Cradles Big, Cradles Small

The Cradles
(From the French of Sully Prudhomme, 1839-1907)

The great ships lie at the quayside,
lulled to-and-fro by the swell,
oblivious of little cradles
rocked by female hands.

But… there comes a day of parting,
when those women are bound to weep –
when adventurous men will be tempted
by horizons beyond their reach.

And on that day, aboard great ships,
when the homes they have left look so small,
men will feel themselves drawn landward again
by the cradles’ distant call.

By the cradles’ distant call.

Les Berceaux

Le long du quai les grandes vaisseaux,
Que la houle incline en silence,
Ne prennent pas garde aux berceaux,
Que le main des femmes balance.

Mais viendra le jour des adieux,
Car il faut que les femmes pleurent,
Et que les homes curieux
Tentent les horizons qui leurrent!

Et ce jour là les grandes vaisseaux
Fuyant le port qui diminue,
Sentent leur masse retenue
Par l’â me des lointains berceaux,

Par l’â me des lointains berceaux.

(From ‘Journeys in Time’)

Note: This is something of a free translation, and while I would normally strive to keep every important word (and many lesser items, even articles, conjunctions, etc.,) in the received language intact, I found it impossible with Prudhomme’s beautiful economy of words.  So above, much of the meaning is transferred by sentiments expressed within lines rather than individual words used. (To an extent this is done in more precise translation). In stanza 1 I’ve used ‘lulled’ instead of ‘swayed’ or a similar word, to describe the motion of ships at anchor, the intention being to connect the accidental movement of the ships with the causative action of the cradles. The method may be seen again in stanza 3, where ‘the homes they’ve left look so small’ is substituted for ‘the view of the port recedes’.

The rhyme-scheme of the translation is abcb. In the final line of stanza 1, though, try as I might, and I spent a considerable time on it, I could not for the life of me, by substitution, omission, or any other device, come up with anything to replace rocking by a mother’s hands (‘hands’ being the insurmountable difficulty). I honestly think that it would take a very, very good translator to come up with anything other than what Prudhomme so simply states, and I mean a translator who is also a poet – as a good many, sadly, although claiming to be such or claimed to be so by publishers or critics, most emphatically are not. I refer more specifically to translators in my own main field of experience, which is Classical Chinese.

Looking at the rhyming of stanza 1 again, there are ways in which it could be achieved – finding, for example, an alternative to what appears to be a quite necessary ‘swell’ in line 2 which would rhyme with the seemingly irreplaceable ’hands’ in line 4. This would almost certainly require a change of the word-order in line 2; I’ve attempted this, but nothing absolutely suitable has presented itself. Another possibility is in the transposition of lines 1 and 2 (another legitimate process in normal translation). It is Prudhomme’s straightforward and effective simplicity which warns against adopting these strategies; what is there that would not infringe upon his charming minimality?

Further to the comparison between ships and cradles, donkey’s y/ears ago I did a whole lot of research and over a long time on oared fighting ships, i.e., galleys from 500 BCE or so to a demise which came as late as our not-so-distant 19th century. In the case of the classical Greek trireme of the Piræus and the subsequent Roman types, the banked oars protruded almost exclusively directly from the hull, while the later, 13th century+ mediæval vessels of France, Spain, Venice, and others of the great Mediterranean powers used a superstructure above the gunwales to accommodate the rowers. This was essentially an outrigger – but what an outrigger It was a huge rectangular box resting lengthwise and beamwise atop the hull ; it went by various names at various times, the later and favourite of mine being the telaro (Italian or Spanish, I think). Where one of the special terms is not used, this is called the ‘rowing frame’. For its use in my never-to-be-finished long story The Armoured Isle, though, I adopted, instead, ‘rowing cradle’ (now whether I had seen this term used somewhere or whether it was an invention of mine at the time I can’t remember, but think the latter. A coincidence, when many years later I came across Prudhomme’s poem.

Those great galleys of the 15th-18th centuries were superb craft, and the wonderful reconstruction of Don John’s great flagship at Lepanto can be seen at Barcelona’s Maritime Museum. Once,  while on a day’s visit to Barcelona I naturally went along to see it, but on that particular day, to my great chagrin, it was as W.C. Fields’ Philadelphia – it was closed. (I did spend the better part of an hour, though, creeping around the perimeter of the huge glass case within which it is housed, peeping in and marvelling. There is much, and much that is surprising, that can be said about those great galleys of the period. They finally ended up, as most will know, as the prison hulks of Marseilles and Toulon, as Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean (Les Miserables) and Eugene Süe’s Rodolph (Les Mystères de Paris) knew only too well.

A Rude Awakening

How Nogood Boyo’s 4th Great-Grandfather, in the Small Hours of 19th March,
1798, had to Resort to Some Quick Thinking and was Thereafter Subject to an Agonizing Wait

The Spirit of the Vasty Deep
came and plucked me out of sleep.
He swooped across black plains of space
and wrapped dark folds about my face;
and in a voice sepulchral, dread,
quoth ‘I am the Lord: and thou art Dead’.

