I was recently prompted by musician and fellow-poet, Chris Hemingway, to find the text of a poem in Cymraeg by William Williams (1875 – 1968), bardic name Crwys, and to translate it into English. William Williams Crwys
Chris had become aware of the existence of the poem – Melin Trefin – on his visit to Trefin – roughly half way between St Davids and Fishguard on the north Pembrokeshire Coast. He asked Facebook friends if anyone knew of a translation. That was all the prompting I needed. Trefin Mill
To my shame, I didn’t know the poem itself although I was acquainted with the name William Williams Crwys – an Archdruid (chief bard of the Gorsedd of Bards) and three-times winner of The Crown at the National Eisteddfod. One of the greats. Here is a picture of HM The Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) and Crwys at the National Eisteddfod at Aberpennar (Mountain Ash) on 6 August 1947 Princess Elizabeth and Archdruid William Williams Crwys.
In fact, the poem is well loved by Cymry Cymraeg … and came 21st in a BBC Wales online poll of Welsh-speakers’ favourite poems in 2003. I soon tracked the text down:
Nid yw’r Felin heno’n malu
Yn Nhrefin ym min y môr,
Trodd y merlyn olaf adref
Dan ei bwn o drothwy’r ddôr,
Ac mae’r rhod fu gynt yn chwyrnu
Ac yn rhygnu drwy y fro,
Er pan farw’r hen felinydd
Wedi rhoi ei holaf dro.
Rhed y ffrwd garedig eto
Gyda thalcen noeth y ty,
Ond ddaw ned i’r fal ai farlys,
A’r hen olwyn fawr ni thry,
Lle doi gwenith gwyn Llanrhiain
Derfyn haf yn llwythi cras,
Ni cheir mwy on tres o wymon
Gydag ambell frwynen las.
Segur faen sy’n gwylio’r fangre
Yn y curlaw mawr a’r gwynt,
Di-lythyren garreg goffa
O’r amseroedd difyr gynt,
Ond’ does yma neb yn malu,
Namyn amser swrth a’r hin
Wrthi’n chwalu ac yn malu,
Malu’r felin yn Nhrefin.
Here is my translation – aiming more to be faithful to the Cymraeg than to be a poetic rendering:
The mill is not grinding tonight
in Trefin at the edge of the sea.
The last pony, from beneath its burden,
turned from the threshold towards home
and the wheel that used to rumble
and grumble through the area
has, since the old miller died,
made its last turn.
The kindly stream still runs on
past the bare forehead of the house
but it no longer comes to mill the barley
and the big old wheel won’t turn again.
Where the wheat of Llanrhiain
lay at summer’s end
now there’s only a trace of seaweed
and a few green reeds.
The stone at rest that watches the place
in the thrashing rain and the wind
is a letterless memorial
to the jollity of former times.
Nobody is milling here now.
It is a time of dereliction
– the grinding down
of the mill at Trefin.
It’s virtually impossible to render the musicality of the Welsh, with all the alliteration and rhyme … the cynghanedd or chiming harmonies for which poetry in Cymraeg is justly famous.
The phrase “mynd am dro” – literally to go for a turn, is the common idiomatic way of saying “to go for a walk”. So the Welsh for a wheel turning for the last time carries in it the idea of the miller making his last turn too ie going for his last walk, or even giving his last performance (as we call an act on stage a “turn”).
Thus the mill and the miller are one unit, and hence their fate is linked, and hence the mill personifies the miller. So, when the miller does his final “turn” so does the millwheel – and so does the pony that turns the grindstone. Pony and man slough off their “burden” and “go home”.
The millstream that powered the wheel is also personified. It is “kindly” – suggesting the miller was too. (I hesitated to use the word “grumbled” in association with the sound of the turning millwheel, because it was clearly out of character with the miller, but the Welsh has two chiming, onomatopoeic words and I needed something similar to accompany “rumbled”).
While the “kindly stream” no longer visits the mill (the millrace presumably dries up), the (main) stream still passes the “bare forehead” of the (mill)house … again allying building to miller and vice versa.
In the final stanza, there is a feeling that the mill begins to tumble down, on the death of the miller – to fall into ruin even as the miller’s remains are consigned to the earth. Grain is no longer being ground down; body and building are being broken down now.
The millstone bears no inscription but acts as a gravestone for mill and miller, exposed to the elements – the wind and the thrashing rain). As a translator, I was pleased to come up with a word to describe the rain beating down that sounds so much like “threshing”.
Alas, the closest I can come to emulating the cynghanedd is in the proximity of “letterless” and “jollity” with their repeated t and l sounds. Saying those two words with a lilting Welsh accent that gives a long stress to the first syllable, provides some impression of the satisfying effect a poet can achieve with the cynghanedd.
I found the exercise very enjoyable. Thanks Chris!