On March 4, 2011, the UK government announced that a majority of voters in Wales voted in favor of the referendum to extend the law-making powers to the Welsh National Assembly. Wales had achieved a level of autonomy from London not seen since 1282, when Edward I defeated Llywellyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd, and completed the conquest of Wales.
Today’s poem is another by R.S. Thomas, from his nationalism-themed collection, Welsh Airs.
We were a people taut for war; the hills
Were no harder, the thin grass
Clothed them more warmly than the coarse
Shirts our small bones.
We fought, and were always in retreat,
Like snow thawing on the slopes
Of Mynydd Mawr; and yet the stranger
Never found out ultimate stand
In the thick woods, declaiming verse
To the sharp prompting of the harp.
Our kings died, or they were slain
By the old treachery at the ford.
Our bards perished, driven from the halls
Of nobles by the thorn and bramble.
We were a people bred on legends,
Warming our hands at the red past.
The great were ashamed of our loose rags
Clinging stubbornly to the proud tree
Of blood and birth; our lean bellies
And mud houses were a proof
Of our ineptitude for life.
We were a people wasting ourselves
In fruitless battles for our masters,
In lands to which we had no claim,
With men for whom we felt no hatred.
We were a people, and are so yet,
When we have finished quarrelling for crumbs
Under the table, or gnawing the bones
Of a dead culture, we will arise,
Armed, but not in the old way.
From R.S. Thomas, Welsh Airs, 1987, Poetry Wales Press.