Some Fathers by Peter Gruffydd

They borrowed ten bob, sloped off
to the pub or club, grew potatoes,
caulis, leeks in dead-straight lines,
remembered, I mean, were in, the Second
World War, cracked jokes, jokes about Hitler,
Goebbels, Stalin, even Churchill,
did odd things, odd things, look after
old ladies in their rich incontinence,
or drew cartoons, sketched for small mags,
cartoons, sketched, drew, small mags.

They seemed to have lots of patience,
except when opening time loomed
over some petty duty, like work.
Mine had a second childhood, a red
scooter which he regularly came off,
half-pissed back from a country pub,
mistook a bush for a turning home.
He carried on until Mother nagged
him into giving-up his latecome
burn-ups, so went sketching no more.

I’m a father now, think my sons could
sometime achieve this state, make tea
like tar, maybe keep allotments, worry
about their kids, trudge to some bloody
boring jobs to feed the family’s faces,
swear with cronies, be hurt when kids
call them old fart, stupid sod, or worse,
wonder where they too went wrong,

Pray there’s no war to haunt their nights,
make them keep graveyard horrors at bay,
with favourite ales, quips and long tales,
Nuclear families, bowed with labels, stagger
on, sperm-count falling day by day,
Still I remember those fathers, leaning on
sticks, pint in hand, know they had a sense
of what it’s all about, a cod-code to keep
and a smile for outrageous stupidity
because it was to be expected.

by Peter Gruffydd

Further information: There is a PDF help-sheet discussing the poem line by line produced by Dr Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University, August 2019) for CREW. The following is the biography provided at the start of that document.

Peter Gruffydd was born in Liverpool in 1935. He first moved to Wales at the age of five, following his evacuation in early 1941 (due to the Second World War). Having already learned Welsh, he then began studying English at Bangor University. His time living in Wales was brief, and he has spent most of his life in England, living in Liverpool, the West Midlands, and Bristol. Gruffydd was a member of Plaid Cymru and a Welsh nationalist (his movement into Welsh politics mirrors that of the Welsh intellectual Saunders Lewis, an ardent nationalist who was born in Liverpool). Gruffydd’s nationalist politics is evident in some of his poetry, such as ‘The Small Nation’, which Matthew Jarvis suggests ‘is substantially a lament for a Wales that the poem’s speaker sees as having lost courage’, and which foresees ‘The slow funeral of a small nation’.

Before he became known by the surname with which he appears in the Poetry 1900-2000 anthology, Gruffydd published under the name Peter M. Griffith (the English-spelling, but pronounced in a similar same way). In 1993, Gruffydd became a founder member of the Welsh Branch of PEN International (now Wales PEN Cymru), an organisation which advocates on behalf of writers across the world.

Although his poems have appeared in several poetry magazines, Gruffydd has one solitary collection to his name, 1972’s The Shivering Seed. His earliest significant poetry publication was in Triad, with two other notable Welsh ‘Second Flowering’ poets, Harri Webb and Meic Stephens.

Dr Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University, August 2019) for CREW

There by R.S. Thomas

They are those that life happens to.

They didn’t ask to be born

In those bleak farmsteads, but neither

Did they ask not. Life took the seed

And broadcast it upon the poor,

Rush-stricken soil, an experiment

In patience.

What is a man’s

Price? For promises of a break

In the clouds; for harvests that are not all

Wasted; for one animal born

Healthy, where seven have died,

He will kneel down and give thanks

In a chapel whose stones are wrenched

From the moorland.

I have watched them bent

For hours over their trade,

Speechless, and have held my tongue

From its question. It was not my part

To show them, like a meddler from the town,

their picture, nor the audiences

That look at them in pity or pride.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)

The Island by R. S. Thomas

And God said, I will build a church here

And cause this people to worship me,

And afflict them with poverty and sickness

In return for centuries of hard work

And patience. And its walls shall be hard as

Their hearts, and its windows let in the light

Grudgingly, as their minds do, and the priest’s words be drowned

By the wind’s caterwauling. All this I will do,

 

Said God, and watch the bitterness in their eyes

Grow, and their lips suppurate with

Their prayers. And their women shall bring forth

On my altars, and I will choose the best

Of them to be thrown back into the sea.

 

And that was only on one island.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)

Aside by R. S. Thomas

Take heart, Prytherch.

Over you the planets stand,

And have seen more ills than yours.

This canker was in the bone

Before man bent to his image

In the pool’s glass. Violence has been

And will be again. Between better

And worse is no bad place

 

For a labourer, whose lot is to seem

Stationary in traffic so fast.

Turn aside, I said; do not turn back.

There is no forward and no back

In the fields, only the year’s two

Solstices, and patience between.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pieta (1966)

‘Neither By Cart Nor Boat…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Neither by cart nor boat

Could you have got here.

On rotten snow

The deep water;

Farmsteads marooned and

Ah! that morose

Soul, that Robinson,

Is so close.

How often can

He inspect sledge and skis,

Return to the divan

To sit and wait for me?

And his short spur grinds

Sheer through the vile

Rug. Now mirrors learn

Not to expect smiles.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1916)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas