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Posts Tagged ‘Welsh’

Buried Treasure

October 22, 2008 Leave a comment

After hours of digging, we finally quit. My sister and I were going to dig to China (or at least discover some buried treasure in the process). I guess we choose the wrong spot. Like most children, visions of treasure chests often danced in our eyes as we longed to find that one map that would lead us to “x marks the spot.”

I never found that map.

Over time, the passion of childhood dreams is buried beneath layers of pain and disappointment. Hope that is frustrated again and again goes underground. But it still bubbles, and once in a while we feel fleeting sensations of this childhood ache for Christmas magic, buried treasure and the world of fairies. Chesterton and Lewis realized that this we wouldn’t have this longing if it wasn’t for something real.

Here is a delightful verse from my favorite poet Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy). Hope you enjoy, and may it stir a little longing in your soul.

Labrador
By Bobi Jones

Cold ugly lady with beads
of icebergs around your sea
like stumps of teeth,

Uncivilized, empty, and fruitless apart
from the ore beneath your soil that is
a complex in the sub-conscious.

Out of sight your embryo, in
your wine cellars, the love child
deep beneath your desolation,

Is about to flourish like a fountain. Overhead
the sun is always moon
shining over the blossoms

Out of sight beneath the soil forever.
Singing was hid there,
colours are buried: here it is all

A waiting, all of it is about to come,
and the strain of holding the possibilities
inside, a discipline

We in Wales don’t know much about.

Learning to Think

August 14, 2008 Leave a comment

This probably deserves more space, but I was talking with our group last night about the need to learn the habit of thinking. We live in times when we are bombarded with information, bits of data. From blogs like this to rss feeds to non-stop entertainment and 24 news cycles, we know lots and lots about little bits of stuff. But instead of helping us to think, this immersion into data seems to make everyone talk and act like robots that repeat the latest cliche.

We need time to pause and wait and think. A.W. Tozer once suggested that books should starting the thinking process but reading is not a replacement for thinking.

As I was reflecting on the story of King David, I thought about how his time as a shepherd gave him time to think. From the psalms he composed, it is clear that he spent time thinking, reflecting and contemplating upon the law, the creation around him, relationships and even statecraft. We talk about David the warrior and David the psalmist but I would also think of him as David the thinker.

Thinking is not about using large words that exclude most people and only allow specialists to enter a dialogue. Nor is it about forming other kinds of exclusive clubs that exalt one set of ideas or one group over another. It is the habit of regular reflection. The habit of using our imagination and reason together. And in the Bible, it is about training the mind and heart to focus on the Word, soak in the Word, reflect on the Word and reflect upon the world around me through the lens of the Word. And thinking is not simply silent ideas swirling in my head. It is speaking and singing thought.

The Psalms and poetry (as well as Eugen Rosenstock Huessy) have taught me about speech-thinking. The poet focuses upon the particular, the common, the thing right in front of him. As he reflects and speaks about the “thingyness” of the thing before him, his ideas explode outward, opening the particular thing into a vision of the universal.

Here is a poem by the Welsh poet Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy). Imagine Bobi enjoying a warm home with his family. As he sits before the hearth and thinks about the heat circulating through the house, he sees the grace of God afresh. He redefines fire and heat and hearth for us as we live thorugh his eyes.

As I read this poem yet again, I pray for eyes to see the world around me, and the discipline to pause and think about all the great gifts that fill my world.

Hearth

Hell is fire; then there’s a fire that’s Heaven
In a grate amidst the children. We draw close around it
And listen to the beating of its orange wings
Against the breeze that’s gathered the invisible
Confidential cooking of the hearth.
The fire from the sky, it broke through the rain
And alighted like a bird upon the kitchen altar.
And the mother caught it like Noah’s dove
Between her two hands and offered it becomingly.

Which of us who listen to it can help but hear
The warm melody of the kettleful of family?
In bed, between mother and myself,
God is warm; and His place at the table’s filled.
He is the Musician we hear coming
From room to room in secret.
It is His music heats the house
Gurgling through feet and blood, to rise,
Smokeless, to our half drunk heads.

Only those who know the sunshine know the beauty
That breaks across the mat between door and cupboard.
It pierces to the marrow of all laughter patiently
Like a tune that lingers round the edges of the mind
Or a cat curling up. Our song’s purring, the love
That’s been composed so cunningly, that’s been performed
On the harpstrings of the family fires through Him.

by Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy)

Why Do I Like Welsh Poetry?

June 27, 2008 Leave a comment

I can’t even read Welsh, so I end up reading poetry written in Welsh and translated into English. (Hopefully, I will eventually read it in Welsh.) So why does it strike me and move me so deeply? As I meander back through Bobi Jones Selected Poems (translated by Joseph P. Clancy), I ask myself, “Why?”

My family has Welsh roots and a second cousin has actually met with distant relatives who still live in Wales. But in al truth, I am an American. I don’t know any other reality. Despite my Celtic dreams, I am an American through and through. This is the only world I’ve ever known.

