Have you been to the boat-house
there in Laugharne?
It’s dark there now,
Someone (not Dylan)
left crunched-up paper
(not Dylan’s) on the floor;
and someone too (not Dylan)
stood a big brown bottle
(not Dylan’s) on the desk.
But above the place
the leaves of Wales still celebrate;
and down below,
in every slapping son of a wave
there still abides a story.
Note: Today, May 14, apparently, is ‘International Dylan’s Day’. I visited his writing cabin in the early ‘90s. It was a fine summer’s day; the waters of the estuary were coruscating in silver, and the other side dawdling in browns and greys. The cabin rested in the shade, and I peeped in through the glass-topped door (was it glass-topped when Dylan busied himself in there, I wondered?) His desk was there, his chair thrust back as though he had just vacated it… but it was a tourist-arranged poet’s den, calculated to have them murmur of the great man, ‘Look. There’s the bottle he used to swig from as he wrote, still there… and look how he scrunched up the bits of poetry he was dissatisfied with, and chucked them on the floor!’ etc., etc. Nice for the visitors’ imaginations, of course … Still, it was good to have seen the place. And what a place to be given in which to write! Sylvan, tranquil, water-lapped… So for me, on that day, two things were juxtaposed – the beautiful location together with its association with the poet and his work; and how it had been bothersomely improvised. This is what I’ve tried to portray, and am happy to end on the positive side. It was a peaceful place enfolded in its past of quiet, green Welsh centuries.
I’ve used the phrase ‘son of a wave’ with purpose, not only with reference to the wavelets which lapped below the cabin, but to apply to Dylan himself. It’s a term which suits him well, I feel. It comes from the Fourth tale of the Pedr Keinc y Mabinogi / ‘Four Branches of the Mabinogi’, ‘Math vab Mathonwy’, where the birth of ‘Dylan eil Tôn’ / Dylan son of a Wave’ is described. Dylan was the son of Gwydion and Arianrhod and the separated twin of the hero of the story, Lleu Llawgyffes. He was quickly baptized, upon which he immediately escaped into the sea. There is a close parallel to this story in Irish mythology (indeed, many aspects of ‘Math vab Mathonwy’ find their origin in earlier Irish counterparts). Here is Dylan’s birth, baptism, and escape to the sea as described in the White Book version, first in that text’s Middle Welsh, then in English translation:
‘“Ie,” heb y mab Mathonwy, “mi a baraf vedydyaw hwnn … sef enw a baraf arnaw, Dylan.” Bedydyaw a wnaethpwyt y mab, ac ual y bedydwyt, y mor a gyrchwys, ac yn y lle y gyt ac y doeth yr mor, anyan y mor a gauas, a chystal y nouyei ar pysg goreu yn y mor. Ac o achaws hynny y gelwit ef Dylan Eilton… ‘
‘ “Yes,” said the son of Mathonwy, “I will have this child baptized… and the name I will give him is Dylan.” The boy was baptized, and as he had been baptized, he went to the sea, and straightway, as soon as he came into the sea, he received the sea’s nature, and as well did he swim as the best fish in the sea. And for that reason, he was called Dylan-like-a-Wave… ‘
Text and translation are those of W.J.Gruffydd, who did much pioneering work on the Four Branches. His source for what appears above was the Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch / ‘The White Book of Rhydderch’, which contains the earliest version of the story. I apologise for not providing more detailed information for those readers who might be unfamiliar with these early mediaeval Welsh tales, but am in something of a hurry to get this post out as close to ‘International Dylan’s Day’ as possible. I bought my copy of W.J. Gruffydd’s Math vab Mathonwy in a small bookshop in one of Cardiff’s arcades way back in the ‘70s. It was priced at two pounds, and I remember complaining to my brother-in-law, David Harries, who was with me at the time, that I thought it was a bit overpriced (I had not much money with which to buy books in those days). I no longer think it overpriced – it’s the 1928 First Edition, and is Ex Libris J. Llywelyn-Williams, a Welsh historian whom I greatly admire; his signature is on the fly-leaf.