Archive for wales

Moss Banks and Fading Heather

Summers Coming!

Summers Coming!

This poem is a gift to all those still living through winter, summer is ever on the way!x

The steaming moss banks and fading heather,
The land gently sloping away;
The call of sky larks hung in morning splendour
Breaking through the new day haze.

The lightening greens of summer promise,
The aching wait for the first fair day;
The coming of the heat wave and ice creams,
The loosening of our island ways.

The startled sheep as trains pass by,
Smoke clouds cloak holiday makers and sighs,
The people clutching hold of valleys,
Carving paradise into the hills.

The quietening of the countryside,
The wind is seldom raised to a breeze;
The snoozing in meadows and riverbanks,
The laughter over a picnic tea.

The dark water marks of winter recede,
The light comes pouring through;
Stride emboldened over dip and dale,
Deep in forests along new found trails.

There is a palpable ease
When the trees sway listless under brightened leaves;
There is a sense of inner peace
When the sun kisses our milky skins.

There is a rising of our dreams
As we are ironing this crease,
Where nature is a friend not foe
And each life a legend to behold.

May we harvest the essence of these times,
Store its energy as precious seeds inside;
Mark this very day as the tidal reverse,
A chorus springing straight from the heart.

We are arm in arm enraptured
By these early summer chapters,
Devoid of precious, sullied fears,
At this blessed time of year.

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Bardsey Island – The Island of 20,000 Saints

Yesterday we walked around the northern coasts of the Llyn Penisula (North Wales), braving the high winds and feral seagulls.  There is something quite dramatic about  the Llyn, with the trio of mountains (known as ‘The Rivals’) forming a gateway to a landscape dotted with remnants of ancient settlements and worship.  It seems that each time I visit the Llyn I am drawn deeper into its story.

At the tip of the Llyn Penisula we find Bardsey Island and there is definitely something about Bardsey.  In English its name refers to an island of bards, in Welsh (Yns Enlli) it suggests an island in the currents.  It sits like a small jewel off the tip of the jagged coast line and has been inhabited since neolithic times.  Bardsey has been a pilgrimage site for many years, three trips to Bardsey was the equal of a trip to Rome.  A hermitage has stood here since the earliest days of Christianity in Britain, although it has been knocked down a few times along the way.  Brave and devout souls floated over from France and Ireland on rudimentary rafts to preach the words they regarded to be true and lead this wild and untamed island nation away from sin, towards redemption.  These remarkable old saints, hermits and pilgrims were very wise, putting a little ocean between themselves and their rabid flock (although that didn’t help when the vikings showed up!).

The history of this isolated retreat is fascinating, its location stunning, but as usual, the myths and legends are what sets it apart and fuels the imagination to imbued a large rock with magical properties and some intangible, mystical allure.  20,000 saints are said to be buried on the island, making the soil rich and fertile.  It has even been claimed that Prince Arthur is buried in a cave there.  To get there, you still need to call a local chap in a small fishing boat to take you there and hopefully back.  If the weather flares up, you can be stranded on the island, where there is still no electricity.  It suggested that you draw up a will before visiting Bardsey, it is said that the Llyn extends into the ocean just as life extends into the unknown emptiness and once we have reached Bardsey, we are relieved of earthly cares (meaning we are now number 20,001).

What can be said about the allure of Bardsey, it seems so close from the shore, we feel that we could touch it, except it is far enough away for us to fall and perish in the fierce waves of the Irish Sea.  I see Bardsey Island as a metaphor for our spiritual journey through life, as we build a bastion from rocks and earth to hide us from the endless waves and commotion, deep inside our soul is ever drawing us deeper towards harmony, as we venture out into the raging oceans of calm and set sail into the blissful unknown.  One pilgrim wrote that Bardsey is “the land of indulgences, absolution and pardon, the road to Heaven, and the gate to Paradise” and on a day like yesterday, I can see why.

I have included some photographs and poetry that I hope captures something of these sentiments:

 

Bardsey Island in the distance

Bardsey Island in the distance

Gorse and Heather

Gorse and Heather

There is an island there is no going
to but in a small boat, the way
the saints went, travelling the gallery
of the frightened faces of
the long-drowned, munching the gravel
of its beaches. So I have gone
up the salt lane to the building
with the stone altar, and the candles
gone out, and kneeled and lifted
my eyes to the furious gargoyle
of the owl that is like a god
gone small and resentful. There
is no body in the stained window
of the sky now. Am I too late?
Were they too late also, those
first pilgrims? He is such a fast
God, always before us, and
leaving as we arrive.

There are those here
not given to prayer, whose office
is the blank sea that they say daily.
What they listen to is not
hymns, but the slow chemistry of the soil,
that turns saints’ bones into dust,
dust to an irritant of the nostril.

There is no time on this island.
The swinging pendulum of the tide
has no clock; the events
are dateless. These people are not
late or soon; they are just
here, with only the one question
to ask, which life answers
by being in them. It is I
who ask. Was the pilgrimage
I made to come to my own
self, to learn that, in times
like these, and for one like me,
God will never be plain and
out there, but dark rather, and
inexplicable, as though he were in here?

