Monday, March 25, 2013

Day 25: Is There Peace?

There’s definitely been a nationalistic theme to most of the poems chosen for posting this month, even if somewhat understated or even more cultural than political. Today’s poem, “Caernarfon, 2 July 1969” by Welsh-language poet, T. Glynne Davies, continues the theme. The title references the date when Prince Charles was invested as Prince of Wales, the title that has been bestowed upon the eldest son of the King or Queen of England since Edward I did so after his conquest of Wales following the death of Llywelyn, Prince of Gwynedd in 1282 in battle against the English. Llywelyn has been known since as “Llywelyn the Last”—the last rightful Prince of Wales, that is.  The first English prince of Wales was given the title as a child at Caernarfon Castle.  That castle, along with the other castles built by Edward in North Wales, is a symbol of England’s conquest of Wales.

Davies makes a number of references to people, words, and events that have meaning to the Welsh. “Is there peace?” is the question asked three times at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, to which the crowd has always answered “yes”—the “peace” being between Wales and England. Caernarfon was the hometown of David Lloyd George, the first Welsh-born Prime Minister. Owain Glyndŵr (Owen Glendower) was a Welsh nobleman who led a rebellion that established an independent Wales from 1400-1415, before England conquered again. “Castle to castle” recalls the travels that English monarchs and princes would have made from one stronghold to another within North Wales after the conquest. In the poem, Davies asks “Is there peace?” only twice, leaving the question unasked a third time, and of course, unanswered.

From the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English, Gwyn Jones, editor. Translated by Joseph P. Clancy


Castle to castle—
Is there peace?

Those who came for a song
In Lloyd George’s parlour
And for a hooray on the field have gone.

The cheer and the boo have gone,
And the proper hats of all the Prince’s aunts,
Everyone who said ‘lovely,’ ‘love,’ and ‘thanks.’
The velvet cushions have gone:
Five guineas’ worth of memories.

The policemen have gone,
And Scotland Yard’s fill of suspicious names
And pictures and fingerprints.
The cameras and the microphones have gone,
And the cavalry and battalion of dragons
And the clamour about American tourists
And the cost of the plainclothesman’s Bed and Breakfast
And all the rush for the special stamps

On the quay, the soldier has gone
In a fiery chariot like some chapter from the Old Testament,
And the cry of Llywelyn has gone
And of Owain Glyndwr and status and 1282.

The sober dignified benches
Have become a hundred thousand planks,
What they were before yesterday and long days before.

Another Prince has started on his journey:

Castle to castle:
Is there peace?

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