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.

I’m Not Of Those Who Left…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I’m not of those who left their country

For wolves to tear it limb from limb.

Their flattery does not touch me.

I will not give my songs to them.

 

Yet I can take the exile’s part,

I pity all among the dead.

Wanderer, your path is dark,

Wormwood is the stranger’s bread.

 

But here in the flames, the stench,

The murk, where what remains

Of youth is dying, we don’t flinch

As the blows strike us, again and again.

 

And we know there’ll be a reckoning,

An account for every hour… There’s

Nobody simpler than us, or with

More pride, or fewer tears.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

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

‘Now No-one Will Be Listening To Songs…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Now no-one will be listening to songs.

The days long prophesied have come to pass.

The world has no more miracles. Don’t break

My heart, song, but be still: you are the last.

 

Not long ago you took your morning flight

With all a swallow’s free accomplishment.

Now that you are a hungry beggar-woman,

Don’t go knocking at the stranger’s gate.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1917)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas