Two years ago, on March 3, 2011, the Welsh voted on a referendum to give the National Assembly of Wales expanded ability to pass laws in 20 subject areas without additional approval by Parliament in London. This was a major step in the direction of greater autonomy for Wales. The results of the referendum were announced on March 4, 2011, so this story will be concluded tomorrow.
Today’s poem is The Old Language, by the late R.S. Thomas. We’re leaping roughly 1,300 years from Aneirin to Thomas, but it seemed fitting to move from one to the other given today’s anniversary. Thomas was a staunch Welsh Nationalist; despite being bilingual, he wrote only in English, which was his first language. He also was a priest in the Church in Wales, serving parishes in rural North Wales. His poems are rooted in the people, land, and history of Wales, and often draw upon the struggle to maintain the Welsh language and culture in the face of the political, economic, and cultural pull exerted by England. You can read more about R.S. Thomas on the Poetry Foundation’s site.
THE OLD LANGUAGE
England what have you done to make the speech
My fathers used a stranger at my lips,
An offence to the ear, a shackle on the tongue
That would fit new thoughts to an abiding tune?
Answer me now. The workshop where they wrought
Stands idle, and thick dust covers their tools.
The blue metal of streams, the copper and gold
Seams in the wood are all unquarried; the leaves’
Intricate filigree falls, and who shall renew
Its brisk pattern? When spring wakens the hearts
Of the young children to sing, what song shall be theirs?
From R.S. Thomas, 1996, Everyman’s Poetry, J.M. Dent, London