Monday, 30 July 2007

Socialism proposes the transformation of human beings

Socialism proposes the transformation of human beings into living poems - Octavio Paz, Mexican surrealist

(Idris Davies)

Oh what will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney
Is there hope for the future?
Cry the brown bells of Merthyr.
Who made the mine owner?
Say the black bells of Rhondda.
And who robbed the miner?
Cry the grim bells of Blaina.

They will plunder willy-nilly,
Cry the bells of Caerphilly.
They have fangs, they have teeth,
Say the loud bells of Neath.
Even God is uneasy,
Say the moist bells of Swansea.
And what will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney
Put the vandals in court
Say the bells of Newport.
All would be well if, if, if,
Cry the green bells of Cardiff.
Why so worried, sisters, why?
Sang the silver bells of Wye.
And what will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.

Idris Davies was self-taught. His poetry chronicles the decay and social breakdown of Wales in the 20s and 30s . He began work as a miner after leaving school at the age of 14. The defeat of the General Strike of 1926 (see poem below) broke his spirit. He took a correspondence course and left Wales to become a teacher in England.

As to the bells themselves the bells of Brecon and Wye are off the South Wales coalfield, which meant that they could be happy without the mass unemployment endured by the coalfield to the south. Neath is in the anthracite coalfield of South Wales, which didn't experience the depression of the 20s and 30s so severely. Caerphilly is just off the coalfield. Many miners from Merthyr and Rhymney traveled to pits in the Neath valley at that time. At this time the British government was talking of closing down Merthyr and transporting the people to England- hence the brown bells. This is not a 'song' by miners this is a poem by a great poet who happened to be a miner that expressess a great biterness and hurt.The poem was borrowed by an American singer. Nothing wrong with that.

The miners were called, "the worms of the earth". The poem ends defiantly.

Do you remember 1926? That summer of soups and speeches,
The sunlight on the idle wheels and the deserted crossings,
And the laughter and the cursing in the moonlit streets?
Do you remember 1926? The slogans and the penny concerts,
The jazz-bands and the moorland picnics,
And the slanderous tongues of famous cities?
Do you remember 1926? The great dream and the swift disaster,
The fanatic and the traitor, and more than all,
The bravery of the simple, faithful folk? "
Ay, ay, we remember 1926," said Dai and Shinkin,
As they stood on the kerb in Charing Cross Road, "
And we shall remember 1926 until our blood is dry."


Anonymous said...

Big respect . . . to all you guys at Cardiff RESPECT. Love the blog!

You might enjoy this poem about Bells too! I usually strum it on a guitar.


Hear the sledges with the bells
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


Hear the mellow wedding bells,
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And an in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!


Hear the loud alarum bells
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor,
Now - now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.

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Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows:
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells
Of the bells
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells
In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!

Hear the tolling of the bells
Iron Bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people - ah, the people
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All Alone
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone
They are neither man nor woman
They are neither brute nor human
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells
Of the bells, bells, bells
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells
Of the bells, bells, bells:
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells
Bells, bells, bells
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

Greg Lewis said...

I haven't got a bells poem/song, I'm afraid, but was pleased to read Idris Davies' poem again.
The 'American singer' who borrowed it was Pete Seeger, wasn't it - so no ordinary singer.

Respectable Citizen said...

Yes, Pete Seeger. I assume he wrote the tune. Several American singers have cut it since - The Byrds had a hit, Dylan recorded it in the basement tape sessions, John Denver does a version. Sometimes it's amusing to hear some of the covers where they hideously pronounce the place names!

If you can't provide a Bells poem, do you have any other poems to bring to the table?!