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.

Cuckoo by Dic Edwards

Again the soldiers fill the valley.
Driven by necessity
The men forge cannon
And the women spin cloth for uniforms in their parlours
Soon, the snowdrops.
Young wives weave boots from palmetto fronds
And aunts save their piss
For the nitre that makes
All the sloshing about in tears
And furnishes the men in war.

Soon, the primrose.
The children in the little games
Have nothing to say of war
But die.
The older girls knit socks for the dying.
The young men cut up the bodies playfully
Notwithstanding history’s immanence
And not yet fearful of the waking
From their drunk and bloody spell.

Soon, the cuckoo
And the cuckoo-flower;
Cuckoo-pint:
Arum and wake-robin
And navelwort and pennywort
And all the crazy flowering
Of even the monocotyledonous plants.
And in the lacunae between horrors
Much is fulfilled as the comedian entertains
And flaps the colours of war hanging
From rope made of Spanish moss.

.

By Dic Edwards

.

Information: Dic Edwards (born 1948) is a British playwright, poet and teacher of creative writing. His writing often touches upon political and social issues, nationalism and democracy.

The Houses of the Valleys by Ann Hughes

Reaching out in unending lines

Houses of the valleys, all the same

In their uniform of dereliction and decay

Clinging on to the hillside, like old people

Clinging on to the old way of life.

.

Smoke rises from the chimneys

Catching the last fading sunlight

of the promising summer of plenty,

Falling soon to the sills in black sooty smuts

Where sometimes people sit and stare.

.

The empty streets echo in the silence

of tack boots on the cobblestones,

Black windows stare at me with accusation

Betrayal screams at you with her evidence

in the houses of the valleys.

.

.

By Ann Hughes (1992)

A Welsh Spring by Vic Rees

That day,

slate skies still gloomed

the slanting fields,

but timid pink smiled faintly

between the clouds.

.

Grave sheep,

catched to the hill’s green cant,

stirred in the mellowing air,

and misty pastures corsetted

by cattle-keeping walls,

appeared to meditate

upon their coming colours.

.

Deep in the valley’s throat

a tipsy tractor undulated,

loudly blue, defiant

against the earth’s brown quiet.

.

Suddenly,

a whirr of pigeons

in arrowed flight,

climbed then dived

into the valley’s side,

melting in the solvency of trees

like the easing of a pain.

.

Rubber-shod

I trod the meadow’s ooze,

feeling the muscling turf

beneath my feet; then,

welcoming the simplifying air,

I took my first firm step

from the winter of your going.

.

.

by Vic Rees