The Welsh are known as a fiercely patriotic nation with a strong sense of song and poetic tradition, but the history of this small but large country has not always been harmonious. Maybe that’s still not the case. In his latest book, “The History of Wales in Twelve Poems”, Mr Wynn Thomas sets out to explore how writing can help illustrate the politics, society and culture of this country, from verses to ‘Aneirin in the 7th century to the present day. poetry of the day by Menna Elfyn.
Thomas explains in the preface why he wrote this book, alluding to how in Celtic culture “the Welsh have always worshiped the number three” and therefore he himself presents three reasons. First, he explains how, due to centuries of “subordination, marginalization and assimilation”, the Welsh are a rather invisible people on the world stage. He wants to make sure Wales is seen.
Second, he writes so that the light and hearts of the Welsh people do not go out, especially considering that over the centuries they have had to fight to survive in an ever-changing landscape.
Thirdly, Thomas intends to defend the poetic tradition of Wales and in particular the poets themselves, “it is a position which they deserve, not only because of their quality but the crucial role which they have always played in maintaining a Welsh identity. ‘So the enduring poetry, complemented in this book by the timeless and beautiful printed illustrations of Ruth JÃªn Evans, acts as a vessel to carry the story.
Thomas skillfully and confidently guides the reader through a journey of people and places, beginning with one of the earliest surviving Welsh poems, Y Gododdin by Aneirin, from the 7th century. The poem, presented both in its original form and its English translation on a double page spread, allows Thomas to communicate how the kingdoms and languages ââof Great Britain came into being, anchoring our view of the geography of Wales today. ‘hui. Thomas documents in a clear and concise manner how the natives were pushed back and therefore isolated in marginal areas of the country, and his use of the etymology to further demonstrate the meaning is fascinating.
The tales come from Catraeth tell
How the heroes fell, were mourned for a long time. (Aneirin, 7th century)
In all, twelve poems are celebrated, serving to capture the essence of the time of writing in ways that historical documents could not. Pais Dinogad allows us an “intimate glimpse into the ordinary life of the time” as Staffel Gynddylan leads us to understand the threat of war and the ancient warrior society. It is interesting to note that in these two poems the voice is that of a woman. This refreshingly allows those underrepresented in society to be heard, which is in keeping with Thomas’ intention to allow the unseen to be seen.
Dark is Cynddylan’s room tonight
Without fire, without bed.
I cry for a moment, then I shut up. (Anon. 9th or 10th century)
From the infamous seats of princes to the arrival of the Normans, and far beyond to the present day, other carefully chosen and appropriate poems illustrate how Welsh poetry develops in style and form. Poets such as Dafydd Ap Gwilym, Henry Vaughan, Ann Griffiths and Gwenallt mingle their lives with ours through language.
They describe the significance of the impact of land tenure, education, religion and industry on the history and making of modern Wales as we know it: coupled with reflections on the class system; the importance of the âhen Wlad Fy Nhadauâ; the symbol of the Welsh dragon; triple crown rugby victories; Conservatism and work and Welsh nonconformity. And all in all, the old struggle to create and maintain a national identity in a constant battle with outside forces that try to stifle the light and the hearts of the people.
With his fiftieth birthday behind him, a man sees with good clarity
The people and the environment that made him what he is (Gwenallt, 20th century)
As you progress through this digestible but delightfully informative book, we discover more modern and familiar poets: the infamous Dylan Thomas; Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales; Menna Elfyn, award-winning poet and playwright. At first I feel a joyful solace in the company of these well-known writers, but the underlying tone of Wales as a marginalized nation soon returns. Fern Hill, Dylan Thomas harkens back to a cherished childhood memory, an escape from post-war Wales which Mr. Wynn Thomas clearly details in an engaging manner.
I am happy to see once again, among the long lists of men, that Thomas beautifully sang female voices with a poem to the famous medieval tale, Blodeuwedd by Gillian Clarke, 20th century.
Although he explained that “(V) very little is known for the best part of two millennia of women’s history in Wales, but a few names shine defiantly even in this oppressive darkness “, he goes on to name and celebrate the admiration and cherished women of all time: Gwenllian,” known as a woman of action, who undertook a rebel assault “; Lleucu Llwyd who âremains brilliantly surrounded by romanceâ; Amy Dillwyn, the flamboyant transvestite and cigar-smoking girl of an industrialist, who took over the management of his regulator factoryâ¦ and many more. It’s respectful and admiring and I love it, especially considering that Thomas also includes a nod to the #metoo movement which raises awareness against sexual abuse and harassment.
The concluding section offers Thomas’ raw and honest opinions on where this nation is going, and as you might expect, the vibe is similar to the rest of the book. Wales is still in survival mode and continues to catch up with the rest of the UK. There is a continuing decline in the rural community and industry that once occupied the heart of the country. It all sounds rather pessimistic. However, final thoughts offer a more positive outlook and that pride is what lingers next to poetry after the book cover is closed. Despite the challenges that will continue to be presented endlessly, the Welsh are surprisingly resilient and adaptable. They have unparalleled strength and determination to survive, just like Welsh language poetry that has proven to last.
In the immortal words of Dafydd Iwan:
Ryn ni yma o hyd
We are always here.
The History of Wales is published by the University of Wales Press. You can buy a copy here