Monday, November 29, 2010


When Will Rain Come?

Rolfe Humphries, Dafydd ap Gwilym Resents the Winter (Freely Arranged from the Prose Translation by Nigel Heseltine):
Across North Wales
The snowflakes wander,
A swarm of white bees.
Over the woods
A cold veil lies.
A load of chalk
Bows down the trees.

No undergrowth
Without its wool,
No field unsheeted;
No path is left
Through any field;
On every stump
White flour is milled.

Will someone tell me
What angels lift
Planks in the flour-loft
Floor of heaven,
Shaking down dust?
An angel's cloak is
Cold quicksilver.

And here below
The big drifts blow,
Blow and billow
Across the heather
Like swollen bellies.
The frozen foam
Falls in fleeces.

Out of my house
I will not stir
For any girl,
To have my coat
Look like a miller's,
Or stuck with feathers
Of eider down.

What a great fall
Lies on my country!
A wide wall, stretching
One sea to the other
Greater and grayer
Than the sea's graveyard
When will rain come?
I'm not sure, but I think this may be Nigel Heseltine's prose translation:
I do not sleep at night nor go out by day, I am sad because the world has disappeared, nor is there food nor bank left, nor open grounds nor fields. Nor will I be enticed out of my house by any girl's invitation while this plague continues, this cloak of white feathers sticking close to dragon's scales, but tell her that I do not want my coat made white like a miller's garment. After New Year one must go wrapped in fur, and during January God makes us start the year as hermits. Now God has whitewashed the dark earth all around till there is no undergrowth without its white garment, no coppice that's not covered with a sheet: fine flour has been milled on every stump, heavenly flour like April blossoms. A cold veil lies over the woods and the young trees, a load of chalk bows down the trees; ghostly wheaten flour which falls till a white coat of mail covers all the fields of the plain. The soil of the ploughed fields is covered with a cold grit, lying like a thick coat of tallow on the earth's skin, and a shower of frozen foam falls in fleeces big as a man's fist. Across North Wales the snow-flakes wander like a swarm of white bees. Why does God throw down this mass of feathers like the down of his own geese, till here below the drifts sway and billow over the heather like swollen bellies big as heaps of chaff and covered with ermine? The dust piles in a drift where we sang along the pleasant paths. This garment of snow holds us in grip while it remains cementing together the hills, valleys and ditches under a steel coat fit to break the earth, fixing all into a vast monument greater than the graveyard of the sea. What a great fall lies on my country, a white wall stretching from one sea to another! Who dares fight its rude power? A leaden cloak lies on us. When will the rain come?
Here is another prose translation by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson:
I cannot sleep, I cannot leave the house, I am distressed because of it. There is no world, no ford, no hillside, no open space, no ground today. I won't be tempted out of my house into the fine snow, at the word of a girl. What a plague the thing is, feathers on one's gown that cling like the spume of fighting dragons! My excuse is that my clothes would be all as white as the clothes of a miller. After New Year's Day, it is no lie, everyone dresses in white fur; in the month of January, the first of the series, God makes us into hermits. God has whitewashed the black earth all around; there is no underwood without its white dress, there is no copse without its coverlet. Fine flour is the fur on every bough, flour of the sky like the flowers of April; a bitter cold sheet over the greenwood grove, a load of chalk flattening the wood, a mirage of wheaten flour, a mail coat vesting the level ground. The soil of the plough-land is a cold grit, a thick tallow on the face of the earth, a very thick shower of foam, fleeces bigger than a man's fist; throughout North Wales they made their way, they are white bees from Heaven. Whence can God raise up so great a plague? Where is there room for so many goose-feathers of the saints? Own brother to a heap of chaff, in its ermine shirt, the snow is skilled to heap the heather. The dust has changed to snowdrifts now, where once was bird-song and the narrow lanes. Does anyone know what sort of folk are spitting on the ground in the month of January? White angels it must be, no less, who are sawing wood up in Heaven; see, from the floor of the flour-loft they have raised the plank trapdoor. An ephemeral silver dress of ice, quicksilver, coldest in the world, a cold mantle (too sad that it stays), the cement of hill and dale and dyke, a thick steel coat, heavy as a landslide, a pavement greater than the sea's graveyard; a great fall it is upon my land, a pale wall reaching from sea to sea. Who dares cry shame upon it? It is like lead on the cloak! Where is the rain?
I think that the Welsh starts as follows:
Ni chysgaf, nid af o dŷ,
Ym mhoen ydd wyf am hynny.
Nid oes fyd na rhyd na rhiw,
Na lle rhydd na llawr heddiw.

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