Nay, Lord’, quoth I (with my long-johns on)
and feeling wondrous live and strong,
‘Thou came’st as Saviour; this I see.
For in my sleep had come to me
a hellish dark nightmarish dream
(before Thou arrive’st upon the scene).
To hellish dark nightmarish men
was I delivered – unto them.
But Thou step’st up behind me then
with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and – Ben,
and all the angels in Thy team,
and an awful power and a light serene
did smite those hellish nightmare men
who cast lots for my body, when
I lay there quaking, sure to go,
but Thou, O Lord, did open the door.
Nay, Lord, I’m alive’, quoth I, ‘not dead.
See’st not I’m sitting on my bed?
And mine eyes see light and my heart doth beat,
and the good earth firm beneath my feet?
And the clock ticketh on? And the cock doth bellow?
– and I hear my neighbour berating his fellow –
and my breath’s on the casement, and I smell wild thyme…
and they’re getting impatient at the front of Thy line!
Thou made’st a mistake!‘ quoth I, afeared,
and mine eyes aburst with salty tears.
‘They entered my sleep. I was beat and bound.
They diced for my soul – but now I’m found
Thou made’st a mistake’, countered I to Him.

He surveyed. He frowned. He looked all grim.
And not all the fiends in my dark dream’s den
could have scared me more than He scared me then –
for the look of the Lord was the look of doom,
of his cohorts cant’ring the Vale of Gloom,
sable the steeds, black nostrils aflare,
flanks a-shiver, wild eyes a-glare,
hoofs striking brimstone, spilling sparks,
traversing the floor of that valley stark.
Long, long He looked from all His darkling throng.
Intransigent as stone. The clock ticked on.

‘Thou made’st a mistake… ‘ An echo of my mind
alone – no voice. Then the Lord did sigh. 
The sigh of the Lord was the wind that roars
from the uplands in winter down to our doors
and lifts the latch and the bolt doth rattle,
as though demons without prepare for battle;
that whines through the farmyard and blasts the byre
and reddens the ashes low in the fire;
that huddles the sheep on the bald hillsides;
that knocks and taps in the ancient mines.
‘Thou made’st a mistake…‘ pulsed my foolish heart,
                    alone in hope – not mine.
Intransigence. Hope gone. ‘Then dear Lord – ‘ groped I,
‘ – grant unto your son one smile?‘

A-sudden, did I fancy then some shimmer in all that
                    deathly gloom
as first light, stealthy stranger, creeps into a room
unbidden? Unbid, but joyous – in a space
to banish ghastly darkness to some other time,
                    some other place,
and sudden, astounded by the dawn, the day is live?
And the Lord, the Lord, and did he smile?

Oh! The smile of the Lord was the ripple that grows
on the sea’s twilight waters and turns it to gold;
‘twas the flash of the dew on the grass in the morn
when the air is a-tremble as bird-song is born;
‘twas the sheen and the silver of clouds as they run
in the high open spaces about the old sun …
Yea, a-sudden, astounding as the dawn, pity sundered
                    that almighty face,
and turning to his host, quoth the Lord, with grace:
‘Matthew, Mark, Luke, and – Ron;
get back to bed… with thy long-johns on’.

[From ‘Welsh Past and Present’]

Italian Interlude

Messer Paolo Gianocci Recalls Labarra
(Northern Italy, c.1565).

From plains of candled asphodel
the Titian mountains soar
to raise their haughty, serried heights
against empyrian’s door;
and up their cheeks and shoulders
the grey-blue pinewoods climb,
but brushstrokes in the distance,
and hazy strokes, and fine.
While crowded in the plainfold
mimosa’s bolder hues
compete with dark acacia
and juniper; and strewn
with darkest ivies
the ancient farmhouse stands,
a monument to crowded time
in a time-enshrouded land.
God bless the ancient farmhouse –
God bless the people there.
And look! The crimson dragonfly
now rides Labarra’s air!

[From Journeys in Time]

Nothing is known of Paolo Gianocci other than what appears in a letter of Donato Selimbeni of Siena, physician to Cardinal Legate Pandolfo de’Nerli in the year 1532. In this later letter Messer Selimbeni mentions Gianocci as a friend of Pompeo del Bene, painter and organist of Florence, and that Gianocci was a native of the region about Lake Garda. From this brief I have constructed the backdrop to the poem, in which Paolo, in conversation with Pompeo,  revisits his boyhood home of Labarra (the place-name is invented for the poem, and the date 1565 from juggling with what very scant evidence exists for Salimbeni and del Bene) perhaps while both were contemplating an actual or planned work by the artist.

Asphodel:  Although it entered the English language via a different path, ‘daffodil’ (Middle English affodil ) derives from the same etymological root (i.e., Greek asphodelos) as ‘asphodel’. As the daffodil  (Welsh cennin Pedr, ‘Peter’s Leek’) is one of the two national plant emblems of Wales – indeed, it has become the national flower – readers might find this linguistic connection to be of interest. The Yellow Asphodel, or ‘King’s Spear’ would slot very nicely into the picture.

I began looking into the etymology of the asphodel around thirty or more years ago in connection with my (still unfinished!) story The Armoured Isle, to which references (notably several poems) have previously appeared in ‘The Ig-Og’. Specifically the connection is with a locality in the story which was part of a larger region of volcanic ash known as ‘The Plain of Candles’ from its profusion of tall asphodel ‘candles’. Now the above-mentioned Greek asphodelos/*hasphodelos derives ultimately from spodos, ‘ash’, and the principal source of my then research – a real, live, old-fashioned, hold-in-the-hand book, I might add – appropriately and picturesquely suggested that from its ashen-grey leafage and yellow bloom the name would mean ‘emberflower’. It was both surprising and pleasing to find how neatly this explanation fitted in with my imaginary scenery. The ‘Asphodel Meadows’ figure in Greek mythology as a region of the underworld reserved for a certain class of souls of the departed, and which might find reflection in the later Christian half-way-house’ of ‘Purgatory’.

The Inheritance of the Peasant Girl (1)

This is an interim post, as I haven’t posted any poems for some weeks now and wanted to get this to my readers before Christmas. The poem will be posted again at some time in the near future, next time complete with notes. Nadolig Llawen i bawb!

The Inheritance of the Peasant Girl

She laughed
and all the honesty of centuries
cascaded to the air.
And I was struck,
arrested by the wonder of that sound,
to think that there were, still, women such as she –   
incomparably good and honest women,
capable of such love
and inward strength
and pure compassion – 
and that all this that I knew lay within her
had lived within those that came before her,
and could be revealed by a single moment
of such guileless spontaneity;
could keep alive, like this, the riches of our unknown kin;
bequeath to us the voice of all the ages.

(From ‘Mysteries: Poetic Reflections on Womankind and Love’)


I’ll Not Forget
(From the French of Charles Baudelaire)

I’ll not forget, close to the town,
our little white house… so tranquil it was,
with its statue of Venus and the goddess of fruits,
their charms partly hidden by spindly leaves.
And the sunbeams at evening, streaming, superb,
through the panes of the window seemed to scatter like spray.
That great, curious eye, that inquisitive sky,
which quietly, silently, watched as we dined,
spreading wide their reflections in a candle-light glow
on our delicate linen and curtains of serge.

Je n’ai pas oublié, voisine de la ville,
Notre blanch maison, petite mais tranquille;
Sa Pomone de plâtre et sa vieille Vénus
Dans un bosquet chétif cachant leurs membres nus;
Et le soleil, le soir, ruisselant et superbe,
Qui, derrière la vitre oùse brisait sa gerbe,
Semblait, grande oeil ouvert dans le ciel curieux,
Contempler nos dîners longs et silencieux,
Répandant largement ses beaux reflets de cierge
Sur la nappe frugale et les rideaux de serge.

(From ‘Journeys in Time’)


This 2022 edition of Remembrance Day poetry is actually the third, and not the second in the series as advertised above. This is because when the 2020 edition, which was the first, was posted there had been no decision to adopt the ‘Eleventh Hour… ‘ as a series title. You will find the 2020 Remembrance Day poetry under the title Carnage and Aftermath.

This issue features the work of two guest poets. First we have Eric Bowen’s ironic repartee to WWI poet Herbert Asquith’s 1912 The Volunteer. Then follows Jenni Wyn Hyatt (Williams)’ translation from the Welsh of WWI poet Hedd Wyn’s 1917 Rhyfel / War.

The notes which accompany the poems are, this time, accompanied by one or two diversions – slightly picturesque, perhaps, Shakespearean and otherwise – which I trust will be found acceptable. One thing led to another, and the path strayed a little from the entirely solemn.

Herbert Asquith’s poem The Volunteer

Here lies a clerk who half his life had spent
Toiling at ledgers in a city grey,
Thinking that so his days would drift away
With no lance broken in life’s tournament
Yet ever ‘twixt the books and his bright eyes
The gleaming eagles of the legions came,
And horsemen, charging under phantom skies,
Went thundering past beneath the oriflamme.

And now those waiting dreams are satisfied.
From twilight to the halls of dawn he went;
His lance is broken; but he lies content
With that high hour, in which he lived and died.
And falling thus, he wants no recompense,
Who found his battle in the last resort
Nor needs he any hearse to bear him hence,
Who goes to join the men of Agincourt.

‘The Volunteer’ Revisited

And in his final hour, twixt life and death
He contemplates the folly of his dream
How duped, he spent his courage, strength, and breath
In serving some conceited prince’s scheme.

And falling thus, he sees too late of how
The glories of our mighty nations rise:
Not through the wars, the mindless battles now,
But builders’ hands with guidance of the wise;

How humble word on word, and brick on brick
Together raise our cities to their height;
One single entry in his ledger thick
Adds more to life than any bullet’s flight.

Eric Bowen

Hedd Wyn’s poem Rhyfel

Gwae fi fy myw mewn oes mor ddreng,
A Duw ar goll ar orwel pell;
O’i ôl mae dyn, yn deyrn a gwreng,
Yn codi ei awdurdod hell.

Pan deimlodd fyned ymaith Dduw
Cyfododd gledd i ladd ei frawd;

Mae swn yr ymladd ar ein clyw,
A’i gysgod ar fythynnod tlawd.

Mae’r hen delynnau genid gynt
Ynghrog ar gangau’r helyg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt
A’u gwaed yn gymysg efo’r glaw.


To live with turmoil is my fate;
God’s far away – His voice is still,
and men, of low and high estate
impose their own nefarious will.

On sensing God no longer near
men lost no time in starting war;
the sound of battle’s in our ears;
it casts its shadow on the poor.

Harps that would once have soothed the mind
hang, silent, in the willow copse;
and young men’s cries now haunt the wind;
blood mingles with rain’s teardrops.

Jenni Wyn Hyatt (Williams)

Herbert Asquith (1881-1947) was the son of British Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, whose office extended into the war years 1915-16, after which he was succeeded by David Lloyd George (* he knew my father. In fact, a popular song was composed to celebrate the friendship, with lyrics, though, which are exceptionally difficult to master). A captain in the Royal Artillery, Herbert Jr. served on the Western Front throughout the war years. Among his war poems are Nightfall and After the Salvo. The poem which appears here, however, was written some years before the start of the war, in 1912, when young Asquith was, like his protagonist in his poem, working among ledgers in the drab surroundings of a City law office. The poem tells us nothing of the reality of war; the hecatomb of which no-one had an inkling was yet to come – the carnage on such a vast scale, the barbed-wire forests, the vicious chatter of machine guns, the rats’ life in the trenches, the cadaver-littered craters, the mad, suicidal forward hurl through mud, bullets and blood to gain mere yards… the mind of the time was more geared to past, smaller-scale colonial escapades. Sword and lance, though the military scene was undergoing change, were still held in esteem. No, the poem tells us only of cavalry and lances, the glorious satisfaction of dying for companions and country, and as ever for the Englishman, the looking back, through minds inebriated by that fine Shakespearean account, to the field at Agincourt. Which the French, with wistful nods, were won’t to call ‘The Picardy Affair’.

