Menna Elfyn ( Welsh)

Catrin Glyndŵr’s lament


We came at owl-light
from the back of beyond
to the world’s end,
my round window
a clouded eye.
Through the walls
one murmur,
merriment and mayhem.

Though I’m dead tired
sleep won’t come,
my jailor’s sour spittle
still on the air.

‘You’re here
for your breed.
We take you hostage,
your father free.’

Squint-eyed, calloused hands,
he grills me to ash.
Ignorance my defence
against a swarm of lies.
Puce-faced he utters
under his breath,
‘Cowards are fair weather friends.’

Lost Time

I’m counting time
with strands of my children’s hair,
twisting one link from a braid
each morning. Every week
I mark the wall with blood
squeezed from my nail
bitten to the quick.

It’s how we used to mark their height.
However grey their childhood
they were kindly days
and I recite again and again
how we’d carry a pitcher to the well,
how we watched the sky through the trees,
how we gathered bluebells,
how we counted the colours of leaves,
copper, amber, radiant scarlet.
The golden glow of memory.

Birds of a Feather

Today we sang like birds.
The mountain curlew, the bold robin,
and starlings, hungry and fearless,
the yaffle’s monotonous knock.
We made a hawk with our hands,
and watched though our small window
distant wings sweeping the sky,
bearing our sorrows away in their beaks,
our prayers to God.


A new guard today.
He was kind,
brought me a speckled quilt
and a tale of a poor wretch,
once a duke, he thought,
who fell into debt, lost his mind,
off his head cursing the law,
then walked the crooked board
and quietly fell to his knees
making the sign of the cross.
His throat gave a rattle,
his gift to the crowd
and their terrible roar.

I wept to hear
so cruel a death;
the jailor’s voice cracked,
and I knew it before he spoke,
‘Death is the fate of those small veins,’

he whispered ‘as must be yours.’


A crowd came to gaze at us.
I bade the children be dumb,
deceived them they might let us go.

‘What hero abandons his daughter?’
‘What sort of kinship is that?’
The derision of dunderheads,
and pimple-tongued duds.
I closed my eyes
on my storm of rage.

‘The eagle flies free,
his chick in the tower’s
ready feast for the ravens.’

When they’d gone
the voice of my heart said,
from fools come the truth,

before other voices pierced the air.
‘Can we go home now?’


I made of my shawl a home.
One by one I nursed them,
against my shoulder, on my lap,
at the breast, wrapped them close.
Through alien air I breathed
scents of the old country,
the moss and the stoat,
heather on the mountain.
Listen, I said,
the wind blows where it will;
played naming the places, the lakes,
mimed climbing the peaks,
finger by finger, step by step.
I numbered the sand-dunes,
nibbling them for the taste of marram-grass,
seaweed in green ribbons.

but useless playing pretend

Hair Jewel

The kind guard came to me
with a gold-mottled hair clip,
and we played games with it.
It was a butterfly
fluttering in the forest,
It was a club to kill cockroaches
with a crack on each carapace.
It was an altar for the sun,
to dazzle us till we laughed.

But with nightfall came unease.
Hard to make play
with clouds closing in
in this foul place
which enters our blood.

Would the needle of this jewel
in a vein
set us free?


How can a spider’s new web
Do our eyes
lose sight of it?

Today we stole
after insects,
our seeking hands
charming the hours.

Unlike an old web,
she lingers,
lets us stare
at the hem of her gown,

but for blue veins
in a weave and weft
like dew on a meadow.

No sign of a spider.
The insect adventure’s
a wait for an absent father.
It doesn’t bother the spider,


Where did the good guard go?
A rogue replaced him,
cursed me, put the black spot upon me.

Dismayed I dared a cry
that the earthenware plates were dirty.
‘Foul, feral creatures, you Welsh,
with filth in your veins’,
he spat, and vanished.

He returned with a fist of clay.
‘There. Make your own plates.
They can dry in the sun.’
He turned. And the insult turned
to a day of blessing, the youngest
all fingers and thumbs.

I hid a scrap,
to make a cross, blessed it,
kneading the beads of a rosary.


Today we made lullabies
to keep our voices clear.
‘Where oh where have you gone?
To see swallows nesting.
What will you play?
Hide and seek in an orchard of fruit.’

But they were lacklustre.
What challenge is hiraeth?
They asked for their kind,
the pony, the dog and the cat,
and they wailed
for their kith and their kin.
And I too mourned my own people
in silence.


They wailed all day
their voices carrying
through iron, through crannies,
terrified hours
sweat on rags.

Two came to the cell.
‘They were born to a traitor’,
said one, and took them away.

Without a farewell kiss,
without wrapping them warmly,
without word to console them,
they were torn from me.

The cell was laid waste.
Every cradle removed.
‘Take me too. There’s a knife
in my heart.
Did an axe split me in two?’

O un i un eddynt oll,
All Saints night
stole them away.


A gwedy rys mac rys mâl

I longed for their scent,
sour milk on their cheeks.

Came another messenger,
cudgel in hand,

made me scrub out
my cell of its curse.

I breathed in piss,
my skin was like winter grass.

A lad came with scissors
to shear me, my hair in his hand

‘It’ll fetch good money’, he asserted.
‘Gold tresses - a prize for a Knight.’

There was ice in his voice.
‘It’s tribal blood,
a curse for a coward.’

‘It’s tribal blood,

a curse for a coward.’


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