Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A hedge of rain to hinder my good fortune

I was reading Dafydd ap Gwilym in a Welsh wood last week.  Many of his nature poems were addressed to a llaitai - love-messenger - like the seagull or the skylark.  As Jay Griffiths wrote in her essay, 'The Grave of Dafydd', 'he sung himself into the land, asking birds, animals and the wind to carry messages to all his well-beloveds.  More yet: the now-printed words echo the print of his body on the land, as he tells of the way that the places where he made love, the crushed leaves and grass, the bed-shapes under the saplings, will remain imprinted on the landscape forever, and on the landscapes of the heart.'

Those trysting places were not always accessible though - sometimes nature thwarted Dafydd's desires.  Finding the River Dyfi in spate he composed a song in its praise in the hope that it would allow him to cross.  On another day it was mist that descended just as the poet was setting out for a liaison with a slender maid.  Here are some lines from the translation of Y Niwl ('The Mist') by Rachel Bromwich (from my book, pictured above, sadly no longer in print).  Even in English I think they convey a vivid sense of fog on the Welsh landscape.

But there came Mist, resembling night,
across the expanse of the moor,
a parchment-roll, making a black-cloth for the rain,
coming in grey ranks to impede me
like a tin sieve that was rusting,
a snare for birds on the black earth,
a murky barrier on a narrow path,
an endless coverlet to the sky,
a grey cowl discolouring the ground,
placing in hiding every hollow valley,
a scaffolding that can be seen on high,
an enormous bruise over the hill, a vapour on the land,
a thick and pale-grey, weakly-trailing fleece,
like smoke, a hooded cowl upon the plain,
a hedge of rain to hinder my good fortune,
coat-armour of the oppressive shower.

1 comment:

theresa said...

This is a beautiful post. An old friend, Leslie Norris, translated Dafydd ap Gwilym too and did Gwyn Thomas too? Anyway, lovely. Thank you.