Soldier by Tony Conran

1
I am worth what others suffer for me.
The currency is pain. In the Ice Age
I first heard the jingle of it.
People against bear, against wolf, against people.

In the hosting millions of me
I am the limits of wealth.
Sooner or later, power cannot suffer enough.

2
Most places in the world
I am luxury goods.
The suffering I cost
Is simple as Christmas.

I am unwrapped at parades.
The Good Fairy
Takes the salute –

Rachel in Ephrath crying,
The mother of us
Weeping in Ramah
Because her children are not.

3
In every man, male of the species,
A soldier is wrapped.

Just as, in every baby
There is a corpse.

Just as, in every beggarman
The Redeemer of the world.

4
Rich man, you’ve got some pain to buy me?
Poor man, give me the pain.
Beggarman, I am you by myself,
Thief, honour me.

Rich man, it’s justice is it?
Poor man, leave it.
Beggarman, I am homeless under the night.
Thief, I am loot.

5
In every wardrobe there is a soldier
Mothballed in the corner.
Don’t fool yourself, friend.

We can only die once.

6
Right. Left. Right. Left.
Left. Left. Left.

The snuff. The desert sand.
Vultures strutting like Generals

Baldheaded.

Left. Left. Left.

by Tony Conran

Elegy for the Welsh Dead, in the Falkland Islands, 1982 by Tony Conran

Gŵyr a aeth Gatraeth oedd ffraeth eu llu.

Glasfedd eu hancwyn, a gwenwyn fu.

Y Godoggin (6th century)

Men went to Catraeth. The luxury liner
For three weeks feasted them.
They remembered easy ovations,
Our boys, splendid in courage.
For three weeks the albatross roads,
Passwords of dolphin and petrel,
Practised their obedience
Where the killer whales gathered,
Where the monotonous seas yelped.
Though they went to church with their standards
Raw death has them garnished.

Men went to Catraeth. The Malvinas
Of their destiny greeted them strangely.
Instead of affection there was coldness,
Splintered iron and the icy sea,
Mud and the wind’s malevolent satire.
They stood nonplussed in the bomb’s indictment.

Malcom Wigley of Connah’s Quay. Did his helm
Ride high in the war-line?
Did he drink enough mead for that journey?
The desolated shores of Tegeingl,
Did they pig this steel that destroyed him?
The Dee runs silent beside empty foundries.
The way of the wind and the rain is adamant.

Clifford Elley of Pontypridd. Doubtless he feasted
He went to Catraeth with a bold heart.
He was used to valleys. The shadow held him.

The staff and the fasces of tribunes betrayed him.
With the oil of our virtue we have anointed
His head, in the presence of foes.

Phillip Sweet of Cwmbach. Was he shy before girls?
He exposed himself now to the hags, the glance
Of the loose-fleshed whores, the deaths
That congregate like gulls on garbage.
His sword flashed in the wastes of nightmare.

Russell Carlisle of Rhuthun. Men of the North
Mourn Rheged’s son in the castellated vale.
His nodding charger neighed for the battle.
Uplifted hooves pawed at the lightning.
Now he lies down. Under the air he is dead.
Men went to Catraeth. Of the forty-three
Certainly Tony Jones of Carmarthen was brave.
What did it matter, steel in the heart?
Shrapnel is faithful now. His shroud is frost.
With the dawn the men went. Those forty-three,
Gentlemen all, from the streets and byways of Wales.
Dragons of Aberdare, Denbigh and Neath –
Figments of empire, whore’s honour, held them.
Forty-three at Catraeth died for our dregs.

By Tony Conran

Additional information: It is the fortieth anniversary of the Falklands War at the time this poem is being posted.

The quote before the poem is from the Medieval Welsh poem Y Godoggin. The lines translate as: “Men went to Catraeth , keen was their company. / They were fed on fresh mead, and it proved poison.”

Tony Conran (7 April 1931 – 14 January 2013) was an Anglo-Welsh poet and translator of Welsh poetry. His own poetry was mostly written in English and Modernist in style but was very much influenced by Welsh poetic tradition, Welsh culture and history. To some extent there are parallels in Conran‘s writing with that of R. S. Thomas, but Conran can also be seen in the line of Pound, Bunting and MacDairmid.

The battle of Catraeth was fought around AD 600 between a force raised by the Gododdin, a Brythonic people of the Hen Ogledd or “Old North” of Britain, and the Angles of Bernicia and Deira. It was evidently an assault by the Gododdin party on the Angle stronghold of Catraeth, perhaps Catterick, North Yorkshire. The Gododdin force was said to have consisted of warriors from all over the Hen Ogledd, and even some from as far afield as Gwynedd in North Wales and Pictland. The battle was disastrous for the Britons, who were nearly all killed. The slain warriors were commemorated in the important early poem Y Gododdin, attributed to Aneirin.

Islas Malvinas is the Spanish language name for the Falkland Islands an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf. An interesting fact is that a Patagonian form of Welsh is spoken in Patagonia due to some Welsh settlers.

