the River Severn estuary is in Cardiff. The river supports several species of migratory fish, including salmon, sewin (sea trout), and eel.

Tiger Bay (‘Bae Teigr’ in Welsh) was the local name for an area of Cardiff which covered Butetown and Cardiff Docks. Following the building of the Cardiff Barrage, which dams the tidal rivers, Ely and Taff, to create a body of water, it is referred to as Cardiff Bay. Tiger Bay is Wales’ oldest multi-ethnic community with sailors and workers from over 50 countries settling there in the 1950s.

Relearning Solitude [Extract] by Boris Slutsky

Just as I once learned one ancient tongue

enough to read its texts,

and I forgot the aphabet –

I’ve forgotten solitude.

This all must be recalled, recovered, and relearned.

I remember how once I met

a compiler of words

in the ancient tongue that I had learned

and lost.

Turned out, I knew two words: ‘heavens’ and ‘apple’.

I might have recalled the rest –

All beneath the heavens and beside the apples –

But the need wasn’t there.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(1977)

translated by Marat Grinberg and Judith Pulman

 

Interesting information: Slutsky was a atheist but he didn’t forget his cultural roots regarding not only Yiddish but also the Hebrew he had learned as a child which remained important to him even if only as deeply felt absences. He had to ‘relearn solitude’ due to the death of his wife Tanya in 1977. For the following three months, before he fell into a depressed silence for the last nine years of his life during which he wrote nothing, he produced some of the most highly regarded poems on the themes of love and mourning in the Russian language.


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.

Kneeling by R.S. Thomas

Moments of great calm,

Kneeling before an altar

Of wood in a stone church

In summer, waiting for the God

To speak; the air a staircase

For silence; the sun’s light

Ringing me, as though I acted

A great rôle. And the audiences

Still; all that close throng

Of spirits waiting, as I,

For the message.

Prompt me, God;

But not yet. When I speak,

Though it be you who speak

Through me, something is lost.

The meaning is in the waiting.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)

In Great Waters by R. S. Thomas

You are there also

at the foot of the precipice

of water that was too steep

for the drowned: their breath broke

and they fell. You have made an altar

out of the deck of the lost

trawler whose spars

are your cross. The sand crumbles

like bread; the wine is

the light quietly lying

in its own chalice. There is

a sacrament there more beauty

than terror whose ministrant

you are and the aisles are full

of the sea shapes coming to its celebration.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Frequencies (1978)