Ah, Shakespeare… Did you mention the Welsh archer companies in your play, Wil? I don’t recall. Never mind. I know you had trouble with the old unvoiced alveolar lateral fricative, though, gave up trying to say ‘Llywelyn’ and decided on ‘Sue-Ellen’ or something of the sort, instead. 🙂 Something else I should mention about Wil, too, and that’s, surprising as it may seem to literary aficionados and especially to his admirers, that he actually had a problem with his feet. We’ve all heard of those smallest metrical units, the iambus, trochee, dactyl, etc., the ‘feet’ which give poetry its rhythm. Well, not those. I’ll tell you. It’s like this: When Shakespeare Wil took up his quill, okay, he gave us all a treat. But no-one knows that his greatest foe lay at his very feet – that the famous bard (his work unmarred) was plagued by sweatsome piggies; that there issued an odour that would bowl folk over from his littlies to his biggies. But genius perturbed will oft ungird divine poetic beauty – so he flourished his quill, did Shakespeare Wil, and did his bardic duty, and he penned those words you’ve so often heard, sublime, immortal, sweet: that toes, by any other name, would – truly – smell like feet. Well, that’s enough lambasting of Wil – Wil ‘Dallas’ Shakespeare. that is. Treat it as payback for all his lampooning caricatures of Glyndwr and Llywelyn by means of which he exploited for his audience the typical view of the English toward the Welsh during his day. We must also ask ourselves whether it’s changed much. Whatever, here’s to genuine, harmless, friendly banter; may it never be misconstrued.

To be serious, though… ! And to get back to Asquith. What is expressed in this poem is no more than naive romanticism, naive patriotism. But we must ask ourselves this: Was Asquith expressing his own thoughts, or projecting the thoughts of his young clerk-wannabe-cavalryman? Or both? Living, and sharing with his readers the young clerk’s dream of glory, but aware, and in his way warning, that death around the corner was always a reality? Do his lines contain the sense that tragedy underlies all the heroic romanticism? If this can be seen to be so, then the poet who wrote The Volunteer – not the volunteer himself – and the poet who has provided this alternative ending can be said to agree. Eric Bowen’s revisitation of the poem and his version of the young clerk-cavalryman’s dying thoughts give us an insight into this. Stylistically, the revisit echoes the elevated style of the original poem, using the same iambic pentameter, a similar rhyme-scheme, and the inversions of yesteryear as in ‘city grey’/ ‘ledger thick’ almost never used in poetry today unless for archaic effect.

Excursus: Eric wrote this rejoinder to Herbert Asquith’s poem as an answer to a challenge – a humorous jab with which he was presented when The Volunteer was sent to him online by a mutual friend of us both. This was Sergeant-Major Williams (not the Sergeant-Major Williams of ‘Oh, dear. How sad. Never mind’ fame, but another who came pretty darn close). This was CSM (Company Sergeant-Major) Gareth Williams, RWF (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) which was also my old regiment – and stick around, dear reader, as there’ll be more about this famous regiment, the 23rd Regiment of Foot, to come. Gareth, a native of Ynys Môn, served in Afghanistan and stayed on for a number of tours of duty when he took up a senior position on contract with an organization with responsibility for internal security in the country; much to do with processing intel, it seemed to me. In those days, if you’d ever wish for a pleasant walkabout in Kabul, Gareth would provide you with an AK-47-toting escort. But should you joke with him about his being ‘Sergeant-Major Williams’ he would shrug and say ‘No. There was only ever one Sergeant-Major Williams’. Gareth exited Afghanistan not long before the ensuing deluge, the callous and disastrous debacle, the desertion of the invaded country’s people when after 20 years of destruction the word among the victors had morphed into ‘Let’s make a deal and get the hell out of here!’ and the country was simply ditched and handed back to its former masters. A matter of hardly months later he was in Germany, in partnership with his former RWF Company Commander, recruiting volunteers, it seems, for what was apparently to be the next upcoming ‘show’. Don’t tell me that these things happen all of a sudden and nobody knows anything about them – well, except for the passive, patriotic populace, which, just as in 1914, lives on the daily diet of what is deemed fit for it. In that respect we’re back to the xenophobic atmosphere of the prelude to WWI, with protracted tensions being manufactured and the orchestrated equivalents of Archdukes being assassinated. Wars between major powers don’t begin spontaneously; they have to be instigated before they erupt. And the instruments of instigation are posturing and provocation; and the driving force behind these is the ‘King of the Castle’ mentality. Look back to what preceded the events of 1914; then look at more recent history. And be prepared to beat the drum slowly, again and again and again and again.