“Pilgrimages” by R. S. Thomas

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And that’s why I have to go back
to so many places in the future,
there to find myself
and constantly examine myself
with no witness but the moon
and then whistle with joy.
ambling over rocks and clods of earth,
with no task but to live,
with no family but the road.

Pablo Neruda

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We passed the ice of pain,

And came to a dark ravine,

And there we sang with the sea:

The wide, the bleak abyss

Shifted with our slow kiss.

Space struggled with time;

The gong of midnight struck

The naked absolute.

Sound, silence sang as one.

All flowed: without, within;

Body met body, we

Created what’s to be.

What else to say?

We end in joy.

The Moment – Theodore Roethke

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Alone on my wild island

Standing stone on top of Snowdon

Standing stone on top of Snowdon

Alone on my wild island
Edges awakened each dawn,
I stray a quiet path of discovery
And adore my jagged shores.

Alone in this wild love
Open to the seasons of joy,
Pure nature speaks, open wilderness creaks
Enriching such transient soil.

Alone in my wild cycle
Conditioned by unconditional force.
Why this solid seed?
In the oceans of forever thought.

Alone in the clay of my ancestors
Their wheeling rhythm a distant croak.
I strive to live to noble ends
And please the star filled smoke.

Alone in the wildflower thicket
It’s blossoming heals the trail of fear,
Unbidden, I am offered to invisible winds
Dancing patterns in clear dark.

Alone in my wayward spirit
That which guides my inner voice.
Aware of my shadow side
That which radiates delight.

Off the Rrhyd Ddu path, Snowdonia

Off the Rrhyd Ddu path, Snowdonia

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The Bed Of Dying Man

Image of Camelot, from the Mabinogion – Welsh Mythology

Sat low at the bed of dying man

In a wicker chair made for one.

Resting on the walls of the black fort

Smokes linger from the burner

And we shiver far from warmth.

 

Images of you flicker in the fire

With the sun on your face

Gold grey and filled with grace,

Wondering where is god’s hand

In all this pain unraveling.

 

Outside robins sing for seed,

There is no gate only hinges

And a seasons passing whispers.

Colder breezes settle in

With unknown shivers.

 

No more creaks this winter

Or fears to stomach with gin,

Your waistcoat is well worn

And floral woven.

Crafted from fine oak beams

The cracks in your face show a deeper

Grain,

As they burgeon with a new dawns light.

 

You are leaving this garden for good,

A flower returning to the womb speaking of

Unspeakable love,

As your noble heart murmurs briefly

In the sparkles behind your eyes,

No words are needed then.

 

You danced this merry dream

Wearing your soul on your sleeves,

Rolled up in aged orchards

And ever rolling on and on,

Just a ripple in the stream.

 

You marked this landscape

With your love.

Your impression was strong and true like

The noblest of footprints,

Like the grip of a woodsman

On the falling axe.

 

Your music left us

With your rocking chair still rocking

Which makes us cry

Because you sat there and read maps

And told tales.

 

Who rings that bell?

You gave more than you took

And shared your peace

Like a lamp shares light,

And loved each one as a brother,

Welcomed all to your fireside.

 

Oh merciful bow!

Brother you seek too much,

Reaching for broken arrows.

You were here too long,

Alas not long enough.

 

For Pete

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The Stone Circle

Nantlle Ridge - Snowdonia, North Wales

Nantlle Ridge – Snowdonia, North Wales

The key hangs from my neck
It swings with every step, an unborn
Fire lights my heart
That keeps the path from dark.

With great mystery about my mind
A trail of whispering seeds I find,
Only to walk on through burnt heather
That marks the struggle of mankind.

Forgotten,
Cold winds on my cheek
Awaken, the clouds that
Play with light;
That toy with shadows
That distinguish the distant
Edges of my life.

The floating raven marks the line,
Calling to the old land below.
Behold; in every rock a face
And each stone a soul.

The soft moss underground,
Lichen hints of colours to be found,
Which cushion the sound of speaking hills,
A blanket for a burial mound.

There is a broken egg shell
By the wild flower grave
And an old man whistles in the day
For his friends now further on.

A white cottage stands out
Like a pimple on this place,
Soils humming gently
A tune
Of other times lived in grace.

I am carried by these paths,
Lines drawn
Deep in my soul
Forming patterns within shapes
That one day I may call
Home.

Settling into pristine solitude
With the scent of
Broken earth
Still lingering in my vision
Of greater hands at work.

For the veil of darkness
Falls too quickly to
Forget,
A full moon that lights
One day lived without sunset.

Nantlle Ridge, Snowdonia, North Wales

Nantlle Ridge, Snowdonia, North Wales

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Bryn Teg (Fair Hill)

Reflections

Upon a stained window,

In yellow

The girls are dancing

For spring,

For love,

For sherbert

Lustrous in spins.

Above and beyond,

A homespun wisp

That casts a clue to azure.

Over thick soot chimney,

Illumined

White clouds daubed

In blue;

Ever moving,

Ever true.

