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This report is taken from PN Review 273, Volume 50 Number 1, September - October 2023.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams
Un funud fach cyn elo’r haul o’r wybren,
Un funud fwyn cyn delo’r hwyr i’w hynt,
I gofio am y pethau angofiedig
Ar goll yn awr yn llwch yr amser gynt.

Read aloud, the opening stanza of ‘Cofio’, a relatively early poem by Waldo Williams (everywhere known and referred to as ‘Waldo’), has hypnotic power. Even without the ability to read the lines, far less understand them, such is the consistency of letter sounds in Welsh that, if you look attentively, you can see its music, a notation that is anciently a vital part of Welsh prosody.

The poet was born in September 1904 in Haverfordwest, south Pembrokeshire. That ‘south’ is significant, because historically it is an English-speaking area. Furthermore, his mother, Angharad, born in Shropshire, spoke only English, so that became ‘the language of the hearth’ as the Welsh saying has it. She was, however, of a remarkable Flintshire family: her paternal uncle was Sir Henry Jones (1852–1922), a cobbler’s son who left school at twelve but, largely self-taught initially, went on to become Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University. For Waldo, however, all changed when, in 1911, his Welsh-speaking father, Edwal, was appointed headmaster of the primary school at Mynachlogddu, and brought the family to the foothills of Preseli, north of the landsker, that notional dividing line across the county, where Welsh is still the common language of everyday use. In a ‘Writers of Wales’ book, his close friend, the late James Nicholas (a sometime colleague I knew as ‘Jâms’, himself a poet ...

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