In Two Fields

The gap between Parc y Blawd and Weun Parc y Blawd,
the 'two fields' of Waldo Williams' poem

There is a line in the poem 'Mewn Dau Gau' (In Two Fields) by Waldo Williams which is as follows:

Awen yn codi o'r cudd, yn cydio'r cwbl

This can be literally translated as 'Awen rising from hiding, linking everything together'. The fact that this sounds rather awkward in English, lacking the compactness of expression of the Welsh as well as the links of emphasis provided by the cynghanedd, might explain the fact that neither of the available translations into English attempt a literal translation of the line. In particular neither translate 'awen' to its usual literal meaning of 'muse' or 'poetic inspiration'.
Tony Conran's translation blends the line with the previous one as
' ... goodwill widened / And rose out of hiding, to make us all one'

Rowan William's translation seeks to unpack the compactness of the Welsh rather than translate it literally:
' ..... there is a new voice / rising and spilling from its hiding place .....' 
Rowan Williams has also provided a commentary on his translation in which he explains his strategy. On this line he says "The Awen that rises out of hiding ... needs a bit of a gloss, as 'muse' in English would have an unhelpfully precious and archaising feel. It will have to be 'a new voice/ ... call it the poet's', hoping that there is enough to make it clear that this is not just a matter of some one poet's imagination at work. I don't think this is properly captured in my version, I have to say."
So how should we read 'awen' here? Clearly it is being used in a special way and one which eludes both translators.  In both cases, of course, they have some part of the meaning. The poet certainly does mean to say it arises from poetic inspiration and 'goodwill' certainly plays a part in the overall sense of oneness which envelops those working in the fields in this poem. But if it both contains them and is contained in their sense of community, it also arises from something or someone outside of them: the "sea of light" rolling over the dark land at the beginning of the poem, the one who "hides amidst the words" the "bringer of quietness", the "silent hunter who casts a net around us". 'Awen' is a spiritual force that arises from all this to bring everyone, and everything, together as well as an inspiration for the poet who discovers it in the words in which it is hiding.
‘Awen’ is a word that is deeply ingrained in Welsh cultural awareness and response to landscape as well as carrying the literal sense of poetic inspiration and as a word for the Muse. I think too of the words of the 17th century poet Henry Vaughan who speaks of awen as having inhabited a young shepherd in the form of a hunter figure dressed in green and carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows. I’m not sure that Waldo Williams would have known this reference from Vaughan’s correspondence with his cousin, the antiquary John Aubrey who had written to him asking about remnants of the ancient bards in Wales. He would certainly have known Vaughan’s poetry but the ‘hunter’ figure here and the “silent hunter” of Waldo Williams’ poem, though they come from different cultural sources, and are presented in very different contextual frameworks, both emanate from a landscape in which spirit infuses animate matter.
Awen, then, arises both from without and from within. Words are shaped from the silence of not-world into the world. For Waldo Williams the world was a community in which 'adnabod' ('recognition' - a key word in his poetry) was part of the experience of living alongside others in a recognised place. So those working in the fields shared the experience of being one and it is awen that makes sense of it all, bringing it all together, in the poet's words and also in the felt presence, in the gap between those two fields, into which comes "the outlaw, the hunter, the exiled king" parting the rushes to reclaim his domain.


  Rowan Williams' translation of the poem, together with other information about Waldo Williams, can be found 
HERE 

and also, together with his commentary in Cof ac Arwydd ed. Damian and Jason Walford Davies (Barddas, 2006)
Tony Conran's translation can be found in his parallel text edition of Waldo Williams' poetry The Peacemakers (Gomer, 1997)

Henry Vaughan's description of the inspired shepherd can be found HERE

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your sense of 'awen' in this poem and for the link to Rowan Williams' translation. I was immediately taken by the Annuvian imagery - the field as the sea floor, the Hunter with the whistlers/plovers as he appears in our northern folklore, the sense of him gathering, holding... the references to 'rushes' and him whistling across 'centuries of blood / on the grass' really invoked Gwyn for me. I'm not sure what you think? I think I'm going to print this out and spend some time reading and re-reading it and meditating on it as there is so much going on.

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    1. Yes, the parallels with Gwyn struck me, though I'm sure this is an undercurrent as far as Waldo Williams is concerned. As a Quaker his 'sea of light' would have come from George Fox's 'ocean of light' but the Hunter seems to have been a deeply felt sense of presence in the land, however understood theologically, which touched him directly. Like the Awen and much of the imagery it seems to well up from the interstices of language, land and culture feeding into a deeply religious sensibility.

      The poem certainly re-pays re-reading. If you can get a look at Tony Conran's translation, which is perhaps closer to the succinctness of the original, this would also give a different perspective.

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  2. I notice that Joseph P Clancy translates it simply as 'spirit' which I think works well:

    Till at last the whole world came to the stillness
    And on the two fields his people walked,
    And through them, among them, about them, spread
    A spirit rising from hiding, conjoining all,
    As it was with the few of us once, in the plying of pitchforks
    Or the tedious tugging of thatch out on the heavy moor.
    How close to each other we came -
    The silent hunter was casting his net about us.

    This description of the few of them plying their pitchforks etc comes from an experience he had when he was 12, visiting his uncle's farm at Llandysilio. He said "In the gap between these two fields... I suddenly and vividly realised, in a very definite personal experience, that people are, above all, brothers to one another". I'd like to read Tony Conran's translation.

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  3. After writing my previous comment I was thinking that it was a shame that 'spirit' had to sacrifice the connotation of poetic inspiration but then I thought of an earlier line in the second stanza of Clancy's translation: 'Who is hiding himself in the heart of the words?' and wondered if you could hear that implied in the translation of the 'awen' line: A spirit rising from hiding [in the heart of words], conjoining all...

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    1. Yes Joe Clancy's "spirit" hits another emphasis, but loses "inspiration" - which is the choice of Alan Llwyd's translation - while R. Gerallt Jones has "muse". I don't think any of these translations are easily available now, but Tony Conran's version crops up in several anthologies as well as his own translations of Waldo's verse.

      Yes I think the "who is hiding" theme runs through the whole poem both implicitly and explicitly from the one who rolls the sea of light, the one who beckons when imagination awakens, the one bringing quietness to an unquiet mind and the hunter, the outlaw, the exiled king who comes to reclaim his domain. I think that is why we have to take "awen" both as something emerging from words as well as a force emerging from the land and also implicitly from otherness.

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What do you think?