Shoestring Press, 2003 - £4.00
THESE POEMS WERE A REVELATION to me. I had not heard of T.H. Parry-Williams, though I suppose I should have, since, as his translator Richard Poole says in a useful introduction, he is “regarded as a major figure in twentieth-century Welsh poetry and letters”. (But then, I don’t read Welsh.) The poems not only confounded my expectations of Welsh poetry (the two forms on display here—the sonnet and the rhyming couplet—are, like Robert Graves’s creatures emerging at a snail’s pace from the sea-caves of Criccieth, utterly ‘un-Welsh’), but they revealed a tight-lipped poet at ease with the big themes of love and mortality.
The sonnets at the beginning of the book read well in English. It is hard to bring something new to this familiar form, but Parry-Williams’s combination of the muscularly grand Miltonic style with that sorrowing evocation of nature reminiscent of Edward Thomas (“It’s that fool July, contending in me/ With an April gone irrevocably”) struck me as original.
The sensibility behind the poems is not exactly a modern one. “I’m not an orphan in the universe” Parry-Williams writes, in an age when most true poets feel differently. The rhyming couplets also give some of his poems a clipped sense of unfashionable certainty. But this is at least refreshing.
If ‘The Girl on the Quay at Rio’ has not yet been set to music, somebody must do so immediately. Best of all is the very plainly titled ‘Two Poems’. Poetry readers grown comfortable with irony and vagueness may experience a dizzy spell on coming across lines such as Parry-Williams’s “My truth is nothing but a lie, my life a living death”. There are lines like this in English poetry, but they can be safely regarded as products of the depressed mind in extremis. The twentieth-century Welsh poet is in fact much closer here to the sixteenth-century Spanish poet and mystic, St John of the Cross: as he says in ‘Two Poems’, “I have learnt composure”. When he writes mysteriously (if not mystically) “September is only a month,/ And it ends without ever existing”, one knows what he means. At the poem’s end he returns to plainness—but what plainness!
And there you are yourself—and so am I.
Forever laughing, falling silent, sorrowing,
And there the precipices are and the mist is mist,
And September is always September, and one and one make two.