What this leads on to, though, is that I once almost – almost I say – met up with the real Sergeant-Major Williams – Welsh actor Windsor Davies, and it came about like this: At the time we lived in Essex, England, about 18 miles north of London. I was the Secretary of a small branch of Plaid Cymru which had been formed there, and used to fairly regularly attend meetings in London, where I had a good friend in John ap Rhys. Once, John came down to visit us in Tyddewi for a few days, and we did a lot of canvassing for Plaid in Fishguard. John then wanted to do some more in Carmarthen, but with everything arranged I had to opt out at the last moment due to feeling ‘under the weather’, so John went on his own to meet other friends of his in Carmarthen. Then on the way back he and one other – I can’t remember how – got stranded on the way to Llandeilo, and ended up in the evening at Llangadog, where they made their way to the Black Lion (pretty sure it was the Black Lion; that’s the one I remember from Llangadog, main street, and it’s only a small place). And what a story he had to tell when I saw him… one that made me green with envy and cursing that I’d not accompanied him to Carmarthen that day. Because the Black Lion was chock-a-block full of a merry band – there, going full belt that evening were actors Windsor Davies, Ray Smith, Philip Madoc and all the crew who had been filming the TV series of Richard Vaughan’s Moulded in Earth. So that places us in the summer of 1965. Ray we both knew well as he had been our Chairman at Plaid’s Rhanbarth Llundain, Philip Madoc I had been out with once to an Essex pub when we had both gone to see the Pendyrus Male Voice Choir perform locally (strange thing is that Philip’s address (he lived at the time in another town in Essex) and mine were almost identical; mine was 67 (Something) Croft – I won’t give the exact name as the house is no longer ours – and his was 67 (Something else) Croft, and the ‘Something’ and the ‘Something else’ were both of one syllable with the same vowel sound, like, say, ‘Stile’ and ‘Fyle’, the only real difference being the name of the town; extraordinary, I thought). Yes, those two were there, and then to top it all, Windsor ‘Sergeant-Major Williams’ Davies! And I had missed out on this happy meeting; what joyous company that would have been; I could have cried. Anyway, to some nowadays those names will not mean very much; but to those of us of a certain age they will be still remembered. All appeared in dozens of TV series and films. I remember Ray mostly as burly prize-fighter Dai Bando in How Green was my Valley; Philip Madoc mostly for his lead role in The Life and Times of David Lloyd George; and who could forget Windsor Davies as the magnificent, flamboyant Sergeant-Major Williams in It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum!’ Well, that’s the standard meandering extra-poetry excursion familiar to my regular readers done with.

Hedd Wyn (1887-1917) was the bardic name of Ellis Humphrey Evans, a native of Trawsfynydd, Meirionydd, Wales, and the first of eleven children of a farming family.. He started writing poetry at an early age, and by early manhood had become an accomplished poet, composing in Welsh but with a set interest in English Romantic poetry. He competed with much success in local eisteddfodau and on a national level, winning bardic chairs and being placed second at the 1916 National Eisteddfod. The onset of the Great War interrupted all this. At first there was in Wales no interest, as Robert Graves tells us in his wartime memories Goodbye to All That, of enlisting in support of any war effort; in rural, pacifist Wales of the 19th century leading into the 20th it was an alien notion. But as events in Europe intensified the pressure on all of Welsh society became greater; conscription was introduced; the chapels, around which Welsh communities were largely based, were persuaded to rally their congregations in answer to the call; things changed dramatically. Hedd Wyn’s (he is most usually known by his bardic name, which means ‘Blessed Peace’) young friends were conscripted into the British Army, and news began to reach home of their deaths. Hedd Wyn wrote a number of poems related to this. Congregations and communities were divided between pacifism and ‘patriotism’. Farming communities suffered as sons of military age were taken from their families and occupations to serve in the war. Although farming was a reserved occupation due to its importance to the ‘national’ economy, eventually the Evans family received notice from the War Office that they must provide one of their males of the requisite age, and this lot fell upon young brother Robert. Hedd Wyn, now approaching 30, made the decision to volunteer to serve in the ranks in order to spare his younger sibling.

So in February 1917 Hedd Wyn joined his regiment, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, to undergo basic infantry training. February… in March, barely weeks later and a very raw recruit, he was temporarily released, as were many others, on government orders to return to the important work on their home farms. It was during this almost two-month period that he worked on a poem, Yr Arwr, ‘The Hero’ which he intended to submit as his entry to the upcoming National Eisteddfod. Weeks later, in June, he found himself with his battalion, the 15th RWF, in France, and on the way to the front in Belgium. It was from a village in northern France that he posted the final draft of his entry to the National Eisteddfod, signing it, possibly under the influence of his French surroundings, under the nom-de-plume ‘Fleur-de-Lys’. By the end of July his battalion had reached the Ypres Salient in Belgium, and on the last day of that month, during the first hours of the first day of the bloody battle of Passchendaele, he was killed.

In September, six weeks after his death, the National Eisteddfod was held. According to ceremony, the name of the author of the winning entry was called, and the recipient was expected to claim the honour by standing up. The name called out by the Archdruid was ‘Fleur-de-Lys’. No-one stood up, of course. The name was called three times. Then it was solemnly announced that ‘Fleur-de-Lys’ was in fact Hedd Wyn – Ellis Evans of Yr Ysgwrn. The chair was ordered draped in black and given the name Y Gadair Ddu, ‘The Black Chair’. It was removed to his home at Yr Ysgwrn, where it stands and may be viewed by visitors today.

Everything happened very quickly for Hedd Wyn – his war experience was compressed into a short period between June, 1917, when he joined his battalion in France, and July, when he was killed in Belgium. It’s said that he worked on his copy of Yr Arwr while in France before posting it home, but he wrote no poetry during his short time in the trenches preceding his death During the early stages of the war, while he was home on the farm and war was beginning to affect people’s lives and news came of the death of young men he knew, he had been moved to write some verse on the conflict, the most well-known being Rhyfel, ‘War’ (a translation of which appears above by Jenni Wyn). His most ambitious work, Yr Arwr, the one which won him the National Eisteddfod chair, has a classical, highly literary theme favoured in the day.

