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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Once it was the Colour of Saying by Dylan Thomas

Once it was the colour of saying

Soaked my table the uglier side of a hill

With a capsized field where a school sat still

And a black and white patch of girls grew playing;

The gentle seaslides of saying I must undo

That all the charmingly drowned arise to cockcrow and kill.

When I whistled with mitching boys through a reservoir park

Where at night we stoned the cold and cuckoo

Lovers in the dirt of their leafy beds,

The shade of their trees was a word of many shades

And a lamp of lightning for the poor in the dark;

Now my saying shall be my undoing,

And every stone I wind off like a reel.

 

by Dylan Thomas


Fun Facts: ‘Mitching’ is Skivving, bunking, skipping school.

Clywedog by Gillian Clarke

The people came out in pairs,

Old, most of them, holding their places

Close till the very last minute,

Even planting the beans as usual

That year, grown at last accustomed

To the pulse of the bulldozers.

High in those uphill gardens, scarlet

Beanflowers blazed hours after

The water rose in the throats of the farms.

 

Only the rooted things stayed:

The wasted hay, the drowned

Dog roses, the farms, their kitchens silted

With their own stones, hedges

And walls a thousand years old.

And the mountains, in a head-collar

Of flood, observe a desolation

They’d grown used to before the coming

Of the wall-makers. Language

Crumbles to wind and bird-call.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)


Fun fact: The subject of this poem is the Clywedog reservoir (Welsh: Llyn Clywedog), a reservoir near Llanidloes, in Wales which was completed in 1967. Construction of the dam commenced in 1963 after the passing of an Act of Parliament ordering its creation to help prevent flooding of the River Severn in winter and to maintain its water levels in the summer. Local opposition was strong against the construction of the reservoir as it would result in the flooding of much of the Clywedog valley and the drowning of 615 acres (2.5 km2) of agricultural land. On top of several disruptions and protests, during construction in 1966 a bomb was detonated within the construction site, setting work back by almost 2 months. The political extremist group Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (MAC) was widely suspected of carrying out the bombing. The reservoir was opened in 1967 and till this day has been in continuous usage,