Wales - Poetry and Literature
Wales is known for its music, but it known just as much for its poetry and literature. “To be born Welsh, is not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but with music in your blood and poetry in your soul”
I think this is true, I have never met a person either from Wales or who is an expatriate that doesn’t have a poetic soul. It appears to be an essential part of our DNA. To list every Welsh poet would mean I would have to list the millions of us living around the world, connected to the Motherland by an invisible umbilical cord!
I have listed three of the most famous Welsh Poets. There are many. The first poet Dylan Thomas was chosen because the majority of readers will recognize his name (probably had to study his poetry in high school. Both of the Thomas’, Dylan and R.S are lived in the 20th Century. The third, Dafydd ap Gwilym was a medieval poet. I chose these three to provide an overview. If you Google Welsh poets, you can find links to nearly fifty Welsh poets.
Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953. I start with Dylan, because he wrote in English. He had the unique ability to use words like a painter uses a palette. Thomas’ palette was a dictionary. He could create vivid images in your mind with just a few words. Speaking to his father on his father’s death bed, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rage against the dying of the light.” Besides his poetry, he was also a playwright. His play “Under Milkwood was written for BBC Radio, and Child’s Christmas in Wales is a popular Christmas season play. You can hear Dylan Thomas speak in a portion of “Under Milkwood. Under Milk Wood (Part 1) read by Dylan Thomas – YouTube. You can also “Under Milkwood” ready by Richard Burton. Richard Burton Under Milk Wood Richard Burton and Cast Music Memories Full Album – YouTube
R.S. Thomas, 1913-2000. R.S. Thomas was an Anglican Priest. He was a fervent Welsh Nationalist, opposed to an English type of lifestyle in Wales. He also wrote in English, but in the 1950’s he did publish some prose is Welsh. His own son said R.S. Thomas’ sermons preached against modernity with appliances and other gadgets becoming needs, and forsaking the real needs of the spiritual.
Dafydd ap Gwilym abt 1315 to abt 1370 was one of the greatest poets of Europe in the middle ages. Here is a portion of his poem “The Wind” It is a English translation. The poem was originally written in Welsh.
Skywind, skillful disorder,
Strong tumult walking over there,
Wondrous man, rowdy-sounding,
World hero, with neither foot nor wing.
Yeast in cloud loaves, you were thrown out
Of sky’s pantry, with not one foot,
How swiftly you run, and so well
This moment above the high hill.
Tell me, north wind of the cwm,
Your route, reliable hymn.
Over the lengths of the world you fly,
Tonight, hill weather, please stay high,
Ah man, go over Upper Aeron
Be lovely and cool, stay in clear tune.
Don’t hang about or let that maniac,
Litigious Little Bow, hold you back,
He’s poisonous. Society
And its goods are closed to me.
What is literature? at its broadest definition, it includes any written work, which I suppose would include some of my friends’ tax returns, which I am sure were works of fiction! However, the definition that best defines what is included herein, would be “written works that are considered superior or of lasting artistic merit”.
I haven’t included books about particular wars, medicine, industry, technology.
Most literature written in the Welsh language has been translated into English and can be easily found. In Welsh, not as easy.
Some literature I have included is not necessarily written by Welsh authors, but is about Wales and helps to understand the Welsh, especially when dealing with culture.
The Welsh Bible of 1588 “Y Beible cyssegr-lan sef Yr Hen Destament, a’r Newydd” Queen Elizabeth I, commissioned Bishop William Morgan to produce a Bible in Welsh to be place in Anglican Chapels in Wales. This was very large bible to be “chained” to the pulpit. It wasn’t printed in a size to be placed in the home. People in Wales felt the Queen really cared about them. Not so. It was a political ploy. By having the vicars preach in Welsh, instead of Latin, the Protestant religion would become stronger in Wales, making it easier for the Anglican Church, the religious arm of the Crown, to control the populace. Remember that the English Crown was always having to deal with “those people”, the pesky Welsh!
Mabinogian. These are prose stories compiled in 12th and 13th centuries from earlier oral traditions. They deal with Celtic mythology, Arthurian romance. In 1795, William Owen Pughe translated and published the collection. In 2007 Sioned Davies also translated the work into English. Her translation is a compact version and is easy reading.
Land of My Fathers, 2000 years of Welsh History – Gwynfor Evans. 1912 – 2005.This is they only factual history I have included. Is illustrated, the author is considered one of the greatest Welsh politicians of the 20th century, President of the Plaid Cymru party (The Welsh nationalist party), and the first member of Plaid Cymru to win a seat in parliament. He was also the President of the Celtic League. He graduated from the University Wales, Aberystwyth, and St John’s Oxford University, graduating as a lawyer. He had to learn the Welsh language, but was fluent. He was instrumental in the passing of the Welsh Language act, which probably saved the Welsh language from extinction. He also fought to obtain a Welsh language TV Channel S4C in 1980.
