Thursday, 5 November 2020

IMAGINATION WALKING

 Every distance has an internal duplicate.

I've been thinking about these words by Thomas A Clark during the last couple of weeks when I've been limited to walks from home.  I'm fortunate to be surrounded by quiet, beautiful countryside and there is always something different to observe.  But in my head I've been going further afield - travelling those internal distances that I can picture in memory and imagination through walking poems.

One of my internal walks has been along the Lôn Goed [Tree Lane] in the company of R Williams Parry's poem 'Eifionydd'.  For years I had a poster of the poem bluetacked to the wall of my study.  I would like to know who the artist was.  The words are printed on the green grassy lane and the avenue of oak trees with their soft spring leaves casts strong shadows in the sunlight.  

I was on a course at Ty Newydd, the National Writers Centre of Wales, when one of the tutors gave me a copy of the anthology Cerddi Llyn ac Eifionydd*.  In it I found the poem again.  What, or rather, where is Eifionydd?  It's the bit you don't really notice when you drive along the A497 between Porthmadog and Pwllheli.  R Williams Parry describes it as an in-between land, 'between sea and mountain'.  To the casual observer it has neither the drama of Snowdonia nor the intricate coastal beauty of Penllyn.  But to the poet that little-known quietness is what gives the area its appeal.  

R Williams Parry was born in 1884 in the village of Talysarn near Caernarfon.  At that time the village was in the middle of the Nantlle Valley slate industry.  Slate quarries and spoil tips were altering the geography of the valley.  Rows of new terraced houses were built to accommodate the workers and their families.  Old photographs show the busy railway interchange in the village with wagons of slate waiting to go to the Slate Quay at Caernarfon and wagons of coal brought in for the steam-powered pumps and haulage gear needed in the quarries.  The village must have been busy, noisy and dirty.

The first verse of the poem begins, not with the Lôn Goed, but with the sight of 'ugly progress and the dreary face of work' which the poet contrasts with an undefiled Eifionydd, a place 'without stain or scratch'.  

The poem was written after the First World War (in which the poet served in the army).  The second verse begins with 'foolish contention and bitter, angry news' which he goes on to contrast with the age-old 'murmur of the village [Rhos Lan] between two rivers', the Dwyfor and the Dwyfach.

It is not until the third verse that we get to the Lôn Goed.  On a map (if it is shown at all) it is an unremarkable track which starts at the mouth of the Afon Wen and goes nowhere in particular for a few miles before stopping at some farm buildings.  It was made about 200 years ago to bring lime and coal from a wharf on the coast to the estate farms of the area.  Oak trees were planted on either side of the lane for the utilitarian purpose of absorbing excess water from the surrounding fields.   We now know that an oak tree is a miniature ecosystem, which can support over 280 species of insects.  

The poet describes the Lôn Goed as a place of perfect calm or stillness, 'from the arch of its braided roof to the grass under my feet' and there is no trouble in the fact that instead of leading to a town it leads to nothing.  When he wrote the poem the lane was over a hundred years old and had long been superseded by the railway line from Caernarfon to Afon Wen (which in turn was closed by Beeching in 1964).  

The last verse conveys the poet's wish to come from his 'industrial valley and the way of the world' and walk in the quiet peace of the place.  The poem reminds me of 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree', named from the place which Yeats visited and idealised in his imagination while living in London ('while I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey'). 

Jim Perrin wrote about walking the Lôn Goed in one of his Guardian counry diary columns.  'The only sound [was] a faint breathing of the wind among the trees.  Listening, I imagine it as the slow onward ache of time itself, that has left all behind.' 

* Cerddi Llyn ac Eifionydd, edited by R Arwel Jones (Gomer 2002)

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