He is well remembered. A bronze statue of him stands in his home village of Trawsfynydd. Much has been written about him in Wales in both Welsh and English. In 1992 a Welsh-language biopic, Hedd Wyn, which during the next year went on to capture a host of awards, was released. The film was based on a screenplay by Alan Llwyd, Welsh poet and translator. It’s an excellent production dealing with the ultranationalism of the state, the jingoism of the influenced segments of the public, and, naturally, there’s a love story too. It’s a moving story well told on film, well worth watching, and highly recommended.

Other Welsh-language poets of WWI

Among these were Albert Cynan Evans-Jones, Thomas Hughes Jones, Saunders Lewis, and Robert Williams Parry (who wrote Englynion coffa Hedd Wyn in memory of Hedd Wyn.

English-language poets of WWI of Welsh descent or with connections with Wales

These are of course more well-known. Among them were Robert Graves (RWF), David Jones (RWF) ‘Dai Greatcoat’ who was on the same section of the line at Passchendaele as Hedd Wyn, Wyn Griffith (RWF), Siegfried Sassoon (RWF), and Wilfred Owen (What? Not RWF, Wilfred? With an ancestral name like that and a native of a Welsh-speaking border town? An honorary ‘RWF’after his name for this man is a must. In Wales, he’s very much regarded as one of us).

Eric Bowen is a 67 year old American living in the majestically scenic North-west, between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. and in the shadow of the volcanic cone of Koma Kulshan (Mount Baker). His father’s stories about the family’s Welsh roots led him to join the Puget Sound Welsh Association and later to journey to Wales to find his ancestral village in Gower and attend the National Eisteddfod that year in Porthmadog. This visit led to his involvement in the campaign for the Welsh Assembly in the 1990s and three more extended trips to Wales.

Eric is thoroughly fluent in Welsh. He composes poetry in the language, and has put together a considerable repertoire of Welsh folk songs. The nearby Lhaqtemish Nation have invited Eric to perform at their Te-Ti-Sen cultural centre to give talks on Welsh songs and poetry, his Welsh heritage, and the question of unrepresented nations and minority languages.

His wife Sally shares his enthusiasm for both Welsh song and poetry and for long hikes in the surrounding Cascade Mountains. His daughters Rhiannon and Serena share his great enthusiasm for linguistics.

Jenni Wyn Hyatt (Williams) has appeared as a guest poet on The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion a number of times. A native of Maestêg in the western Valleys, she lived for long years in Aberystwyth, Wales, and in later years and at present, a village in the English Midlands.

Jenni writes in both Welsh and English. She has published two volumes of verse, Perhaps One Day (Rowanvale Books, 2017), and Striped Scarves and Coal Dust (R. Haigh & Sons, 2019), both with fine line drawings by illustrator Cathy Knight. Jenni has produced a prolific amount of poetry, and is a regular contributor to poetry journals.

Most recently, and most fittingly for this issue of The Ig-Og, Jenni provided the literal translation from Hedd Wyn’s original Welsh for Michael Dante’s book adaptation of Hedd Wyn’s winning Eisteddfod ode, The Hero (Amazon, 2022). The whole of Jenni’s word-for-word translation appears in the book, along with her translations of seven other of Hedd Wyn’s poems. Like the families of all small communities scattered throughout Wales, Jenni has relatives who fell in The Great War, and has honoured them by a number of visits to their graves in France. She has also made the journey and paid tribute at Hedd Wyn’s resting place at the Artillery Wood Cemetery, Boezinge, Belgium.

Two for All Hallows

Brief Night-time Trip to Transylvania
(A Dream Related)

‘Tis though it were
– I warn you, sir! –
I was some dark immortal Lord,
and held all others in my thrall:
They slept. I gorged.
And now confess.

A red stain on my bed remains

Note: Now I confess to having modelled the final line of this poem on one from Gérard de Nerval’s sonnet El Destdichado (Sylvie – souvenirs du Valois):

‘The star upon my scutcheon long hath fled,
A black sun on my lute doth yet remain’.

These are the third and fourth lines of De Nerval’s sonnet, from Andrew Lang’s fine translation. The first four in particular I’ve always found most powerful and impressive. They, and not the remaining lines, are the ones which have stayed locked up in my mind for long years, anyway. 

Gèrard de Nerval was very much a lost soul. Walter Pater said of him: ‘He has been a sick man all his life. He was always a seeker after something in the world that is there in no satisfying measure, or not at all’. He was, in other words, a true poet. – one who was subject to ‘those wounded thoughts of poets and of madmen, whose doom it was to ever tread as exiles in the landscapes of mankind’. (And in mediaeval Wales – quite where stated I can’t recall – at day’s end, when castle or town gates were closed and guarded, admittance was allowed to only three kinds of person – a skilled craftsman, a poet, or a madman). Another literary critic close to his time described de Nèrval’s pursuit of the same essential qualities in the different women he met. Things de Nèrval wrote in his travel journals certainly testify to this; and undoubtedly, Sylvie, for him, stood as a paragon of unattainable and unrequited love. Balkis (the Queen of Sheba) appears also to be a manifestation of his ‘Sylvie’ in his cleverly-constructed and fascinating story The Tale of the Queen of the Morning and Soliman the Prince of the Genii. I’ve briefly mentioned this story in notes to a previous post in The Ig-Og, but can’t remember where. As I said then, it was intended as a follow-up to the long article which accompanied Song of the Shulamite Maid (‘The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion’May-July, 2021) and was to have dealt with the Ethiopian version of the Solomon and Sheba story in 1 Kings. But here we go with a meandering note again… so let’s not venture any further from the spookiness with which this item is supposed to be concerned.

