Sunday, 16 July 2017


I’m drinking a coffee and watching a buzzard spiralling higher and higher on the warm air currents, against a background of the little hills of Llŷn. 

I’ve moved from Cumbria to Wales, from Wordsworth country to R S Thomas country – if that doesn’t sound too “heritage”-ish.  I’ve swapped a view of the Dumfriesshire hills from my front window to a view of the North Wales mountains – Snowdon when it’s clear enough, and Cadair Idris over the blue sweep of Cardigan Bay.

A few days ago I read Sheenagh Pugh’s review of The Mabinogi by Matthew Frances, a re-imagined version of the medieval Welsh stories written down in the 12th-13th centuries from earlier oral tradition.  Sheenagh Pugh praises Frances for recreating “the immediacy these tales must have had before they were pinned down in writing, when they were spoken by a storyteller who might at any moment shift an emphasis, drop or add material, or see a character in a new way.”  This approach throws up questions of the stability of a text, and assumptions about translations and versions.  “Nothing kills a story like treating it with reverence, and his refusal to do so is why his version feels live, fresh, new”.  I’ve struggled in the past with dusty, reverential translations of The Mabiniogion.   I think this one might be just the one I should read – especially as I have relocated to Wales.

Radio 4 marked the hundredth anniversary of the death of Hedd Wyn with a programme called The Black Chair presented by poet, Mab Jones.  Hedd Wyn was killed at Passchendaele in 1917 shortly before he was due to receive the National Eisteddfod’s highest accolade.  The bardic chair was draped in black after his name had been called three times.  Prime Minister, Lloyd George, manipulated the occasion to drum up support for conscription which he had introduced. 

Hedd Wyn came from a farm at Trawsfynydd in Snowdonia.  I look to the mountains and remember him.

The Mabinogi Matthew Frances (Faber and Faber 2017)
For the review see blogpost 21 June 2017 

The Black Chair was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 13 July.  The 1992 film  Hedd Wyn (with English subtitles) is well worth watching.

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