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

The Fair by R. S. Thomas

The idiot goes round and around
With his brother in a bumping car
At the fair. The famous idiot
Smile hangs over the car's edge,
Illuminating nothing. This is mankind
Being taken for a ride by a rich
Relation. The responses are fixed:
Bump, smile; bump, smile. And the current

Is generated by the smooth flow
Of the shillings. This is an orchestra
Of steel with the constant percussion
Of laughter. But where he should be laughing
Too, his features are split open, and look!
Out of the cracks come warm, human tears.


by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)

The Fisherman by R. S. Thomas

A simple man,
He liked the crease on the water
His cast made, but had no pity
For the broken backbone
Of water or fish.

One of his pleasures, thirsty,
Was to ask a drink
At the hot farms;
Leaving with a casual thank you,
As though they owed it him.

I could have told of the living water
That springs pure.
He would have smiled then,
Dancing his speckled fly in the shallows,
Not understanding.

by R. S. Thomas
from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)

The Age [Excerpt] by Osip Mandelstam

Buds will swell just as in the past,

Sprouts of green will spurt and rage,

but your backbone has been smashed,

my grand and pitiful age.

 

And so, with a meaningless smile,

you glance back, cruel and weak,

like a beast once quick and agile,

at the prints of your own feet.

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1925)

translated by Robert Chandler


Directions by R.S. Thomas

In this desert of language

we find ourselves in,

with the sign-post with the word ‘God’

worn away

and the distance… ?

 

Pity the simpleton

with his mouth open crying:

How far is it to God?

 

And the wiseacre says: Where you were,

friend.

You know the smile

glossy

as the machine that thinks it has outpaced

belief?

I am one of those

who sees from the arms opened

to embrace the future

the shadow of the Cross fall

on the smoothest of surfaces

causing me to stumble.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Between Here and Now (1981)