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.

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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.

Song of a Last Encounter by Anna Akhmatova

I walked without dragging my feet

but felt heavy at heart and frightened;

and I pulled onto my left hand

the glove that belonged to the right.

 

There seemed to be countless steps,

though I knew there were only three,

and an autumn voice from maples

whispered, ‘Die with me!

 

I have been undone by a fate

that is cheerless, flighty and cruel.’

I repied, ‘So have I, my dearest –

let me die one death with you…’

 

The song of a last encounter:

I glanced up at a dark wall:

from the bedroom indifferent candles

glowed yellow… And that was all.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1911, Tsarkoye Selo)

from Вечер (Evening, 1912)

translation by Robert Chandler


This is an alternative version of same poem translated as Song of the Last Meeting by D. M. Thomas.

‘To Fall Ill As One Should…’ by Anna Akhmatova

To fall ill as one should, deliriously

Hot, meet everyone again,

To stroll broad avenues in the seashore garden

Full of the wind and the sun.

 

Even the dead, today, have agreed to come,

And the exiles, into my house.

Lead the child to me by the hand.

Long I have missed him.

 

I shall eat blue grapes with those who are dead,

Drink the iced

Wine, and watch the grey waterfall pour

On to the damp flint bed.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

Song Of The Last Meeting by Anna Akhmatova

My breast grew cold and numb,

But my feet were light.

On to my right hand I fumbled

The glove to my left hand.

 

It seemed that there were many steps

-I knew there were only three.

An autumn whisper between the maples

Kept urging: ‘Die with me.

 

Change has made me weary,

Fate has cheated me of everything.’

I answered: ‘My dear, my dear!

I’ll die with you. I too am suffering.’

 

It was a song of the last meeting.

Only bedroom-candles burnt

When I looked into the dark house,

And they were yellow and indifferent.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1911, Tsarskoye Selo)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas