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)
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,
by R. S. Thomas
from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)
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)
translated by Robert Chandler
In this desert of language
we find ourselves in,
with the sign-post with the word ‘God’
and the distance… ?
Pity the simpleton
with his mouth open crying:
How far is it to God?
And the wiseacre says: Where you were,
You know the smile
as the machine that thinks it has outpaced
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)
Dafydd looked out;
I look out: five centuries
without change? The same sea breaks
on the same shore and is not
broken. The stone in Llŷn
is still there, honey-
coloured for a girl’s hair
to resemble. It is time’s
smile on the cliff
face at the childishness
of my surprise. Here was the marriage
of land and sea, from whose bickering
the spray rises. ‘Are you there?’
I call into the dumb
past, that is close to me
as my shadow. ‘Are you here?’
I whisper to the encountered
self like one coming
on the truth asleep
and fearing to disturb it.
by R. S Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)
Fun facts: Dafydd is the Welsh form of David and St David is the patron saint of Wales. However the Dafydd referenced here could be one of many. I assume it’s Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd (c. 1145 – 1203) who was Prince of Gwynedd from 1170 to 1195 but please comment if you know otherwise.
Pen Llŷn refers to the Llŷn Peninsula (Welsh: Penrhyn Llŷn or Pen Llŷn) extends 30 miles (50 km) into the Irish Sea from north west Wales, south west of the Isle of Anglesey. It is part of the modern county and historic region of Gwynedd. Much of the eastern part of the peninsula, around Criccieth, may be regarded as part of Eifionydd rather than Llŷn, although the boundary is somewhat vague. The area of Llŷn is about 400 km2 (150 sq miles), and its population is at least 20,000. The Llyn Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers c. 62 square miles.
Historically, the peninsula was travelled by pilgrims en route to Bardsey Island (Welsh: Ynys Enlli), and its relative isolation has helped to conserve the Welsh language and culture, for which the locality is now famous. This perceived remoteness from urban life has lent the area an unspoilt image which has made Llŷn a popular destination for both tourists and holiday home owners. Holiday homes remain a bone of contention among locals, many of whom are priced out of the housing market by incomers.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, a Welsh nationalist group known as Meibion Glyndŵr claimed responsibility for several hundred arson attacks on holiday homes using incendiary devices, some of which took place in Llŷn. R S Thomas was a well known nationalist who endorsed their actions. In 1990 the poet and priest R. S. Thomas called for a campaign to deface English-owned homes.
We have scratched our names in the London dust,
Sung sometimes like the Jews of Babylon
Under the dusty trees of Hyde Park Corner,
Almost believing in a Jesus of Cardigan
Or a Moses on the mountains of Merioneth;
We have dreamed by the Thames of Towy and Dee,
And whistled in dairy shops in the morning,
Whistled of Harlech and Aberdovey.
We have grown sentimental in London
Over things that we smiled at in Wales.
Sometimes in Woolwich we have seen the mining valleys
More beautiful than we ever saw them with our eyes.
We have carried our accents into Westminster
As soldiers carry rifles into the wars;
We have carried our idioms into Piccadilly,
Food for the critics on Saturday night.
We have played dominoes in Lambeth with Alfred the Great,
And lifted a glass with Henry VIII
In the tavern under the railway bridge
On Friday nights in winter;
And we have argued with Chaucer down the Old Kent Road
On the englynion of the Eisteddfod.
We have also shivered by the Thames in the night
And know that the frost has no racial distinctions.
by Idris Davies
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
by Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)
Fun facts: She wrote the words of the Christmas carols “In the Bleak Midwinter”, set to a tune by Gustav Holst, and “Love Came Down at Christmas”. Also if you’re thinking ‘is she related to THE Rossetti?’ The answer is very likely yes. The family had a lot of connections and successful members.
The title of J.K. Rowling’s novel The Cuckoo’s Calling is based on a line in Rossetti’s poem A Dirge.