(from the French of Charles Baudelaire)

Like an angel with a brutal eye
I’ll return to your chamber bye and bye
and, stealthy, glide up to your side
along with shadows of the night,

and, my dark one, give to you
kisses chilly as the moon;
caresses that are serpentine,
coiling round and round a tomb.

And when the blood-red dawn arrives,
you shall find my place is void –
and feel the cold till night is nigh.

Others might place their tender touch
upon your life and youth, my dear.
But I? I wish to reign by fear!

Le Revenant

Comme les anges à l’oeil fauve,
Je reviendrai dans ton alc
Et vers toi glisserai sans bruit
Avec les ombres de la nuit;

Et je te donnerai, ma brune,
Des baisers froids comme la lune
Et des caresses de serpent
tour d’une fosse rampant.

Quand viendra le matin livide,
Tu trouveras ma place vide,
Où jusqu’au soir il fera froid.

Comme d’autres par la tendresse,
Sur la vie et sur ta jeunesse,
Moi, je veux régner par l’effroi!

(From ‘Otherworld’)

Note: It is unfortunate for the lady in the poem to have experienced a visit from this ‘phantom which returns’ – this revenant incubus. Kisses and cuddles in the night are fine; but not in the ‘not nice’ spirit they are given here!

For the female equivalent of this night-time visitant – the succubus – well,a whole gang of them swoop down on some poor men trying to get a decent night’s sleep in The Stone  (‘The Igam Ogam Mabinogion’, Nov. 2019 – Jan. 2020). But forget about those succubi – it’s a quest poem. A noble quest. Concentrate on the quest.

She Beg She More


Crashing headlong
Over the stone-toothed hills,
In thrall of the chase,
Clawed feet dancing over the land
Like fingers on sitar-strings;

The earth is her fret-board,
Upon which she plays
The savage and triumphant song
Of her ancestors

The ground falls away beneath her
She weighs up fifteen feet
In one heartbeat,
The rhythm unbroken,
She plummets,
Pounds the road,
Leaps again,

And lands primly on a fence-post
I draw in my breath,
And, like a gunshot,
The head spins,
and the beautiful,
Merciless eye pierces me
I am not your master, cat

Am I, then, your equal?
Perhaps, we are equal in this;
We see through the tarmac,
The concrete and the lies

And I leave my words
Like dead mice
Upon the doorsteps of the world.

Steffan Balsom

Note (1):   Bastet. The Egyptian Goddess of Cats. Probably pronounced more like ‘Basta’. No giggling at the back. The feminine suffix -t tends to be swallowed, a little like our British ‘glottal stop’. This came to me as I watched a particularly well-formed cat thundering down the hillside: above all, the way it negotiated the wall, and the drop to the road beneath it, reined itself in, and glanced momentarily in my direction before continuing the hunt, down the hill and towards the sea. I’m more of a dog person, but I always appreciate perfection when I see it. [Steffan]

Note (2):   Apologies are offered to any gentlemen readers who might have been misled by the article’s main title, She Beg She More.  Let me explain: This comes from Sí Beag Sí Mhór, a tune for the harp attributed to brilliant, blind Irish harpist Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738). In Irish Gaelic, this is properly written (so I believe, and please correct me in the ‘Comments’ section if I’m wrong, as with anything else which pertains) as Sídhe Beag, Sídhe Mór, which may be translated as ‘Little Spirit, Big Spirit’, and refers to The People of the Goddess Dana. In Irish folklore especially, and in other Celtic cultures, these are those we have come to designate ‘The Fair Folk’ or ‘The Fairy Folk’ – in Irish, the Tuatha De Danann, or the Sidhe (pronounced ‘Shee’). So, as we have the great Egyptian goddess Bastet and her minuscule following, the multitudinous, mischievous race of the cat, we also have the great Irish Goddess Dana and her reportedly minuscule, mischievous race of ‘Faery’; in each case, – and as used in the title a late, popular corruption – it means (sorry, gents!) no more that ‘Little Fairy, Big Fairy’. I’ve seen it and similar variations used, particularly in the labelling of popular music of the ‘Celtic’ brand. On one CD, I noted that some enthusiastic but (unknowing?) musician took it a step further, and actually changed O’Carolan’s title to ‘She Begs for More’. Horrifying, but true. Same happened with the lovely Welsh melody Lisa Lân, ‘Fair Lisa’ on a CD I have. It’s a collection of English folk-music, and some bright spark has included among them this Welsh tune and changed Lisa’s epithet into a surname; she’s now Lisa Larne. Hopefully the culprit didn’t realize it was not an English tune, and/or had only heard the name, and not changed it after having seen the written form. Welsh bach and Irish beag, incidentally, are cognates, both meaning ‘little’, as are Welsh mawr and Irish mór, both meaning ‘big’.

O’Carolan’s big and little comes from two hills, situated close to each other and apparently one of lesser height than its companion, in County Leitrim, Ireland. If you haven’t heard O’Carolan’s harp pieces (there are very many) they are wonderful, and highly recommended. As far as reading goes, among the books on the subject with which I happen to be most familiar are W.Y Evans-Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries (1911), a classic thesis; Robert Kirk, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies (1690), an abstruse personal record; W. B. Yeats (ed.), Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, (1888), a representative folklore collection; and Maureen Duffy, The Erotic World of Faery (1972); despite its somewhat misleading  title, a meticulously researched, erudite study in the history and literature of ‘faery’ belief.

