After some fairly heavy posts, a poetic interlude. I’m currently reading Byron Rogers’ biography of R.S. Thomas, The Man Who Went Into the West, which – while highlighting what a difficult individual Thomas was to warm to personally – is reminding me just how great a poet he was.
A small illustration of this from relatively early in his career. Byron Rogers quotes (on pp.185f.) two translations of the Welsh traditional folk verse “The Walls of Caernarvon”. The first is by W.J. Gruffydd (better known, Wiki tells me, as Elerydd), from his Festival of Britain book North Wales and the Marches:
One rainswept eventide I went a-walking
On the shores of Menai in silent meditation:
Loud was the wind and wild was the white billow,
And the sea was hurling over the walls of Caernarvon.
But on the morrow morn I went a-walking
On the shores of Menai, and stillness was on them;
Silent was the wind, and kindly was the sea,
And the sun was shining on the walls of Caernavon.
Which is, y’know, fine. Does the job. (Though it’s fair to point out that Gruffydd’s main language as a poet was Welsh, so it’s to be expected he wouldn’t be at his best translating into English. R.S. Thomas, by his own admission, couldn’t write poetry in Welsh.)
Here is Thomas’s version:
One night of tempest I arose and went
Along the Menai shore on dreaming bent;
The wind was strong, and savage swung the tide,
And the waves blustered on Caernarvon side.
But in the morrow, when I passed that way,
On Menai’s shore the hush of heaven lay;
The wind was gentle and the sea a flower,
And the sun slumbered on Caernavon tower.
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is poetry. John Betjeman described this as “the perfect lyric”, and was known to recite it from memory to random acquaintances.