We have a retired Vicar, living behind Stiwdio Maelor – a stooped, white haired man, lover of God and his country. We speak Welsh sometimes, though his voice is soft and my hearing so poor in the lower registers that I often fail to understand him. Oft times, we swap to English and I don’t mind so much. His wealth of local knowledge is too valuable to miss. On Sunday afternoon, when one of the artists staying at Stiwdio Maelor expressed a desire to see Tal-y-Llyn, he bundled us into the car and took us to the lake. He told us the real name, Llyn Mwyngll, and showed us his favourite vista from the Old Rectory garden. He pointed out the ancient mountain path from Corris to St Mary’s church, sold now, and ready to be turned into a B&B. It’s grounds so hallowed, people’s dreams will surely be haunted.
With him, I have shared my disappointment over the paucity of Welsh language church services in the area. How there is poetry in these mountains and, sometimes, I fancy the land laments the changing voices, the musicality of Welsh receding, further and further northwards. I tell him how sad this makes me feel, that I have been reading R. S. Thomas’ poetry.
Welsh Why must I write so? In Welsh, see: A real Cymro, Peat in my veins. I was born late; She claimed me, Brought me up nice, No hardship; Only the one loss, I can't speak my own Language - Iesu, All those good words; And I outside them, Picking up alms From blonde strangers. I don't like their talk, Their split vowels; Names that are ghosts From a green era. I want my own Speech, to be made Free of its terms. I want the right word For the gut's trouble, When I see this land With its farms empty Of flock, and the stone Manuscripts blurring In wind and rain. I want the town even, The open door Framing a slut, So she can speak a Welsh And bear children To accuse the womb That bore me.
Ah, he said, R. S. Thomas. He died a Welsh speaker, you know? I did know but still at times I feel his foment. When, I go into a shop and get snapped at for speaking Welsh. Yet when I look around at the people who have settled in Corris, I see community, caring, a different way a life, and there is beauty in that too. If not for these newcomers, the Vicar said, this town would be in ruins. Yet I know he mourns the loss of language too.
The next day in the cafe he handed me a poem. It’s by T. H. Parry Williams, he said. I have been working on a translation. To me, it sums up all the beauty and struggle and frustration.
Hon Beth yw'r it's gennyf i am Gymru? Damwain a hap Yw fy mod ar ei libart yn byw. Nid yw hon ar fap Yn ddim byd ond cilcyn o ddaear mewn cilfach gefn Ac dipyn o boendod i'r rhai sy'n credu mewn trefn. A phwy sy'n trigo'n fangre dwedwch i mi, Pwy ond gehilion o boblbach? Peidiwch, da chwi, A charger am uned a chenedl a gwlad o hyd: Mae digon o'r rhain, heb Gymru, i'w cael yn y byd. Rwyf wedi alaru ers talwm ar glywed grŵn Y Cymru, bondigrybwyll, yn cadw sŵn. Mi af am dro, i osgoi eu lleferydd a'u llen, Yn ôl i'm cynefin gynt, a'm dychmyg yn drên. A dyma fi yno. Diolch am fod ar goll Ymhell o gyffro geiriau'r eithafwyr oll Dyma'r Wyddfa a'i chriw; dyma lymder a moelni'r tir; Dyma'r llyn a'r afon a'r clogwyn: ac, ar fy ngwir, Dacw'r tŷ lle'm ganed. Ond wele, rhwng llawer a ne' Mae lleisiau a drychiolaethau ar hyd y lle. Rwy'n dechrau simsanu braid: ac meddaf i chwi, Mae rhyw ysictod fel petai'n dod drosof i; Ac mi glywaf grafangau Cymru'n dirdynnu fy mron, Duw a'm gwaredo, ni allaf dianc rhag hon.This What do I care about Wales? An accident Of birth finds me living in her little backyard. On a map she is a smudge on the fringes of land Spoiling the orderliness of things And the people, remains of past glories Don't talk to me of nations, or language or country, There's more than enough on the world without Wales. Sick and tired of the moaning extremists and their like I take a trip, my day dream the train That takes me to my childhood haunts And there I am lost Far from their words and complaints Look over there, the place I was born A desolate landscape, and there's Snowdon and friends, The lake, the rivers, the crags But between them and the sky, Voices and figures like phantoms appeal to me, And a weakness comes over me like a mountain mist, Dear God, for me, there is no escape from this.