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This report is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams
So far as I am aware, the only poem to have come out of the Falklands War has as epigraph lines from the sixth-century heroic poem by the bard Aneirin elegising warriors of 'Y Gododdin', a British (that is, Welsh-speaking) tribe of what is now south-east Scotland, who lost their lives fighting the English at Catraeth, or Catterick, in Yorkshire: 'Gŵyr a aeth Gatraeth oedd ffraeth eu llu, / Glasfedd eu hancwyn, a gwenwyn fu.' (Men went to Catraeth, keen was their company, / They were fed on fresh mead, and it proved poison.) The poem, 'Elegy for the Welsh Dead in the Falkland Islands, 1982' is by Tony Conran. Albeit in another language, it mourns the twentieth-century fallen in imagery, phraseology and rhythms that echo Aneirin's commemoration of those slain in the sixth century. And in the same way it names them:

Malcolm Wigley of Connah's Quay.
                                          Did his helm
Ride high in the war-line?
Did he drink enough mead for that journey?
The desolated shores of Tegeingl,
Did they pig the steel that destroyed him?

[…]

Certainly Tony Jones of Carmarthen was brave.
What did it matter, steel in the heart?
Shrapnel is faithful now. His shroud is frost.

[…]

Figment of empire, whore's honour, held them.
Forty-three at Catraeth died for our dregs.

So the poem ends, with an entirely contemporary bitterness against the tenacity of the notion of empire, but it ...


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