How Green Was My Valley – 1939. Lewis Llewellyn. This is written in the first person, as narration by the main character. It is historical fiction, based on interviews with mining families in Gilfach Goch, a village in the Rhondda Valley
Under Milkwood – 1954. Dylan Thomas. A radio drama commissioned by the BBC. It was later adapted for the stage. It tells the life of a fictional Welsh Village in a single day, a mixture of third person narration introducing the scene, then followed by first person narration of the towns inhabitants, both living and dead.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas. This a prose story about an extended Welsh family who have gathered together for Christmas eve. The children playing and throwing snowballs at the cats on the garden wall. The aunts bustling in the kitchen and sampling the wine. The uncles puffing the Christmas cigars in the parlor. This play also became a movie. It shows life from the eyes of a child and describes the wonderment of the memories of Christmas past and how those memories can help live better in the present. It shows how events that seem mundane can bring happiness. It illustrates that key to happiness for all if we are able to satisfy each persons needs. It may also have a religious undertone. Though God is not mentioned, snow will always be there for Christmas. This illustrates the faith of the child. The child doesn’t question this. God will provide the snow – He always does.
Sharon Kay Penman 1945-2021 was born in New York City. I am including her list of books about Medieval Britain which fleshes out the role of the Welsh leaders during this period and their interaction with the English rulers. In my opinion, this is the most enthralling historical fiction of that period, especially about the Plantagenet dynasty that I have read. I have all of her books in my library, most signed by the author. We had some fascinating conversations. She died on my birthday this year, a sad day for me. This is a bibliography of her writings: She held a bachelor of History from University of Texas and a Doctorate in Law from Rutgers University. She was a tax lawyer, but quit to devote her time to full-time writing. She was known for meticulous research not only on the people but on the historical locations. She was a New York Times best selling author. She lived in New Jersey and had a second home in Wales.
The Sunne in Splendour – 1982 (Standalone novel about Richard III
When Christ and His Saints Slept – 1994 (Plantagenets) Year 1135, Henry 1 dies, Struggle between his daughter Maude and her cousin Stephen
Devils Brood – 2008 (Plantagenets) Last decades of Henry II, Imprisonment of Eleanor, Henry’s sons rebel, Murder of Thomas Becket
Lionheart – 2011 (Plantagenets) Year 1189 Richard I crowned and leaves on crusade, a bloody warfare, Richard’s younger brother John schemed to gain the crown
A King’s Ransom – 2014 (Plantagenets) Last years in Richard the Lionheart’s life. Captured coming home from Crusade by Holy Roman Emperor Leopold of Austria and chained 15 months in a dungeon. Eleanor desperately tried to raise ransom. Richard had to swear fealty to his enemy Henry V
Here Be Dragons – 1985 (Welsh Princes trilogy) 13th Century. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales marries King John’s daughter Joanna. John tries to subdue Wales and Joanna must choose between her Father or her Husband.
Falls the Shadow – 1988 (Welsh Princes trilogy) 13th Century. Simon de Montfort and King Henry III clash.
The Reckoning – 1991(Welsh Princes trilogy) Prince Llewelyn is on a collision course with Edward I.
The Land Beyond the Sea – 2020 (Standalone Novel) Year 1172 – Jerusalem. Baldwin IV in battle against Saladin and Saracens
Roald Dahl, 1916-1990 Childen’s Books, He was born in Wales to Norwegian immigrant parents. He was a fighter pilot in the RAF during WWII.
James and the Giant Peach – 1961 (movie made in 1996)
Matilda – 1988 (movie made in 1996)
The BFG – 1982 (movie made in 1989 and also in 2016)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Screenplay for 1968 movie based on Ian Flemings book
The Twits – 1980 (Theater production in 2015)
The Witches – 1990 (Movie in 1990 and 2020)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 1964 (movie 1971 released as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator – 1972 (no film made, Dahl refused – he dislike Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)
Danny the Champion of the World – 1975
Fantastic Mr. Fox – 1970 (Movie in 2009)
Esio Trot – 1990 (Tortoise spelled backwards) (TV Movie 2015)
The following authors are not Welsh, but their works involve ideas from Welsh culture. I felt they should be mentioned here.
C.S. Lewis – Children’s Books 1898 – 1993. He was not Welsh but included here because the theme borrows ideas from Celtic folklore
The Chronicles of Narnia – A contract was in 2019 to start development of films of the series.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – 1950 (Movie 2005)
Prince Caspian – 1951 (Movie 2008)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – 1952 (Movie 2010)
The Silver Chair – 1953
The Horse and His Boy – 1954
The Magician’s Nephew – 1955
The Last Battle – 1956
J. R. R. Tolkien. 1892 -1973 . Born in South Africa and died in England. He was Professor of Anglo-Saxon and Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University. He was a close friend of C.S. Lewis. Many of the places and names of characters in the Lord of the Rings series are of Welsh origin. Professor Tolkien incorporated this ideas from existing societies to bring more realism and belief to his writing. According to he Mythopoeic Society, Tolkien had a preference for Welsh culture, but not the Irish culture.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy:
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King