Tom Picton, Mountain-Fighter (1895-1939) by Robert Havard

Tom Picton, why d’you go to Spain,

some bastard get you drunk again?

 

Was in the Railway Bar,

never knew his name.

Said he’d see me in Espanya,

put me on the Cardiff train.

 

Tom Picton, why d’you go to Spain,

you punchy now, got clots on the brain?

 

Had his fill of punching holes

in butties on the mountain,

a gutsful of picking coals

now Maudie’s gone again.

 

Tom Picton, why d’you go to Spain,

think you’ll stand a bullet’s pain?

 

Can always duck and bend

see boy. Only bullet

that can kill me, friend,

has got my name on it.

 

Tom Picton, Twmmy boy, why d’you go to Spain?

 

For Christsake, mun, I came.

 

by Robert Harvard


Fun fact: Tom Picton actually existed.

Thomas Issac Picton was born in 1895 and became a miner in Treherbert, Rhonnda Fawr, South Wales.  He was one-time amateur middle weight boxing champion of Wales. During the 1914-18 War he was light-heavy weight champion in the Navy. His ships were torpedoed on two occasions and received decorations for bravery on two occasions. Tom was a noted bare-knuckle `mountain’ fighter in the years after the war…

Like most of his generation, class and nationhood, Picton became radicalised by the experiences of the 1920s and 1930s. He was a close friend of Communist Councillor George Thomas of Treherbert but little else marked him out from the ordinary until he became aware of the consequences of the passing, on the 11th January 1937, by the British Government of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870 applicable to the Spanish Civil War. The effect was to criminalise the finest segment of British youth of the 1930s in the shape of all who volunteered to fight for the International Brigade in Spain…

Enraged by the unfairness of this Act and despite his age – he was 52 years – Picton must have convinced his way into the IB due to his fitness and legendary prowess as a fist-fighter. He joined the Communist Party either just before going to Spain, or actually while in Spain. But, unfortunately, he was one of those detained in France. Yet, miraculously, even inexplicably, he found himself freed from jail and finally arrived in Spain…

Tom Picton was taken prisoner and executed despite being a prisoner of war in San Pedro de Cardeña, a prison in Bilbao, by Franco’s fascists in April 1938. His widow, Maud, had always refused to believe the news, as no body was found. Maud spent years on several futile visits to Spain to try to establish his whereabouts, on which she took her daughter.

The poem was probably written prior to the confirmation of his death hence the discrepancy with the later confirmed date of death. Tom was likely deemed a casualty of war and his date of death only given as that of the civil war’s end as no more accurate information was available at that time.

Advertisements

The Kingdom by R. S. Thomas

It’s a long way off but inside it

There are quite different things going on:

Festivals at which the poor man

Is king and the consumptive is

Healed; mirrors in which the blind look

At themelves and love looks at them

Back; and industry is for mending

The bent bones and the minds fractured

By life. It’s a long way off, but to get

There takes no time and admission

Is free, if you will purge yourself

Of desire, and present yourself with

Your need only and the simple offering

Of your faith, green as a leaf.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)

Among Shoals of Stars by Mike Jenkins

Each night the sea

tires of its slopping and slapping

and ascends the limestone staircase

of cactus-sharp stone.

 

It lies down

where sky has been,

waving away the blue

and only hooded clouds

show its occasional restlessness.

 

Bright fish with mouths

that globe, look down on me

and the breezy whish-whish

of sea-weed is the needled

branches of every pine.

 

I see the lights

of planes as they are out

trawling for dreams.

The moon spills milk

which I drink in,

before I too lie down

to sleep among shoals of stars.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Invisible Times

Ravens by R. S. Thomas

It was the time of the election.

The ravens loitered above the hill

In slow circles; they had all air

To themselves. No eyes heard

Them exulting, recalling their long

History, presidents of the battles

of flesh, the sly connoisseurs

Of carrion; desultory flags

Of darkness, saddening the sky

At Catraeth and further back,

When two, who should have been friends,

Contended in the innocent light

For the woman in her downpour of hair.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)


Fun Fact: The poem refers to the Battle of Catraeth and the medieval Welsh poem Y Gododdin.

Clywedog by Gillian Clarke

The people came out in pairs,

Old, most of them, holding their places

Close till the very last minute,

Even planting the beans as usual

That year, grown at last accustomed

To the pulse of the bulldozers.

High in those uphill gardens, scarlet

Beanflowers blazed hours after

The water rose in the throats of the farms.

 

Only the rooted things stayed:

The wasted hay, the drowned

Dog roses, the farms, their kitchens silted

With their own stones, hedges

And walls a thousand years old.

And the mountains, in a head-collar

Of flood, observe a desolation

They’d grown used to before the coming

Of the wall-makers. Language

Crumbles to wind and bird-call.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)


Fun fact: The subject of this poem is the Clywedog reservoir (Welsh: Llyn Clywedog), a reservoir near Llanidloes, in Wales which was completed in 1967. Construction of the dam commenced in 1963 after the passing of an Act of Parliament ordering its creation to help prevent flooding of the River Severn in winter and to maintain its water levels in the summer. Local opposition was strong against the construction of the reservoir as it would result in the flooding of much of the Clywedog valley and the drowning of 615 acres (2.5 km2) of agricultural land. On top of several disruptions and protests, during construction in 1966 a bomb was detonated within the construction site, setting work back by almost 2 months. The political extremist group Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (MAC) was widely suspected of carrying out the bombing. The reservoir was opened in 1967 and till this day has been in continuous usage,

The Garden by R. S. Thomas

It is a gesture against the wild,

The ungovernable sea of grass;

A place to remember love in,

To be lonely for a while;

To forget the voices of children

Calling from a locked room;

To substitute for the care

Of one querulous human

Hundreds of dumb needs.

 

It is the old kingdom of man.

Answering to their names,

Out of the soil the buds come,

The silent detonations

Of power weilded without sin.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Bread of Truth (1963)

Nightride by Gillian Clarke

The road unwinding under our wheels

New in the headlamps like a roll of foil.

The rain is a recorder writing tunes

In telegraph wires, kerbs and cats’ eyes,

Reflections and the lights of little towns.

 

He turns his head to look at me.

“Why are you quiet?” Shiny road rhythm,

Rain rhythm, beat of the windscreen wipers,

I push my knee against his in the warmth

And the car thrusts the dark and rain away.

 

The child sleeps, and I reflect, as I breathe

His brown hair, and watch the apple they gave him

Held in his hot hands, that a tree must ache

With the sweet weight of the round rosy fruit,

As I with Dylan’s head, nodding on its stalk.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial, Gwasg Gomer, 1978)