You remain contented
with your anonymity.
We ask for survival
for John Jones.
We acknowledge the tree
that at moments
you are ablaze in,
taking our shoes
off, involuntarily remembering
there is dung at its roots.
They say there is a pool
at the bottom of which
you lie, and that we ourselves
are the troublers
of its surface. But why,
when we look down,
is it as though
we looked up at our own faces
at home there among the cloud branches?
by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)
The John Jones mentioned in this poem is better known by his bardic name Jac Glan-y-gors. He was a Welsh language satirical poet and radical pamphleteer, born in Cerrigydrudion, Denbighshire, north Wales. He was an accomplished and natural prose writer although his output was small. His best known prose works are Seren Tan Gwmmwl and Toriad y Dydd, political tracts addressed to the Welsh people which reflect the radical ideals of Thomas Paine and the author’s Welsh patriotism.
His poetical output is more considerable and includes the poem entitled Cerdd Dic Siôn Dafydd
(Dic Siôn Dafydd – Richard son of John son of David – is the name given
to a Welshman who despises his language and who imitates the English.
There was a girl riding a white pony
Which seemed an elemental part
Of the snow. A crow cut a clean line
Across the hill, which we grasped as a rope
to pull us up the pale diagonal.
The point was to be first at the top
Of the mountain. Our laughter bounced far
Below us like five fists full of pebbles. About us
Lay the snow, deep in the hollows,
Very clean and dry, untouched.
I arrived breathless, my head breaking
The surface of the glittering light, thinking
No place could claim more beauty, white
Slag tips like cones of sugar spun
By the pit wheels under Machen mountain.
I sat on a rock in the sun, watching
My snowboys play. Pit villages shine
Like anthracite. Completed, the pale rider
Rode away. I turned to him and saw
His joy fall like the laughter down a dark
Crack. The black crow shadowed him.
by Gillian Clarke
from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)
Machen mountain mentioned in this poem is Mynydd Machen which is a 362-metre-high (1,188 ft) hill lying between the town of Risca and the village of Machen in Caerphilly County Borough in south Wales. Its summit is crowned by a trig point and a mast. The poem was written when Wales still had a coal mining industry and there were slag heaps, refuse from the mines and quarries, outside communities across the country.