As I prepare to visit the National Eisteddfod, held this year in Bala (the festival moves around Wales to a different site each year), I am reminded of the conclusion of Emyr Humphreys’ poem ‘Ancestors’:
Their voices live in the air
Like leaves like clouds like rain
Their words call out to be spoken
Until the language dies
Until the ocean changes.
The sense of the language being alive in the natural as well as the cultural environment is a persistent one. Waldo Williams, writing of the Welsh mountains, said
Ni fedr ond un iaith eu codi
(Only one language can lift them)
and the poet Gerallt Lloyd Owen, about whom there will be a talk this year in the Pabell Lên (Literary Pavilion) on the Eisteddfod field, writes, in his poem ‘Etifeddiaith’ (Inheritance):
We had a language, though not by choice,
for it had already quickened in the soil
its strength restless on the mountains.
(a translation of the whole poem appears on my poetry translation pages HERE )
This sense of the language having some sort if interpenetration with the land of Wales is common, even among many who can’t speak it. The Eisteddfod’s peripatetic existence, setting up camp even in areas where Welsh is not common currency, acknowledges this. But Bala is certainly in the heart of ‘Y Fro Gymraeg’ and I’ll be in the thick of this particularly intense form of ancestor worship while there.
And afterwards…? When I walk the mountain paths will the language seem to be with me there, or are culture and nature distinct? At times they seem completely unconnected; at others inextricably interpenetrated. Waldo William’s suggestion that those mountains can only be raised in one language rather carefully qualifies the assertion by relating it to “a sky of song”. That is, the celebration of the mountains is what gives them meaning in language. But this is ambiguously expressed. And it is not to say, as Gerallt Lloyd Owen indicates, that we have any choice in the matter: “It’s strength restless in the mountains”. Waldo Williams too characterises this language as if she were both eternal and “as young as ever” and “full of mischief”. So she has to be to survive.