Conran notes the areas of Wales the fallen come from: Connah’s Quay, Tegeingl, Pontypridd, Cwmbach, Rhuthun, Carmarthen, Aberdare, Denbigh and Neath.

Rheged sticks out amongst the above mentioned locations as it refers to one of the kingdoms of the Hen Ogledd (“Old North”), the Brittonic-speaking region of what is now Northern England and southern Scotland, during the post-Roman era and Early Middle Ages. It is recorded in several poetic and bardic sources, although its borders are not described in any of them. A recent archaeological discovery suggests that its stronghold was located in what is now Galloway in Scotland rather than, as was previously speculated, being in Cumbria. Rheged possibly extended into Lancashire and other parts of northern England. In some sources, Rheged is intimately associated with the king Urien Rheged and his family. Its inhabitants spoke Cumbric, a Brittonic dialect closely related to Old Welsh.

Winter by Anonymous (10th-11th Century)

Wind sharp, hillside bleak, hard to win shelter;
Ford is impassible, lake is frozen;
A man may near stand on one stalk of grass.

Wave upon wave roofs over land-edge;
Shouts loud against breast of peak and brae;
Outside, a man may barely stand.

Lake-haunts cold, with the storm winds of winter;
Withered the reeds, stalks all broken;
Wind-gusts angry, stripping of wood.

Cold bed of fish in the gloom of ice;
Stag lean, bearded reeds;
Evening brief, slant of bent wood.

Snow falls, covers with white;
Warriors go not forth on foray;
Lakes cold, their tint without sunlight.

Snow falls, hoarfrost white;
Idle shield on an old shoulder;
A monstrous wind freezes the grass.

Snow falls, high in the ice;
Sweeps the wind atop the thick trees;
A stout shield that, on a bold shoulder.

Snow falls, covers the vale;
Warriors hurry to battle;
I’ll not go, wound does not let me.

Snow falls, over the slope;
Prisoned the steed, the cattle thin;
Here’s no question of a summer’s day.

Snow falls, white border of mountains;
On the sea, ship’s timbers bare;
The coward nurses many a scheme.

by Anonymous
(10th -11th century)
translated by Tony Conran

Y Gwynt (The Wind) by Dafydd ap Gwilym

Masterly wind of the sky
Striding with mighty outcry –
Ah, what a man, unheeding
And harsh, without foot or wing
Given out from the pantry
Of the sky – how can it be?
How is your pace so nimble
Now, across the highest hill?
No need of horse for transport
Or, on river, bridge or boat –
You’ll not drown, you’ve been promised!
Angleless, go where you list,
Take nest, strip leaves – there’s no one
Arrests with accusation,
No posse, captain or corps,
Blue blade or flood or downpour.
Thresher of treetop plumage,
You nor king nor troop can cage,
Nor mother’s son foully kill,
Fire burn, nor trick enfeeble.
Though none see you in your den,
Nest of rains, thousands harken,
Cloud-calligrapher, vaulter
Over nine lands wild and bare.
You’re on the world God’s favour,
High oaktops’ tired-cracking roar;
Dry, for you tread prudently
The clouds in your great journey;
Archer of snow on highlands,
Useless chaff, swept into mounds –
Tell me where, constant credo,
Northwind of the vale, you go?
Tempest on the ocean, you’re
A wanton lad on seashore,
Eloquent author, wizard,
Sower, and tilt at leaf horde,
Laughter on hills, you harry
Wild masts on white-breasted sea.

You fly the wide world over,
Weather of slopes, tonight there,
Man, go high to Uwch Aeron
with clarity, with clear tone.
Don’t falter, frightened fellow,
For fear of the Little Bow,
That querulously jealous man!
Her country is my prison.
Too grave a love I’ve given
To my gold girl, Morfudd, when
My own land’s made my thraldom –
O speed high towards her home!
Beat, till they loose the doorway,
Messenger, before the day:
Find her, if you can, and bring
My sighs to her, my mourning.
You of the glorious Zodiac,
Tell her bounty of my lack.
I’m her true lover always
While the quick life in me stays.
Without her, I go lovelorn –
If it’s true she’s not foresworn.
Go up, till she’s in prospect
Under you, the sky’s elect,
Find her, the slim gold damsel –
Good of the sky, come back hale!

By Dafydd ap Gwilym

translated by Tony Conran

Additional information:The Wind” (Welsh: Y Gwynt) is a 64-line love poem in the form of a cywydd (one of the most important metrical forms in traditional Welsh poetry but most often referring to a long lined couplet) by the 14th-century Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. Dafydd is widely seen as the greatest of the Welsh poets.

The Litte Bow (Y Bwa Back) was Dafydd’s nickname for Morfudd’s husband.

Uwch Aeron was historically recorded as one of Cardiganshire’s (Welsh: Sir Aberteifi or Ceredigion) three cantrefs in the Middle Ages. The cantref was divided into three commotes: Mefenydd, Anhuniog and Pennardd.

However there is also another Aeron which was a kingdom of the Brythonic-speaking Hen Ogledd (English: Old North), presumed to have been located in the region of the River Ayr in what is now southwestern Scotland. It existed during the post-Roman era, perhaps earlier, and disappeared before or during the 7th-century conquest of the region by the ascendant Kingdom of Northumbria.