So here, in Steffan’s poem, we have the assured grace of the cat, and within its overtly painted movement and subtly suggested part-rhyme there moves alongside her (for this is surely a ‘she’) the unseen shadow-spirit of her ancient tutelary goddess. Like Steffan, I have to say, I’m more of a dog person. I did have a cat stay with me for a while. One of her first acts was to swipe a Ch’ing Dynasty bowl (late 18th century) off its high shelf. Smashed to smithereens. She was quickly on the alert, deftly dodged me, and was gone!  I remember thinking, as I picked up the pieces, ‘Why, the little… Bastet!’ She was a good-natured little old lady, though, and nimble enough on such occasions. If you want to know my real, tongue-ever-so-lightly-pressed-into-cheek opinion of the tribe, there’s Triptych contra Felix in the Feb.-Apr. 2021 section. [Dafydd]

Steffan has made several appearances on The Ig-Og, in:

‘The Funny Five Days’ (a Christmas medley)            
Nov. 2019-Jan. 2020

‘The East Wind and the Crow’(a review of Steffan’s 2019 book of the same title)
Nov. 2019-Jan. 2020

‘Strife on the Borders’ (Excerpts from Steffan’s metrical version of the celebrated Middle Welsh poem ‘Y Gododdin’)
May-Jul. 2021

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Month… (In memoriam: a selection for Remembrance Day)
Nov. 2021-Jan. 2022

Medley: The Sounds, Silence, and Scenery of Open Spaces

The seventeen short poems below are, apart from the first
one, a selection of ‘distillations’ – brief ‘Haikuesque’ pieces
intended, in the most minimal sequence of words, to express
the spirit of their subject. As is sometimes to be felt, such sounds, silences, and scenes
can emanate spectral as well as natural propensities.


No, nothing on the mountain
but shadows; and in the air
immensity, and silence – no bird,
no creature there, when
the last rays, pale and tired,
presaged the evening chill.

No soul in sight…
but voices,
echoes, queer and thin,
wavered in the spaces…

The stones remember, still.


Hist! There still abide
echoes of long-gone hymns
upon the bare hillside.


Wind walks; makes
grass talk; sends rumours
through the trees.


Chill sky. Leaves lie.
Wooded slopes stand clear and bare.
Echoes travel miles.


Weeds grow as they will.
The path that was can not be found.
No-one goes there now.

Hill Farm at Night

Log fire smoulders.
Talk murmurs on. Vast darkness
rules beyond the panes.


Darkness falls. Now
odd, terrestrial stars wake
on the mountainside.

Northern Night

Wild, windy dark.
The treetops clash. Serrated pines
tear up the moon.

Northern Sky

Air, chill and raw.
Up there the stars mass,
glittering like rime.

November Morning Climb

Carn Edeyrn top.
See, faint blue smoke from scattered farms
curls up.

On a Cold and Frosty Morning

Crows‘ croaking
admonitions cut through
lifeless air.


Amber tears flow from
the mountain pine. Wind sobs through
her tassels, and she sighs.


Mist on the mountain.
Faint calling of a shepherd
to his dogs.


Great shadows shift
above the lake – steel surface, vexed
by fits of rain.

Still Autumn Night

Stars shine; clear sky.
No breath stirs anything.
On earth, time rests awhile.


Uncertain dawn, with
sea and sky the same –
a dash of rain.

Winter Sky Inscribed

Naked trees
on grey – pale, fanned fossils
pressed in shale.

Flying Free

(from the French of Charles Baudelaire)

Above the lakes, above the vales,
mountains, woods, and clouds and seas,
beyond the sun and astral winds,
beyond remotest starry spheres

my spirit wanders with the utmost ease,
as the sturdiest swimmer revels in waves –
cleaves blithely through the boundless ways
with virile joy – exquisitely.

Fly! Far from all baneful pressures,
be cleansed in purest air.
Drink of its glorious nectar;
its lucid flame is everywhere.

Beyond all the cares and vexations
that weigh and obscure our lives,
happy the one who can steadily soar
through the peaceful fields of light –

the one whose thoughts, like skylarks,
in the morning sky take wing,
who skims over life and grasps with ease
the speech of flowers and voiceless things.

(From ‘Otherworld’ )


Au-dessus des étangs, au dessus des vallées,
Des montagnes, des bois, des nuages, des mers,
Par delà le soleil, par delà les éthers,
Par delà les confins des sphères étoilées,

Mon esprit, tu de meus avec agilité,
Et, comme un bon nageur qui se pâme dans l’onde,
Tu sillonnes gaiement l’immensité profonde
Avec une indicible et mâle volupté.

Envole-toi bien loin de ces miasmes morbides;
Va te purifier dans l’air supérieur,
Et bois, comme une pure et divine liqueur,
Le feu clair qui remplit les espaces limpides.

Derrière les ennuis et les vastes chagrins
Qui chargent de leur poids l’existence brumeuse,
Heureux celui qui peut d’une aile vigoureuse
S’élancer vers les champs lumineux et sereins;

Celui dont les pensers, comme des alouettes,
Vers les cieux le matin prennent un libre essor,
– Qui plane sur la vie, et comprend sans effort
Le langage des fleurs et des choses muettes!


I don’t have much time to read poetry these days, and am grateful to a good friend who every week or so sends me on-screen poems to read, – classic pieces by famous poets we all know, as well as poems by many another modern writer of whom I have usually never heard. These are easy to go to, and it’s handy to keep up with what’s going on. Today the poem was ‘Elevation’ by Charles Baudelaire. I’ve done a few of Baudelaire’s poems into English, and remembered that this was one of them. Thank you, up there in the Welsh north, Gill Brown!

The poem Gill sent was translated by Timothy Donnelly, whose version can be found on the Poetry Foundation site at < > .