The View from the Top of the Mountain

I stood at the top of the mountain, and I looked
              upon the world
and the great grey sky hung silent, but the wind
              was all unfurled,
and he beat in a spiteful barrage, blow upon blow
              in my face,
blow after blow to my body, to topple me back
              from my place.


So I shut my eyes against him, and rooted my feet
              in the ground,
poised my whole body against him, held up my hands
              to confound
this demon who streamed all about me, biting and sharp
              on my cheek,
forceful and strong on my body, striving to undo
              my feet.


Tight closed my lips now against him, tighter than tight
              closed my eyes –
but my ears could not shut out his madness, and his
              plundering pierced my mind.
Ah! He parted my lips with his anlace, with his poniard
              he thrust up my lids,
and the edge of his steel was an ice that I feel when
              the memory floods back unbid.


But I laughed in his face, and said ‘With good grace I
              relinquish my place on this stone;
to wrestle with you is foolish, I know. So I beg you,
              pray leave me alone’.
He tousled my hair somewhat playful. Next moment I
              fancied he smiled.
‘O child of the earth – ‘ (here he held back his mirth) ‘Now
              go you, and gaze on the miles’.


So I stood at the top of the mountain, and looked on
              the silent sky,
and all about me lay quiet, for the wind had
              passed me by.
Now a wan sun topped the cloud-rack, the goodly
              sun of old;
he peered among earth’s shadows; the shadows turned
              to gold.


Aye, the land spread still before me, hedgerow, field
              and tree,
whitewashed farm and valley. I gathered them
              to me.
And I looked on this land of my fathers, shaped by
              the scythe of the wind,
sculpted by rains of the ages; and I prayed
              for all quiet things.


(From ‘Welsh Past and Present’)




Note: When writing this poem, I had Golwg o Ben Nebo / “The View from Mount Nebo’ in mind (Mount Nebo being the height from which the Bible’s book of Genesis tells us that Moses was allowed to look upon ‘The Promised Land’, although not himself permitted to enter). It is the title of the major collection of hymnologist Morgan Rhys Cilycwm (1716-1779), and one which enjoyed many editions over a long period. His hymns, such as Pechadur wyf, O! Arglwydd and others are still sung today. He was born at Cilycwm, near Llanymddyfri / ‘Llandovery’, Carmarthenshire, but is associated more with Llanfynydd, near Llandeilo in the same county. Between 1757 and 1775 he was a teacher at the circulating schools of the renowned Rev. Griffith Jones Llanddowror (to whom we are so immensely indebted for the dissemination of Welsh literacy and without doubt for the survival of the language). Morgan Rhys later established his own school at Capel Isaac, not far from his home in Llanfynydd. 

At the time of writing the poem, too, I had a particular interest in Morgan Rhys as for some time, based on indirect evidence, I had been fairly convinced that he was my 5th great grand-uncle. But many years later I was assured that this was not so, via the expert and exhaustive researches of friend, poet, and genealogist-extraordinary Jenni Wyn, who has previously twice appeared as a guest-poet in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion. Still, I had already discovered a lot about the life of this writer of fine hymns. My forebears had all lived and worked, during his lifetime, in the hill-farms round about, and were his neighbours; I still feel a certain closeness. I have a copy of his Will, in which, amongst various distributions to family and friends, he left monies to to the Methodist Societies of Llanegwad, Llansawel, Cilycwm, Caeo, Llanfynydd, Llansadwrn, and Brechfa, and also to his associates and celebrated principal movers in the Welsh Methodist Revival, Daniel Rowlands and William Williams Pantycelyn. Hiraeth am y Ganaan NefoI, the hymn from which the ‘Ben Nebo’ collection derives its name was, I’m told, the favourite of my great grandfather Evan Lewis of Llanfynydd, and I remember my mother singing those very lines:

‘I goppa bryn Nebo mi awn,
I weled ardaloedd yn well…’

She would sing it out loud, she said, to keep her spirits up as she walked the lonely, winding lane from Pantglâs to Llanfynydd. She was a young nurse then, during the mid-1930s, at Pantglâs Hall, at that time a hospital. Now it is some kind of country resort and leisure club… signs of the times.