Leaves gathered

By the emerald winds,

Dirty rags of hopeless yarns

Cleanse this mottled soul.

Dumbfounded

With hope

And empty-hearted brush strokes.

On slopes

Much heeded,

The fields they pass my eyes,

Blurred

In the shifting light.

Swaying wheat heads catch the tune,

Sweet sounds

Of golden reed flute,

And joy fills

The roots of our warm earth,

And the hills are steady drumming

And patterned with

Old harmonies.

Cool ponds hold

Pictures so clear,

Frosted water colours

Stained by tears,

Of the born and birth;

Living alone

To dance by fires,

Kicking dust to the forlorn,

And high;

Too high,

For the brightest of stars

And the deepest of night skies.

Shade

Leaping shadows,

A broadside,

A crook,

A stone juts

Stood out

On the land,

There are circles

on the crosses here.

Beneath the wings of a coal-black raven,

To a finely etched scene

Made of fleeting memories,

Of crows climbing in pairs

Suspended in mind shapes

Defined by the light

And the bloodshed,

There edges they glow

Above stone-walled station.

In flight;

Buzzards circle this splendour,

Perfect circles carved in empty skies,

Only they may soar

Ascending to make ladders

Where no ladders reached before.

Up to the springs of sacrifice,

On the borderline,

Closer to the sun.

Their hunted eyes mark

A greener gaze

Hung on warm vapour,

Full and ever watchful

Free to paint their minds.

In the hedges

Small rabbits, tiny birds,

Are speaking,

Behind a forest of honey gorse,

And only beating wings

And ticking of young hearts

Can pollute this time

On fair hill.

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The Poetry of R.S. Thomas

Taken near Porthmadog, where Thomas remains.

I am living in Wales and the poetry of R.S. Thomas has taught me more of what it is to be Welsh than any history book.

He lived most of his life in this area of Northern Wales and wrote about the people and land that surrounds us.  His poems speak of the fresh earth, the mist filled valleys, the bleak winters and aching beauty of the landscape; they are sparse and sometimes bitter.  This was to Thomas ‘the true Wales of my imagination’ although his later poetry was more metaphysical in nature.

Thomas was a spiritual man and believed in a free Wales (free of England that is); a Welsh speaking land, living in tune with the natural world.  He was a vicar for most of his life and lived in an almost ascetic manner.  He bemoaned the use of even basic technology like a washing machine or electric iron.  Thomas believed that materialism and greed would destroy communities and erode culture, epitomised by the English ‘invasion’ of Wales.  He condoned the fire-bombing of English owned holiday cottages but considered himself a pacifist and supported the CND.

Strangely, Thomas only learnt to speak Welsh later in life, spoke with a posh English accent and sent his son to private school in England.

A complex character and a brilliant poet.

The forest meets the shoreline, Portmeirion.

I have selected a couple of my favourites here:

A Welsh Testament

All right, I was Welsh. Does it matter?
I spoke a tongue that was passed on
To me in the place I happened to be,
A place huddled between grey walls
Of cloud for at least half the year.
My word for heaven was not yours.
The word for hell had a sharp edge
Put on it by the hand of the wind
Honing, honing with a shrill sound
Day and night. Nothing that Glyn Dwr
Knew was armour against the rain’s
Missiles. What was descent from him?

Even God had a Welsh name:
He spoke to him in the old language;
He was to have a peculiar care
For the Welsh people. History showed us
He was too big to be nailed to the wall
Of a stone chapel, yet still we crammed him
Between the boards of a black book.

Yet men sought us despite this.
My high cheek-bones, my length of skull
Drew them as to a rare portrait
By a dead master. I saw them stare
From their long cars, as I passed knee-deep
In ewes and wethers. I saw them stand
By the thorn hedges, watching me string
The far flocks on a shrill whistle.
And always there was their eyes; strong
Pressure on me: You are Welsh, they said;
Speak to us so; keep your fields free
Of the smell of petrol, the loud roar
Of hot tractors; we must have peace
And quietness.

Is a museum
Peace? I asked. Am I the keeper
Of the heart’s relics, blowing the dust
In my own eyes? I am a man;
I never wanted the drab role
Life assigned me, an actor playing
To the past’s audience upon a stage
Of earth and stone; the absurd label
Of birth, of race hanging askew
About my shoulders. I was in prison
Until you came; your voice was a key
Turning in the enormous lock
Of hopelessness. Did the door open
To let me out or yourselves in?

Forest Dwellers
 
Men who have hardly uncurled
from their posture in the
womb. Naked. Heads bowed, not
in prayer, but in contemplation
of the earth they came from,
that suckled them on the brown
milk that builds bone not brain.
Who called them forth to walk
in the green light, their thoughts
on darkness? Their women,
who are not Madonnas, have babes
at the breast with the wise,
time-ridden faces of the Christ
child in a painting by a Florentine
master. The warriors prepare poison
with love’s care for the Sebastians
of their arrows. They have no
God, but follow the contradictions
of a ritual that says
life must die that life
may go on. They wear flowers in their hair.
 
Listen and read more R.S. Thomas poetry here.
 

From the Portmeirion Peninsula

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