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!
14 thoughts on “Trefin Mill – William Williams Crwys”
We all learnt this poem at Primary School and although I haven’t lived in Wales since 1968, my feeling is that the second half of the second verse describes more “where the white wheat of Llanrhiain lay at summer’s end, now there’s only a trace of seaweed and a few green reeds”
Diolch, Rhodri. Helpgar iawn! Thank you Rhodri. That is very helpful. I’m a huge enthusiast for Cymraeg but will remain hampered by not having it as my mamiaith. After 10 years of serious study, I’m all too aware of my limitations … but my willingness to improve is tireless. Diolch i chi eto.
I’ve edited the last four lines of the second stanza to those suggested by you and hereby acknowledge your contribution to the translation. Diolch eto.
a short verse of the poem nid ywr felin heno,n mali yn trefin ar fin y mor maer hen felinwr wedi marw yr olwin tro ei olaf dro.
I have been looking for a poem on the internet and can’t find it. My father will be 90 in August and often recites ‘Y Border Bach. Please would you send me the full poem and its translation into English.
I would be so pleased to hear from you.
Thanks Lynne Holborow
Lovely to hear from you.
I have found Y Border Bach by William Williams Crwys. I’ll post the Welsh version below. It will take me a little while to work on a translation; there are a few puzzles in it for me to solve!
When is your father’s birthday?
Best wishes, Sharon
Y Border Bach
Gydag ymyl troetffordd gul
A rannai’r ardd yn ddwy,
‘Roedd gan fy mam ei border bach
O flodau perta’r plwy.
Gwreiddyn bach gan hwn a hon
Yn awr ac yn y man,
Fel yna’n ddigon syml y daeth
Yr Eden fach i’w rhan.
A, rywfodd, byddai lwc bob tro,
Ni wn i ddim paham,
Ond taerai ‘nhad na fethodd dim
A blannodd llaw fy mam.
Blodau syml pobol dlawd
Oeddynt, bron bob un,
A’r llysiau gwyrthiol berchid am
Eu lles yn fwy na’u llun.
Dacw nhw: y lili fach,
Mint a theim a mwsg,
Y safri fach a’r lafant pêr,
A llwyn o focs ynghwsg;
Dwy neu dair brlallen ffel,
A daffodil, bid siŵr,
A’r cyfan yn y border bach
Yng ngofal rhyw ‘hen ŵr’.
Dyna nhw’r gwerinaidd lu,
Heb un yn gwadu’i ach,
A gwelais wenyn gerddi’r plas
Ym mlodau’r border bach.
O bellter byd ‘rwy’n dod o hyd
I’w gweld dan haul a gwlith,
A briw i’m bron fu cael pwy ddydd
Heb gennad yn eu plith.
Hen estron gwyllt o ‘ddant y llew’,
A dirmyg lond ei wên.
Sut gwyddai’r hen doseddwr hy
Fod Mam yn mynd yn hen?
Are you still interested in this translation of the poem?
The poem you wanted me to locate is still available on my website, together with the translation I worked on for you. It’s nearly the end of August and I wonder if your father ever received these for his birthday. It would be so nice if you could reply!
Did you ever get to see the poem I located and translated for your father’s birthday? It’s still up on my website if you’re still interested.
I have translated the poem. It’s on the front page of this blog: https://sharonlarkinjones.com/2020/08/05/another-crwys-poem-translated/
I hope your father enjoys it and has a very happy 90th birthday.
Please give him my best wishes … penblwydd hapus iawn,
I’d love to find out if you have seen the translation I did for your father. Feedback on my work is always gratefully received.
I hope your father has a happy birthday, whenever in August it is. Penblwydd hapus iddo fe.
I found this page after someone mentioned the poem after I posted a painting of Aberfelin. I loved the poem in the comments about the flower garden, very reminiscent of my upbringing and also more understandable vocab for my never fully formed welsh.