Reservoirs by R.S. Thomas

There are places in Wales I don’t go:

Reservoirs that are the subconscious

Of a people, troubled far down

With gravestones, chapels, villages even;

The serenity of their expression

Revolts me, it is a pose

For strangers, a watercolour’s appeal

To the mass, instead of the poem’s

Harsher conditions. There are the hills,

Too; gardens gone under the scum

Of the forests; and the smashed faces

Of the farms with the stone trickle

Of their tears down the hills’ side.

 

Where can I go, then, from the smell

Of decay, from the putrefying of a dead

Nation? I have walked the shore

For an hour and seen the English

Scavenging among the remains

Of our culture, covering the sand

Like the tide and, with the roughness

Of the tide, elbowing our language

Into the grave that we have dug for it.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)


Ronald Stuart Thomas (29 March 1913 – 25 September 2000), published as R. S. Thomas, was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest who was noted for his nationalism, spirituality and deep dislike of the anglicisation of Wales. M. Wynn Thomas said: “He was the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn of Wales because he was such a troubler of the Welsh conscience.”

R. S. Thomas believed in what he called “the true Wales of my imagination”, a Welsh-speaking aboriginal community that was in tune with the natural world. He viewed western (specifically English) materialism and greed, represented in the poetry by his mythical “Machine”, as the destroyers of community. He could tolerate neither the English who bought up Wales, and in his view stripped it of its wild and essential nature, nor the Welsh whom he saw as all too eager to kowtow to English money and influence.

As Capel Celyn was flooded in 1965 it’s almost certain one of the resevoirs referred to in this poem is this lost community. Capel Celyn was a rural community to the north west of Bala in Gwynedd, north Wales, in the Afon Tryweryn valley. The village and other parts of the valley were flooded to create a reservoir, Llyn Celyn, in order to supply Liverpool and Wirral with water for industry. The village contained, among other things, a chapel, as the name suggests, capel being Welsh for chapel, while celyn is Welsh for holly.

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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.

Pity The Nation by Kahlil Gibran

My friends and my road-fellows, pity the nation

that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.

“Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave…

eats bread it does not harvest…

and drinks a wine that flows not from its own winepress.

 

“Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as a hero,

and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

 

“Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it

walks in a funeral, boasts not except among its ruins,

and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between

the sword and the block.

 

“Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose

philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of

patching and mimicking.

 

“Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with

trumpetings, and farewells him with hooting, only to

welcome another with trumpeting again.

 

“Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment

deeming itself a nation.”

 

by Kahlil Gibran

(1883-1931), Lebanon