Goodbye, the secret of the song, the brilliant right-order, Goodbye Hendre Fechan, And the song-books, bright pure song, To you, goodbye now also.
I’d a house to sleep, to live I’d shelter, Food and drink suffice me; I’d a home till I were dead, And a fire (thank God!) kept burning.
In place of my old homestead, and the woe Here, of an early life, In heaven God will give me now A home where’s no returning.
Green woods, farewell, where the small birds sang A choice, correct, sweet song; Farewell, all the song-chained groves, Each path where song would wander.
By William Phylip d. 1670
translated by Tony Conran
Information: The title is technically ‘A Leave-Taking of Hendre Fechan, his home‘. There is a holiday cottage, inTal-y-bont, dating back to 1616 with the name Hendre Fechan. I can’t confirm if it is the same location alluded to in the poem but it is very coincidental if not.
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees Is my destroyer. And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.
The force that drives the water through the rocks Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams Turns mine to wax. And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.
The hand that whirls the water in the pool Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind Hauls my shroud sail. And I am dumb to tell the hanging man How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.
The lips of time leech to the fountain head; Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood Shall calm her sores. And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.
And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.
By Dylan Thomas (1934) from 18 Poems
Additional information: ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ is the poem that made Dylan Thomas famous. Written in 1933, when Thomas was nineteen, it was first published in his 1934 collection, 18 Poems. Like the other poems in the collection, which belong to what has been called Thomas’s ‘womb-tomb period‘, it deals with “creation, both physical and poetic, and the temporal process of birth, death, and rebirth“.
Don’t look down on me! I’m a remarkable invention: half-vehicle and half-human!
Don’t joke about such things? Well, what is there left? God’s deserted me, or I’ve ignored him… whatever, it’s neither blame nor salvation.
Don’t look away or speak slowly, I only grin stupidly when I’ve taken too much gin.
Later, in the morning, messages from my brain jam in my throat. My spine’s a street I can only walk in sleep or in those photos once placed in a case too high to reach.
Running on smoke not steam, I become the mechanic as I take my leg from the cupboard to put on as you would make-up. I prefer to numb myself in poison-clouds of my making, rather than face a sun shining like instruments of operation.
You think I’m not like you? It’s true the world is full of stairs and people climbing, while I remain below locked into pavement, gazing as the building saunters away. Yet I know some who are paralysed within, so all they’ve achieved becomes a throbbing, an ache from a lost limb.
A fine gull on the tideflow, All white with moon or snow, Your beauty’s immaculate, Shard like the sun, brine’s gauntlet. Buoyant you’re on the deep flood, A proud swift bird of fishfood. You’d ride at anchor with me, Hand in hand there, sea lily. Like a letter, a bright earnest, A nun you’re on the tide’s crest.
Right fame and far my dear has – Oh, fly around tower and fortress, Look if you can’t see, seagull, One bright as Eigr on that wall. Say all my words together. Let her choose me. Go to her. If she’s alone – though profit With so rare a girl needs wit – Greet her then: her servant, say, Must, without her, die straightway.
She guards my life so wholly – Ah friends, none prettier than she Taliesin or the flattering lip Or Merlin loved in courtship: Cypris courted ‘neath copper, Loveliness too perfect-fair.
Seagull, if that cheek you see, Christendom’s purest beauty, Bring to me back fair welcome Or that girl must be my doom.
By Dafydd ap Gwilym (fl. 1340-70) translated by Tony Conran
Additional information: This love poem by the 14th century poet Dafydd ap Gwilym was probably written in or around the 1340s. Dafydd is widely seen as the greatest of the Welsh poets and this is one of his best-known and best loved works. The poem references Eigr (the Welsh name for King Arthur’s mother Igraine), Myrddin (the figure who eventually becomes Merlin the wizard in Arthurian stories) and Taliesin (a renowned, and somewhat mythologised, bard who is believed to have sung at the courts of at least three kings and in some accounts is associated with King Arthur and Bran the Blessed).
An alchemical pun is also present in the poem. ‘Siprys’ translates from Welsh into ‘Cypris’, the Cyprian, one of the names for Venus the Roman goddess of love. The poet compares his lover to the goddess due to her copper hair. Copper is a metal often associated with the goddess due to her copper coloured hair, which most will recognise from Botticelli‘s The Birth of Venus, indicating the alchemical relationship between the planet Venus and copper.
Beneath is the original Welsh language version of the poem.
Yr wylan deg ar lanw, dioer, Unlliw ag eiry neu wenlloer, Dilwch yw dy degwch di, Darn fal haul, dyrnfol heli. Ysgafn ar don eigion wyd, Esgudfalch edn bysgodfwyd. Yngo’r aud wrth yr angor Lawlaw â mi, lili môr. Llythr unwaith lle’th ariannwyd, Lleian ym mrig llanw môr wyd.
Cyweirglod bun, cai’r glod bell, Cyrch ystum caer a chastell. Edrych a welych, wylan, Eigr o liw ar y gaer lân. Dywaid fy ngeiriau dyun, Dewised fi, dos hyd fun. Byddai’i hun, beiddia’i hannerch, Bydd fedrus wrth fwythus ferch Er budd; dywaid na byddaf, Fwynwas coeth, fyw onis caf. Ei charu’r wyf, gwbl nwyf nawdd, Och wŷr, erioed ni charawdd Na Merddin wenithfin iach, Na Thaliesin ei thlysach. Siprys dyn giprys dan gopr, Rhagorbryd rhy gyweirbropr.
Och wylan, o chai weled Grudd y ddyn lanaf o Gred, Oni chaf fwynaf annerch, Fy nihenydd fydd y ferch.
Those Romans – they got it wrong. Couldn’t believe that a useless woman Could torch their almighty cities, Batter their legions to pulp. Oh no. So you see, they created a monster, harridan fit to be hated. But it wasn’t me. Not me. I spent my days Doing appropriate things. Arranging flowers, Keeping my children tidy, Being discreet. Then he died. And the Romans came. They raped my daughters. They flogged me. They stole our land. So I was in love with hate, With the scent of blood, With dead piled high for Adraste in the screaming grove.
I remember those Roman women: They were brought before me To consider the matter of ransom. But they looked down their high-born noses At this loud barbarian And told me to ‘let them go Lest worse should befall me.’ Worse? Than my daughters’ terror, Than the tearing metal Slashing across my shoulders? I arranged them like flowers, neat for Adraste’s pleasure, A ring of red roses staked to the hungry earth. After that my daughters were silent. I became what they made me, those Romans. A fury from out of their nightmares.
And now I am what you have made me. A decorous matron, promoting another empire. I and my daughters, here by the constant Thames. They still have their legions, those Caesars, Controlling the world.