A Poem for St David’s Day

It’s St David’s Day today, so

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

As as become traditional on this blog I am going to mark the occasion by posting a poem the great Welsh poet, R.S. Thomas. This is called Welsh Testament.

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?

3 Responses to “A Poem for St David’s Day”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    There is some irony that a wish for a happy St. David’s Day is followed by a poem of bleak despair. But that’s R. S. Thomas for you – his greatest poems are often bleak, and many for good reason.

    I wonder how much his poems about Wales are understood by people outside Wales who have not experienced what they articulate, or by the young.

  2. telescoper Says:

    It is perhaps bleak, certainly unflinching, but I’m not sure about the despair. It seems to me to be more like frustration…

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      I think it’s despair as well as frustration. It’s about traditional Wales becoming a museum, even a human zoo, for wealthy tourists. It sees a survival of ways of life, traditions and language to facilitate only the patronising curiosity of others.

      Things have changed over the decades, many things dramatically. Some of the problems remain, some acutely. Others have been blown away.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: