"Ponderynge together yestardayes promise, and two-dayes doyng"
(Hall's Chronicle - 1548)


"Goronigl gwyr yr Ynys" (Lewis Glyn Cothi - 1450)

PLYGAIN


Some time ago I was invited to submit a poem for an exhibition on the meaning of Christmas. The idea was the reverse of the more common process of a poet writing about a work of visual art. Poems were submitted by a number of writers and then different artists took up their chosen poems as a theme for a visual production. The result is an exhibition of the poems (mostly in Welsh but with a few in English) and the works of visual art at the MORLAN multi-faith arts centre in Aberystwyth.

I chose the theme Plygain (from the latin pulli cantus - 'cockcrow'), a traditional Welsh form of carol service which developed from the pre-Reformation midnight mass with an emphasis on the return of light.

The exhibition opened recently with a chaired debate in Welsh at the Morlan centre on the meaning of Christmas as displayed in the exhibited works. One of the thematic speakers in the debate was Damian Walford Davies who suggested that most of the contributions necessarily 'disturbed' the idea of Christmas, undermining it in order to return - in some cases - with a renewed sense of faith in the significance of the festival

In my own case I had chosen to structure my poem around a 15th century carol addressing 'Yule' as a character. This had no Welsh provenance but did seem to be in keeping with the thematic significance of the Plygain service. I also tried to capture the fact that, as T.M.Owen puts it in his book Welsh Folk Customs "Christmas has changed gradually from an intensely social occasion … to one of family celebration in the seclusion of private houses." This suggestion was also implied for me by the visual image produced by Gareth Owen to illustrate the poem. He produced a triptych of three different constructions, each of a row of three windows to accompany Nadolig Gwyn by Myrddin ap Dafydd, Ym Mwlch y Blynyddoedd by Mererid Hopwood and my own poem. Here the placing of the electric lamp outside the central window implicitly places the light out in the night where the communal procession referred to in the poem is taking place.




PLYGAIN

Song before cock crow in the stillness
Of Midwinter when the darkness
Lingers long before the Sun is seen.

By diverse ways the singers come
To the place of praise, carrying
Bright candles, holly-green and ivy-green.


Welcome Yule, thou merry man
In worship of this holy day.
Welcome Yule, Welcome Yule.

Welcome be thou Heaven King
Born on this blessed morning
To thee Welcome we will sing.


Words and music woven into light,
Bright voices gathered against the dark
Singing of a new life to be born.

Hear the stillness ring with song,
See the darkness glow with light
Before the slow unfolding of the dawn.


(inset verses adapted from a 15th century carol)
***
Poets that are part of the exhibition are: Myrddin ap Dafydd, John Barnie, Tudur Dylan, Menna Elfyn, Greg Hill, Mererid Hopwood, Meirion MacIntyre Huws, Rhys Iorwerth, Mike Jenkins, Dafydd Pritchard, Eirug Salisbury.

The artists are: Cefyn Burgess, Marian Delyth, Anthony Evans, Carwyn Evans, Iestyn Hughes, Ruth Jên, Tegwyn Jones, Gareth Owen, Gareth Roberts, John Rowlands, Diane Williams.