Y Border Bach – Another Crwys Poem Translated

 

A few years ago, I was approached by fellow poet Chris Hemingway about a poem by William Williams Crwys  that he had found on an information board at a ruined mill at Trefin in Pembrokeshire,  I translated the poem here  and several interesting spin-offs happened subsequently, including my trip to Trefin, visit to the mill and chapel, having my translation of Melin Trefin included in a tapestry at the chapel and a magazine, and being contacted by a descendant of Crwys, resident in the southern hemisphere, and consequently locating out-of-print books containing further poems by this well-loved Welsh poet.

It’s funny how these out-of-the-blue events develop a life of their own, and all seem to connect up in some mysterious way.

A few days ago, in early August  2020, I was contacted by someone whose father, soon to be celebrating his 90 birthday, has an interest in another poem by Crwys – Y Border Bach.  I quickly located the text … and not so quickly … attempted a translation.

As with all translations of poetry, a literal rendition of the original language sacrifices the poetic language of the original. Rhymes, assonance, alliteration and …. in translating Welsh specifically, cynghanedd … are inevitably lost. However, if one strives towards preserving these elements in any translation, liberties have to be taken with the meaning, and the poet’s apparent intent. Compromise is therefore necessary.

I have made some decisions which stray a little from a literal translation in order to achieve a ‘feel’ for the original intent, as I perceive it. I believe Crwys wished the simplicity of the modest flower border in this poem to ‘stand for’ Wales, and Mam – the central figure, and ‘planter of the plant’ in any Welsh home – along with her neighbours, to represent the people of Wales.  ‘Plant’ is the Welsh word for ‘children’.

With such a reading, it is possible to infer something about the showier blooms in the mansion gardens, and their ‘pedigrees’, as well as seeing the dandelion colonising the garden – as an upstart interloper.

As Crwys was a minister of religion as well as a poet – or rather a bard and an eisteddfodwr – other assumptions can be made.  Particularly, the Old Man referred to in the poem, as well as being the common name for a specific garden plant, is more than likely a reference to God … especially as this ‘Sage’ is seen as standing over and caring for the other ‘plants’ in the border  … ie the people of Cymru, and the speakers of the Iaith y Nefoedd (the ‘language of Heaven’).

As a lover of simple wild flowers rather than brightly coloured, highly bred garden flowers, I can relate to this poem. My Welsh father was of similar mind … “y pethau bychain” … the little things … were important to him, as was his garden, and always a preference for the unpretentious.

Here is the poem, followed by the translation. While I have learnt Welsh to an advanced level as an adult, I am, naturally and in all humility as a non-native speaker of Cymraeg, open to correction,  So if Welsh is your mamiaith, please do comment in kindly manner if you detect error in my translation, or misinterpretation of the sense and intent of the poet.  Thank you.

 

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?

               gan William Williams Crwys

 

Translation:

The Small Border

 

Along the edge of a narrow path
that divided the garden in two
my mother had her little border,­
the prettiest flowers of the parish.

A little root of this and that,
here and there, now and again
and, in this way, a little Eden
came quite simply into being

somehow, by chance, every time.
I don’t know how, but Dad always
swore that nothing ever failed
when planted by the hand of Mam.

Yes, almost all the plants were
simple flowers of poor people
and miraculous vegetables, notable
for goodness rather than appearance.

Among them were snowdrops,
mint and thyme and moschatel,
winter savory, sweet lavender,
and a vigorous bush of box.

Two or three primroses
and daffodils were sure to be
– all the plants of the small border
in the care of some ‘old man’.

They were a host of common folk.
None of them in that small border
could claim the pedigrees of those
blooming in the mansion’s gardens.

With a stab to the chest one day,
I came across an old alien, wild,
without precedent in the border –
a dandelion blown in from a distance,

smiling an insolent smile
in sun and dew, and­ I wondered
how that old coloniser knew
that Mam was growing old.

Notes:

  • Moschatel is Adoxa moschatellina, also known as muskroot or townhall clock.
  • Old man is a common name for Artemisia abrotanum, also known as sagewood.

    ………….
    Translated from the Welsh by Sharon Larkin, 3-5 August 2020

 

Melin Trefin … centenary

… The stone at rest that watches the place
in the thrashing rain and the wind

Two years ago, I wrote about the poet William Williams Crwys, and his much-loved poem Melin Trefin.  See my original article Trefin Mill which was prompted by the visit of fellow poet Chris Hemingway to Trefin in 2016. This May, I had the pleasure of visiting the Pembrokeshire village of Trefin myself … and the mill that inspired the reverend-bard-archdruid Crwys to write the poem … in 1918.  It seemed an even more meaningful occasion, therefore, in this the 100th anniversary year of the poem.

Here is a photographic record of my visit, with excerpts from the poem in Cymraeg, together with my translation:

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.

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.

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Trefin Mill on the North Pembrokeshire Coast

 

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‘The mill is not grinding tonight’

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‘at Trefin at the edge of the sea’.
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‘The kindly stream still runs on’
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‘… past the bare forehead of the house’
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May was the perfect month to visit – with sea pinks (thrift), stonecrop, bladder campion, bird’s foot trefoil and kidney vetch, as well as red campion, bluebells and cow parsley adorning the glorious banks and verges of Pembrokeshire

 

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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.

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.

 

 

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‘Where the wheat of Llanrhiain
lay at summer’s end’

Looking towards the fields of neighbouring Llanrhian parish, from the village of Trefin. Cereal crops grown in the fields will have been harvested and carted from there to Trefin for grinding into flour.  IMG_6097

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.

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.

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Entering the village of Trefin
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Middle section of the tapestry commemorating the famous poem, curated by Val Dubbens and displayed in the chapel for its 175th anniversary (1843 – 2018)
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Inside the Chapel at Trefin, recently restored
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The chapel at Trefin stands on Druid’s Hill, probably named after William Williams Crwys – minister, bard and archdruid (who, thirty years after writing this poem, inducted Princess Elizabeth into the Gorsedd of Bards at the General Eisteddfod held Bridgend in 1948  … well before her coronation as Queen).

 

 

 

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Capel Trefin

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The whole of the fine tapestry, featuring the chapel, mill and lines from the poem. The tapestry was curated by Val Dubbens.
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Roadsign next to the chapel, commemorating William Williams Crwys
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Sign outside the chapel
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A stanza from the poem, on information board on the outer wall of the ruined mill
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Illustration from the information board
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English translation from information board
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Information board on the outer wall of the mill
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Gwybodaeth am y felin – yn Gymraeg

                                                                                                                                        

 

Trefin Mill – William Williams Crwys

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:

Melin Trefin

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:

Trefin Mill

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.

Notes:

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!