This was supposed to be another interim post – just a poem with no notes attached – while I prepared something more substantial. But I seem to be somewhat addicted to notes these days, and in this case a posse of old memories reappeared and galloped away with me, so what follows, although loosely connected to the main theme and as, therein, we have already brushed upon the Welsh clergy, is a compendium of a few personal bits and pieces:

Once, on my way home to Tyddewi / ‘St. Davids’, following my first ever visit to Llanfynydd and driving on that lovely route west which follows the Cothi, taking in the small villages of Abergorlech and the Brechfa mentioned above, I stopped off at minuscule Abergorlech to enquire at the teeny-weeny Post Office whether Treglog (a hill-farm a mile or so above and farmed by my family in the 19th century) was still in Welsh hands: This was important to me, as I’d found that too often this was not the case, and that too often, too, farms with good, centuries-old Welsh names had been changed to the likes of ‘The Ponderosa Ranch’, or ‘Havelock Grange’. The postmistress was English, and didn’t know. She told me that the only person Welsh and likely to know was the vicar. It was late, I was tired, had already, in Llanfynydd, had a like experience, so thought ‘Sod it!’ and drove on home. Years later I discovered that the Rector of Abergorlech, and of Brechfa too at that very time, although I didn’t know it until some time later when I bought his book on Celtic spirituality in Wales, Candle in the Darkness, was the Rev. Patrick Thomas – the same Patrick Thomas who later, over the many years that we re-visited St. David’s from abroad, (and in all those years I still didn’t know it as no-one mentioned his name) also lived right there in St. David’s – as Canon Chancellor of St. David’s Cathedral and Chaplain to its Bishop.

Taking a long journey back over the years, now, to my boyhood in Llanelli. I lived with my grandparents at Gilbert Place, toward the north of the town and on the road to Felinfoel (and the village bearing that famed name is, incidentally, if I may digress, named after the mill run by my second great-grandfather, John Hugh. There were two mills in the village, one with a stack, and the other, which John Hugh worked, being quite bare. John Hugh’s mill was, therefore, known as Y Felin Foel / ‘The Bald Mill’ – and thereafter the whole village. So, I’d say that the thirsty thousands of the Welsh south-west owe my family a debt of gratitude! In 1843, though, (to digress again) John almost packed his bags and moved away to Cydweli / ‘Kidwelly’ to operate a new mill there. He was dissuaded from doing so by the intervention of a female, who sent him a letter saying what great distress this would cause her. The lady in question was well-known locally for having particularly persuasive ways; it was ‘an offer he couldn’t refuse’. So he stayed. Notwithstanding his interest in the new mill, he may well have been in sympathy with Rebecca anyway… as no doubt were all the Lewises up there in Llanfynydd. But – yes, apart from her more energetic activities Beca was known to have had an interest in the real estate business. (You can read about John and his sons in ‘The Unsung Dynasty’, my chapter in historian John Edwards’ 1995 Tinopolis, which traces the rise and thrive of the steel and tinplate industries in the region). But to get back to Gilbert Place:


Gilbert Place was a row of terraced houses built, in Sosban’s boom days, in the typical Victorian fashion thought sufficient to accommodate those tens of thousands who flocked in from the countryside to take up a new life in the slate-roofed, smoke-stacked town. Typical miners’ and steelworkers’ dwellings, with a front passage, a ‘middle room’, a back kitchen, and a long back garden leading to a back lane; there was also the front room, or ‘parlour’ – a very special room, this, adjoining the front passage, a room that was scarcely used, except on very special occasions; a room which was specially furnished; a room that was a spick-and-span cross between a temple and a museum; a mausoleum with the obligatory aspidistra on display at the front window. Gilbert Place was a straight street with about a dozen houses on each side, all fronting directly on to the pavement and the road. At its end, the road curved out of sight, and this curve was called Gilbert Crescent (doubtless in mimicry of those much more stately curvatures in the great, fashionable English and European cities…). The houses in ‘The Crescent’ were built a little later and as an addition to our street, and were considered slightly ‘posh’ as they had small front gardens with gates. In ‘The Place’ everyone knew everyone else, but after the road curved out of sight the occupants of the furthermost houses in ‘The Crescent’, although they were all our good neighbours, became a bit of a mystery. It was in one of these further houses, or certainly thereabouts, that there lived a young man named Ceri Goldstone – one of the people you knew about, and you knew some of their names; the adults would have no doubt have been familiar with just about all of them – but we cubs knew much less. I knew Ceri by sight, but nothing else about him other than that he was a young fellow who lived that way somewhere and that his name was Ceri Goldstone. Anyway, one day, I must have been about eight years old at the time, I was walking toward my grandparents’ house when Ceri (he must have been about eighteen or so then, I think) approached from the direction of The Crescent. As we drew close he said, very nicely, ‘Good Morning, David’, and I replied, a little shyly, ‘Good Morning, Ceri’.  And that was all. Nothing more. It’s about the only thing about him that I remember. But for some reason, for some peculiar, unknown reason, that brief meeting, that exchange of greetings, has remained with me all my life. Why? I’ve often thought of it, and wondered just that. An insignificant happening at a tender age. How could it have had any significance? I’ve dismissed it as another of those utterly unimportant moments which, for some strange and unapparent reason, and experienced by many of us, live on in the mind… the mind is a strange thing indeed.