Aeron is incidentally mentioned in the Book of Taliesin in poems of praise to Urien of Rheged. It is the homeland of several heroes in the Book of Aneirin. The families of several of these heroes also appear in royal genealogies associated with the genealogies of the better-known kings of Alt Clut who lived in southwestern Scotland. This, taken together with the phonetic similarity of Aeron and Ayr, suggests the location of Aeron.

There are no historical records confirming its history or even its existence, only literary references combined with circumstantially consistent genealogies and incidentally relevant historical records. Though Aeron may have been located within the territory of modern Scotland, as a part of Yr Hen Ogledd it is also an intrinsic part of Welsh history, as both the Welsh and the Men of the North (WelshGwŷr y Gogledd) were self-perceived as a single people, collectively referred to in modern Welsh as Cymry.

Below is the poem in its original Middle Welsh form.

Y Gwynt

Yr wybrwynt, helynt hylaw,
Agwrdd drwst a gerdda draw,
Gŵr eres wyd garw ei sain,
Drud byd heb droed heb adain.
Uthr yw mor eres y’th roed
O bantri wybr heb untroed,
A buaned y rhedy
Yr awr hon dros y fron fry.

Dywaid ym, diwyd emyn,
Dy hynt, di ogleddwynt glyn.
Hydoedd y byd a hedy,
Hin y fron, bydd heno fry,
Och ŵr, a dos Uwch Aeron
Yn glaer deg, yn eglur dôn.
Nac aro di, nac eiriach,
Nac ofna er Bwa Bach,
Cyhuddgwyn wenwyn weini.
Caeth yw’r wlad a’i maeth i mi.

Nythod ddwyn, cyd nithud ddail
Ni’th dditia neb, ni’th etail
Na llu rhugl, na llaw rhaglaw,
Na llafn glas na llif na glaw.
Ni’th ladd mab mam, gam gymwyll,
Ni’th lysg tân, ni’th lesga twyll.
Ni boddy, neu’th rybuddiwyd,
Nid ei ynglŷn, diongl wyd.
Nid rhaid march buan danad,
Neu bont ar aber, na bad.
Ni’th ddeil swyddog na theulu
I’th ddydd, nithydd blaenwydd blu.
Ni’th wŷl drem, noethwal dramawr,
Neu’th glyw mil, nyth y glaw mawr.

Rhad Duw wyd ar hyd daear,
Rhuad blin doriad blaen dâr,
Noter wybr natur ebrwydd,
Neitiwr gwiw dros nawtir gŵydd,
Sych natur, creadur craff,
Seirniawg wybr, siwrnai gobraff,
Saethydd ar froydd eiry fry,
Seithug eisingrug songry’,
Drycin yn ymefin môr,
Drythyllfab ar draethellfor,
Hyawdr awdl heod ydwyd,
Hëwr, dyludwr dail wyd,
Hyrddwr, breiniol chwarddwr bryn,
Hwylbrenwyllt heli bronwyn.

Gwae fi pan roddais i serch
Gobrudd ar Forfudd, f’eurferch.
Rhiain a’m gwnaeth yn gaethwlad,
Rhed fry rhod a thŷ ei thad.
Cur y ddôr, par egori
Cyn y dydd i’m cennad i,
A chais ffordd ati, o chaid,
A chân lais fy uchenaid.
Deuy o’r sygnau diwael,
Dywaid hyn i’m diwyd hael:
Er hyd yn y byd y bwyf,
Corodyn cywir ydwyf.
Ys gwae fy wyneb hebddi,
Os gwir nad anghywir hi.
Dos fry, ti a wely wen,
Dos obry, dewis wybren.
Dos at Forfudd felenllwyd,
Debre’n iach, da wybren wyd.

The Swan by Euros Bowen

Today the art of our retreat
is to see portents and mystery –
To see colour and sinew, the flash of white
As the bare hills of the age are visited from heaven:
His solitude swims in the quiet of the water,
A pilgrim acquainted with sedges,
And he washes the weather of the lake with his form
That (as it were) spotlights the passion
Of a soul’s breath
As it goes its slow, bare way in the chill of March:
His neck became a vigil,
The immaculate arm of a hunter,
The poise there, the stance of his eye! –
And the flame of his beak plummeted down to the pool:
The mountains looked disquieted
As he resumed his glide, easing himself to the flood:
A shiver ran through his wings, then stopped,
And on a sharp beat he broke from the water:
Slowly he went, then up to the high air,
And the fire of his wings draws a soul from its cold.

by Euros Bowen (1904-1988)
(December 1987)
translated by Tony Conran

Additional information: The Welsh version is titled ‘Yr Alarch‘ but, unfortunately, I was unable to source a copy to confirm its wording and provide it as I have some other poems in translation previously. If you have access to a copy it would be greatly appreciated if you could, for the benefit of future readers to compare the translation and original, provide a link to a site listing it or copy/paste the Welsh version in the comments.