Poem by Wyn Griffith

If there be time enough before the slaughter
let us consider our heritage
of wisdom, remembering the coil of laughter
girdled our youth, wine of bright vintage
carrying short sorrows into oblivion;
some talk of love in smooth meadows
where dusk brings quiet and night a vision
of daylight joys freed from their shadows.
Above all, wisdom: for years are shrinking
into a huddle of days and the world a parish
where neighbours bolt their doors and lights are dimming.
Soon there will be nothing left for us to cherish
but the grave words of the last statesmen
before the battle starts and the air is darkened:
fast fall the night upon the frightened children
and on the wombs where once they quickened.
What towered land of man’s endeavour
will first be desert, with all our learning
a burnt page trodden in the dust of error?
Farewell to wisdom and to all remembering.

By Wyn Griffith

Additional information: Llewelyn Wyn Griffith CBE (30 August 1890 – 27 September 1977) was a Welsh novelist, born in Llandrillo yn Rhos, Clwyd. A captain in the 15th Royal Welch Fusiliers, part of the 38th (Welsh) Division during the First World War, he is known for his memoir, Up to Mametz, which he wrote in the early 1920s, although the work was not published until 1931.

Griffith was a career civil servant, and rose to a senior post in the Inland Revenue. He was a key helper to Sir Ernest Gowers in the writing of Plain Words in 1948. He was a well-known broadcaster, a founder-member of the Round Britain Quiz team. After retirement from the Inland Revenue he served as vice chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. He was appointed CBE in the 1961 Birthday Honours.

A continuation of his World War memoir, based on research into Griffith’s papers, was published in 2010.

Return to Cardiff by Dannie Abse

‘Hometown’; well, most admit an affection for a city:
grey, tangled streets I cycled on to school, my first cigarette
in the back lane, and fool, my first botched love affair.
First everything. Faded torments; self-indulgent pity.

The journey to Cardiff seemed less a return than a raid
on mislaid identities. Of course the whole locus smaller:
the mile-wide Taff now a stream, the castle not as in some black
gothic dream, but a decent sprawl, a joker’s toy facade.

Unfocused voices in the wind, associations, clues,
odds and ends, fringes caught, as when, after the doctor quit,
a door opened and I glimpsed the white, enormous face
of my grandfather, suddenly aghast with certain news.

Unable to define anything I can hardly speak,
and still I love the place for what I wanted it to be
as much as for what it unashamedly is
now for me, a city of strangers, alien and bleak.

Unable to communicate I’m easily betrayed,
uneasily diverted by mere sense reflections
like those anchored waterscapes that wander, alter, in the Taff,
hour by hour, as light slants down a different shade.

Illusory, too, that lost, dark playground after rain,
the noise of trams, gunshots in what they once called Tiger Bay.
Only real this smell of ripe, damp earth when the sun comes out,
a mixture of pungencies, half exquisite and half plain.

No sooner than I’d arrived the other Cardiff had gone,
smoke in the memory, these but tinned resemblances,
where the boy I was not and the man I am not
met, hesitated, left double footsteps, then walked on.

By Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green
(1962)

.

Additional information: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.

The River Taff (‘Afon Taf’ in Welsh) is a river in Wales. It rises as two rivers in the Brecon Beacons; the Taf Fechan (little Taff) and the Taf Fawr (great Taff) before becoming one just north of Merthyr Tydfil. Its confluence with the River Severn estuary is in Cardiff. The river supports several species of migratory fish, including salmon, sewin (sea trout), and eel.

Tiger Bay (‘Bae Teigr’ in Welsh) was the local name for an area of Cardiff which covered Butetown and Cardiff Docks. Following the building of the Cardiff Barrage, which dams the tidal rivers, Ely and Taff, to create a body of water, it is referred to as Cardiff Bay. Tiger Bay is Wales’ oldest multi-ethnic community with sailors and workers from over 50 countries settling there in the 1950s.

Our Lodgers by Caril Krane

We had lodgers at our house, we did,
John and George and Mick and Sid.
John was old with balding head
Pleased he’d managed not to wed.
Like to sit on the old sea wall,
Got so drunk once he had a fall.
They fished him out and he did say,
Not a drop I’ll touch from this day.
George as a lad went to sea,
On a training ship, so it be.
On a training ship, so it be.
Stole a pair of boots when he was eight.
That was the punishment at that date.
Mick was Irish like his name,
Singing in the pubs was his fame.
Courted a girl who went into the church,
Became a Nun, he was left in the lurch.
Last but not least we come to Sid,
Always caused trouble, was what he did,
The Police would be ’round knocking the door,
As Grannie would pick him up from the floor.
You’re not staying here any more, she would say
‘I’ll be glad when they come to take you away.’

They died of course, one by one
For Mick a wake was good fun,
George in a sack went to sea,
John said a whiskey case for me.
Sid the worst was the last
Fighting to the end as was his past.
Of course Grannie outlived them all
They were happy times I do recall.

By Caril Krane
(1992)

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 can, for the benefit of future readers to compare the translation and original, provide in the comments a link or the Welsh version it would be greatly appreciated.

That sanity be kept by Dylan Thomas

That sanity be kept I sit at open windows,
Regard the sky, make unobtrusive comment on the moon.
Sit at open windows in my shirt,
And let the traffic pass, the signals shine,
The engines run, the brass bands keep in tune,
For sanity must be preserved.

Thinking of death, I sit and watch the park
Where children play in all their innocence.
And matrons on the littered grass
Absorb the daily sun.

The sweet suburban music from a hundred lawns
Comes softly to my ears. The English mowers mow and mow.

I mark the couples walking arm in arm.
Observe their smiles,
Sweet invitations and inventions,
See them lend love illustration
By gesture and grimace.
I watch them curiously, detect beneath the laughs
What stands for grief, a vague bewilderment
At things not turning right.

I sit at open windows in my shirt,
Observe, like some Jehovah of the westerners
What passes by, that sanity be kept.

by Dylan Thomas
(1933)

Additional information: This was one of his first poems published in ‘Poet’s Corner’ of the Sunday Referee.

Recited to music by Cerys Matthews (Welsh musician and broadcaster)