Perhaps thirty-plus years later, our family were back for a few weeks’ holiday, and again staying with our family in St. David’s. I remember we were in the kitchen, three or four of us all talking, when Mam mentioned the vicar of Solfach / ‘Solva’ (the picturesque inlet-village just three miles along the coast) – Ceri Goldstone. My ears pricked up. With a name like that, it could be no other! I said, ‘What? the vicar of Solva’s name is Ceri Goldstone?’ I can’t exactly remember, but I’m pretty sure that I asked her if he was from Llanelli, and she replied that yes, he was. I was pretty dumbfounded. It was late on in our holiday, only a valuable day or so left and we were all very busy, so I never got around to nipping over to Solva to announce myself; something I’ve always, never having been one to ‘seize the moment’, regretted. It would have been a good meeting, and a sure surprise for Ceri. Since then I’ve discovered that Ceri had, like Patrick Thomas, moved on to greater things, becoming the Archdeacon of Carmarthen, then Dean of St. Asaph Cathedral. I discovered something else, too – that his name was not Ceri Goldstone as it had implanted itself in my boyish mind, but Kerry Goulstone. That’s understandable; the Ceri / Kerry bit, and with my Llanelli accent (of which D. Parry-Jones in his Welsh Country Upbringing was so very little enamoured) easily taking the ‘Goulstone’, aurally, as ‘Goldstone’ with a decommissioned medial ‘d’. Was that some kind of a minor premonition, back in my boyhood, some thought process over which I had no control, saying to me, perhaps, ‘This small exchange of greetings is unimportant now – but keep it safe, because at some time in the future you will have the opportunity to meet this person again’; and adding ‘but alas, knowing your foolish, natural reticence, you will miss it’. Hmmm… What was that some person or other in Denmark once said to another named Horatio?

Some of my most joyful memories are of sitting, during winter evenings, around a coal-fire in a darkened back-kitchen, singing all those old Welsh hymns – Tadcu, Mamgu, my Uncle Ieuan, and me. (I’ve intimated this in Vaunt Courier [The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion Aug-Oct 2019] ). Tadcu in his strong, coal-mine deep bass; Ieuan in his rich baritone; Mamgu and me in our lighter fashion. At certain points in the hymns I would catch their eyes out of the very zest and enjoyment of the singing, and they would return the glance with understanding smiles of their own lighting their eyes. And we sang the very same songs that they had sung when they gathered round their own fires up in those remote hill-farms about Llanfynydd back in the days of Morgan Rhys Cilycwm…

4 thoughts on “The View from the Top of the Mountain

    1. Diolch yn fawr iti, Viv. There’s still a place for rhyme, I think. I purposely didn’t dwell too much in the notes on the top-heavy settler ownership of farm and village properties in that lovely hill-country; it would have left a nasty taste. I could have, because I felt it all. Anyway, praise be to the land and to all those who lived in it and worked it and were deep-down part of it, and through whom our own lives are fondly and still strongly linked. Cyfiawnder!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I absolutely love the poem – it’s choc-o-bloc with all the things, I love, of course, rhyme and rhythm not to mention alliteration and wonderful imagery. Thanks for the mention in your fascinating notes. Now I know where the name ‘Felinfoel’ comes from – and your musings on chance encounters would make a poem in themselves. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jacydo. Happy that you liked the notes, too. I seem to get carried away by notes these days, and mention the most peculiar of memories, and when I do, just hope that they find a home in some interested mind. ‘Felinfoel’ … yes, now not many people are aware of how the place got its name – even among its residents, I’d say.

      Like

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