Welsh Testament

The video recalls the snows of last winter but the poem, read by the poet R.S. Thomas, is deeper still…

All right, I was Welsh. Does it matter?
I spoke a tongue that was passed on
To me in the place I happened to be,
A place huddled between grey walls
Of cloud for at least half the year.
My word for heaven was not yours.
The word for hell had a sharp edge
Put on it by the hand of the wind
Honing, honing with a shrill sound
Day and night. Nothing that Glyn Dwr
Knew was armour against the rain’s
Missiles. What was descent from him?

Even God had a Welsh name:
He spoke to him in the old language;
He was to have a peculiar care
For the Welsh people. History showed us
He was too big to be nailed to the wall
Of a stone chapel, yet still we crammed him
Between the boards of a black book.

Yet men sought us despite this.
My high cheek-bones, my length of skull
Drew them as to a rare portrait
By a dead master. I saw them stare
From their long cars, as I passed knee-deep
In ewes and wethers. I saw them stand
By the thorn hedges, watching me string
The far flocks on a shrill whistle.
And always there was their eyes; strong
Pressure on me: You are Welsh, they said;
Speak to us so; keep your fields free
Of the smell of petrol, the loud roar
Of hot tractors; we must have peace
And quietness.

Is a museum
Peace? I asked. Am I the keeper
Of the heart’s relics, blowing the dust
In my own eyes? I am a man;
I never wanted the drab role
Life assigned me, an actor playing
To the past’s audience upon a stage
Of earth and stone; the absurd label
Of birth, of race hanging askew
About my shoulders. I was in prison
Until you came; your voice was a key
Turning in the enormous lock
Of hopelessness. Did the door open
To let me out or yourselves in?

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5 Responses to “Welsh Testament”

  1. I love this poem. Thank you for posting it and the video.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    “Even God had a Welsh name: He spoke to him in the old language”

    Do Ya’shooa and Yahuweh (the correct pronunciations of Jesus and Jehovah) have meanings in Welsh?

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Anton,

      The Welsh for Jesus is Iesu (which is pronounced something like the letters Yessy would be pronounced in English). This has similarities to Ya’shooa while still being quite different. While Welsh Bibles have generally been translated direct from the Greek and Hebrew (rather than indirectly from another language such as Latin or English), I presume the Welsh for Jesus would have come via Latin in the late Roman empire or in the Dark Ages.

      The Welsh for God is Duw (pronounced as the letters Diww would be in English). So there is no association there with the Hebrew form, but of course Duw has strong connections with the Latin Deus.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Thank you Bryn. English-speaking peoples get these names more wrong than anybody else, because they didn’t change the written J to Y to compensate for the change in the pronunciation of ‘J’ a few centuries ago.

      The presence or absence of an ‘s’ at the end of Jesu[s]‘ name is due to differing conventions of grammar in the original language, and in the presently spoken langauges and their ancestors.

      ‘Duw’ is obviously not a corruption of ‘Yahuweh’; I infer that translators of the Old Testament into Welsh made the choice not to retain the word, just as the King James Bible translators rendered it as ‘LORD’ (capitals intentional). In Hebrew this name has the meaning ‘eternal’, so that it might meaningfully be rendered as ‘forever’, as in ‘I am FOREVER your god’.

  3. When I was doing A-level Welsh I studied the “Mabinogi” in their 11th Century version, which is the first written versions that exist (although it is generally recognised that the tales are much older, many pre-Christian). In the Mabinogi, the traditional greeting of one noble to another was “Duw da ichi”. Duw, as Bryn has said above, is the Welsh word for “God”, and the fact that it is spelt in exactly the same was in the Mabinogi shows that it’s spelling is very old, at least 2,000 years.

    As an astronomer, one thing that interests me about this greeting “Duw da ichi” is that it does not mean “Good God to you” but “Good day to you”, even though the modern word for “day” in Welsh is “dydd”. Originally, the word for “god” (with a lower case “g”) and “day” were the same, showing how the days of the week were named after the celestial gods of the planets. In Welsh the connection is much tighter than most languages, as the words for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday are *exactly* the same as the words for Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. It is only the words for Sunday and Monday which differ (slightly) from the words for Sun and Moon.

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