As an American, I read poems originally written in Welsh about Welsh places and Welsh people and Welsh struggles. I these poems through the eyes of a translator (a great Welsh translator and poet in his own right). In spite of the disconnect, these poems move me. They vibrate through the inner recesses of my soul.

As I think about their struggle to preserve a language, a memory, a particular history and a particular people, I connect with their rugged persistence in the face of (seemingly) unstoppable winds of change. They won’t let go. When the fight to keep speaking and writing in Welsh borders on futility, they keep holding on.

I don’t know what it’s like to fear losing a language. I don’t know what it’s like to fight to preserve a nation. But I do know the dark seas of hopeless chaos that sometimes tower when God seems to hide the grace of His presence. In smothering black nights of hopelessness, something deeper than my intellect continued to hold out for hope.

Something deeper than sheer willpower seemed to persistently grip the glimmers of fading rays when all effort seemed futile. Something deeper than me kept holding on. The very one who seems to elude me, who seems to hide from me, who seems to have abandoned me, continues to hold me, to draw me, to sustain me.

Even though dark waters have pounded my soul and the undercurrent of chaos has pulled me down to an airless pit, the Spirit never stopped hovering, blowing, creating and recreating me.

And I think this is why I love the Welsh poets.

Somehow in their relentless struggle to hold onto hope, I’ve come to find a home among fellow travelers who’ve tasted the sweet light of grace in the midst of the night.

The Gift of the Poets

June 18, 2008 Leave a comment

In his poems praising various people, Bobi Jones writes a poem to the poet. The Celtic poets use the discipline of constant praise to offer thanks, challenge status quo, offer social commentary and more.

Such a praising of the harvesting of the keeping–the baby’s life,
The lad’s life, the old man’s life behind your door.*

Bobi realizes that the poet connects the generations. And for a people crushed either personally or as a nation, the poet transforms that pain:

And you turned the blows as well into a praise of living.

These Welsh poets have personally gifted me with the habit of praise, of sight to praise and as Bobi says, of learning to transform the struggles and blows in this world into a “praise of living.”

The poet offers everything–the very essence of his life–in service to the gift.

From your immense Preselau** you raised teh walls of your belonging
And in the presence of its sun’s rafters you consecrated your laughter’s values:
You made your people one in a mystery sea.
You included us in your family. You sang
The white guts of your praise and your being, and you planted
Your leaves in our back-garden in proper robes like a choir.

* – Bobi Jones writes poetry exclusively in Welsh, so when I quote him, I am quoting Joseph Clancy’s translations.

** – Preselau or Presely Hills, a place in Wales (whose location is in question). I think this poem is using it as a way of identifying the land of the poet (which like the ancient Hebrew is connected with his salvation).

Potatoes and Peace!

May 16, 2007 Leave a comment

During the middle of the Cold War, as America and the Soviet Union raided their children’s future to fund a space program, Welsh poet Bobi Jones wrote a plea for peace with the potato as a love messenger. Could the poor potato bring that love message to our warring world?

Sending a Potato as a Love-Messenger to the Spacemen of America and Russia

Will you go for me to the moon-struck men?
Oh political matter, will you go?
(Stars and moon are political matters now:
A potato’s a political matter in our enlightened age.)
I’d like to see you go because you know what it is
To be in hot water, old friend of peas,
Fellow union-member with meat. You know
The slums of the earth, and on your crooked back
Is found the mark of toil; through your pits
You’ve heard the simple cursing of the unchosen people
Of worms and the beetles (neighbor of beans).
I’ll send you, because you’re a fist, and your smile
Is almost kind; and tell them
(The interworldists who are worse than the almost unmentionable internationalists)
Of solid lands, stupid potato
Of good leaves, of deep soil with roots, of fat ants
That lick a hollow through your side. I know
That will be a void of meaning, but at least
It will be a void fit for them to fly through
On a new course. So they will sing to hear you,
And you know how a seed can grow
When the forests have doffed their shadows
And when the mornings come to ride their big-bellied colts.
You needn’t insist you can’t possibly go
Because you’re so fatigued: ask someone to fling you.

(from Bobi Jones, Selected Poems, Christopher Davies Ltd: Swansea, Wales, 1987.)

Bobi Jones

November 15, 2006 Leave a comment

Here is a little poem from one of my favorite Welsh poets, Bobi Jones. Hopefully this will suffice in lieu of a good quote for the day. And I must also offer tribute to Joseph Clancy for the translation (as translation is an integral part of the poetic art).

The Middle Aged Poet

The child has dried up; his play and his sweat have died
His dance has shrivelled, besieged by bloated limbs,
And his leg’s sprightliness has grown bitter. I wonder whether
The muse can restore it in her swaddlings? Yes. Though finger
And thumb and ankle rot, praise will surely escape from their pit
By night, and make metre of the corruption: angels of mirth
Will still chat in the joints of the Poem. I bear within me
The innocents’ cheerful graveyard; an occasional night
Invites the remains of me to creep secretly out
To the early-patterned white leaves, and I dance a cradle’s questions
Through them, rhymes’ curiosity, till the dawn;
Then heavily, stooped, sad, in a magic procession,
Like lamentations that ventured out freely
For a time, they muster back to my silent daily ageing.

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