Key Words, Key Questions

In my first blog as the ‘2021 Hay Festival Creative Wales International Fellow’, it was perhaps no surprise that I would feel the need to comment on the irony of holding such a title in a year when we have a travel ban. And so I described how I had made it all the way to Cartagena, Colombia, without actually leaving Carmarthen. In this, my second piece, to ‘Cartagena’ I can add ‘Y Gelli Gandryll’; a town known to many as ‘Hay on Wye’, or simply ‘Hay’.

And with these names, I arrive at a place that offers multiple possibilities of understanding. And no, I’m not referring to the Festival as such, but rather the place that appears when two languages meet. And though the coordinates on the map may be the same for both Y Gelli and Hay, I would argue that their meeting point is somewhere entirely different.

In the company of Dylan Moore, a former Hay Festival Fellow (a proper one, not a digital, pretend one, mind you), we discussed how poets - and some philosophers - have ‘imagined’ language. We grasped metaphors and comparisons, personifications and similes. We crossed continents and cultures on the waves of the mind if not the sea, as we went from Humboldt who sees language as a ‘web of analogies’ to Octavio Paz who sees it as a ‘prophecy of flames, set alight by a god’; from Waldo Williams who sees her (language is feminine in Welsh as in so many other languages) as a force that can ‘set mountains free against a sky of song’ to Victor Cifuentes’ ‘wind of meanings that listens to the echoes of voices’;from Sampurna Chatterjee who thinks of speaking a language as taking up arms, ‘a weaponry’, to Gwyneth Lewis who talks of a dead language as having been a ‘highly strung, quite possibly jealous’ old woman. 

The slot was scheduled for Sunday lunchtime, just before a conversation between Daniel Williams, Leanne Wood and Michael Sheen who were discussing Raymond Williams. Here, language featured again, more specifically the verb ‘to speak’, as the focus of the session was on Daniel’s new edition of a collection of Raymond Williams’ essays, gathered under a key-question title: Who speaks for Wales?.

It was a fascinating exchange which must have made all listeners in or from Wales reflect on themselves. I certainly did. And the Hay Festival? ‘How can the Hay Festival speak for Wales?’ I found myself also wondering …

Still with language, we move to key questions about key words. Commemorating the centenary of Raymond Williams’ birth this year, in the Department of Welsh and Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth University we have gathered together a group to think in particular about Williams’ ‘Key Words’. What might these be in this post-brexit Pandemicdom? 

It was with these thoughts that we closed our ‘Language Imagined’ lunchtime slot. It so happens that Dylan Moore’s new book, Many Rivers to Cross, takes some of Wales’ most iconic key words as an epithet for his end section: ‘gwnewch y pethau bychain’, ‘do the little things’. They’re taken from Saint David’s last words; words that every school child in Wales learns. Yet this year, as I read them again on March 1st, I was struck more by the opening address than the message itself. It starts ‘Frodyr a Chwiorydd’. ‘Brothers and Sisters’. 6th Century Wales: Brothers and Sisters. All of us. Everyone. Wales-over. World-over. An ‘us’. Togethers. 

So, I’ll sign off with the poem I wrote thinking these thoughts and responding to a request from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. They wanted to play Paul Mealor’s moving Welsh Prayer to mark St David’s Day, but because of Covid restrictions couldn’t have a choir to sing the original words by Grahame Davies. My lines open with a key question: ‘And now?’ And contemplate an answer where we build, not ‘back better’, but entirely differently, as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’. Idealist? Dreamer? Perhaps, but as literature-festival-goers, we must surely believe that words can make a difference.


A pha beth a wnawn?

And now? 

Pa beth a wnawn

yn nyddiau’r clo

ond chwilio’r hen eiriau

yng nghorneli’r co’?


Catch the hem of a story

that’s frayed and old,

just a word or two

that we were once told.


Ie, dyna a wnawn,

in this lock-down-day,

until we grasp the root.

What do you say?


The root of the words

that must still be there,

and that will grow us a garden

just and fair.


Yes, that’s what we’ll do,

a chadw ffydd

keep faith,

cans daw dydd

for the day will come

when

the keeping distance

will again become

a keeping company.

And until then …


Till then

let lips touch pipe

fingers string

vibrations heartbeat -

let the melody sing!


Let the bow touch the fiddle,

let the hand touch the drum,

let the breath of the piper

reach the notes of the sun;


till the joy of the music

brings us together

and gives back those words

we called one another:


“Brodyr”, “Chwiorydd”,

“Brothers”, “Sisters”,

Oh, these are the words 

that know the way

to the just and fair garden 

beyond the lock-down-day.


A chalon wrth galon,

cawn dynnu ynghyd,

nes bo lle’r pethau lleiaf

yn fawr yn ein byd.


Yes, let’s look for those words 

and “trugaredd” and “tangnefedd”,

our compassion, our peace,

our patience, amynedd -


And once that day comes

to open the door

we’ll know the words

and their meanings, and more …


guess what we’ll do?

We’ll sow them and plant them

the words that we found

and we’ll listen to the meanings

 beyond the sound.


Ie, dyna a wnawn.

A phan ddaw dydd

ail agor y drws

cawn eu dweud hyd y strydoedd,

y geiriau tlws.


Plant them on rooftops,

plant them in tracks,

plant them on mountains,

in pavement cracks.


And be no mistaking:

this is not tidying-up-the-mess,

this is planting anew

for a different success.


“Frodyr”, “Chwiorydd”!

Dyna a wnawn,

ymbaratoi

at wneud popeth yn iawn.


That’s what we’ll do,

and the getting ready 

will carry us through.

“Brothers”, “Sisters”,

Dewi’s last words

found in lost breezes

in the song of birds;

they’re waiting for voices

like yours and mine

to give them new meaning.

Catch the line!


So, when the time comes

this line, you’ll see,

to Dewi’s last words 

holds the key:


“Frodyr”, “Chwiorydd”.


(“Sisters”, “Brothers”,)

Open the door,

we can make this world better,

fairer, 

more


just


together.


“Fordyr”, “Chwiorydd” …

Hen, hen eiriau’r co’,

dy eiriau di, Dewi,

yn agor y clo.


Mererid Hopwood is Creative Wales Hay Festival International Fellow 2021/22, travelling to each Hay Festival edition. Hopwood is one of Wales’ most celebrated poets with published works including Singing in Chains (2004), O Ran (2009), Poets' Graves/Beddau'r Beirdd(2014) and Nes Draw (2016); her books for children Ar Bwys (2007), Straeon o’r Mabinogi (2012) and Cyfres Dosbarth Miss Prydderch (2016–19); and her translations Seren Lowri (2005) and Geiriau Diflanedig (2019). She is a three-time Eisteddfod prize winner, has been Children's Laureate Wales, and was awarded the Glyndwr Prize for her contribution to literature. Her collection Nes Draw won the poetry section of the Welsh language Book of the Year Awards 2016 and won the Tir na n-Og prize for children’s writing in 2018.