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This article is taken from PN Review 186, Volume 35 Number 4, March - April 2009.

A Farewell to English Meic Stephens

Although several Welsh poets writing in English have had Welsh as their mother tongue, there have been only two major Welsh-language poets who have written in their second language, namely Waldo Williams and Bobi Jones.

Waldo, born into an English-speaking home in Haverfordwest in 1904 but brought up from the age of seven at Mynachlog-ddu to the north of the Landsker that divides Pembrokeshire into an Englishry and a Welshry, learnt his Welsh from the children in the village where his father, a Welsh-speaker, was schoolmaster. At the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he went in 1923, he read English, discovered an interest in the English Romantics - and began writing light, satirical verse in his acquired language. It was the Second World War, Hiroshima, and the conflict in Korea that made a pacifist of him and caused him to write some of his finest, most anguished poems. But for him, writing was not enough: as a protest against the war, he refused to pay income tax for as long as it was spent on armaments, and served two terms of imprisonment as a consequence.

For Waldo the Brotherhood of Man was a practical, sacred principle embedded in his experience of neighbourhood and community, and he proclaimed and celebrated it in some of the most powerful poems in the language. Although he was persuaded to publish only one book of poems, Dail Pren, (‘Leaves of a Tree’, 1956), the will to resist an overweening ...

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