From Unwaith, Cyril Jones
Cip deryn ar dderyn oedd e, un bollt
o dan bont o’i nythle
‘n eiliad sy’n para’n ‘wele’
cefnglas, a’r ias yn hwre.
Once It was a bird’s-eye view of a bird, one bolt under a bridge from its nesting place, that continues to be a moment of ‘behold’ of that blue-backed (bird) – a thrill like shouting hurray. CJ
Bird-spark or arc-flash, blue shot from the dark
of the bridge, full throttle
from nothing, from ‘who?’ to ‘…what?’
– star of the moment, spotlit!
Blue flint cracked on black, the stone of the bridge
– my first time – left alone
staring after, the bird flown,
always the one and only.
A trick of the light, or free play of sun
on the stream – sight’s hearsay:
one flash, précis of a day,
free gift, like grace. Or cliché.
Click. There, you’ve caught it, light dead on the page,
the loss of it mended
maybe… like love, a word said
best when it’s not expected.
Think this: bird-flash on its nest in the night,
flight fixed at the quickest,
still: light-speed made manifest,
come home to itself. At rest.
Notes on this poem
Is the englyn ‘the Welsh haiku’? In its brevity, yes. In texture, absolutely not. The traditional Welsh principles of cynghanedd demand intricate patterning of rhyme, stress, syllable count and alliteration. Reproducing this in contemporary English can feel just too loud. In Welsh formal verse, the sound, the accomplished artifice, is at least half the point.
A poem is a concourse of sounds, meanings and implications. No law says we will find the same correspondences in languages as far apart as Welsh and English. Translating Cyril Jones’ englynion was like jumping in the deep end of a (deceptively) small pool.
My first version worked… at a cost. Taking one strand of the original as primary, giving it the kind of elaboration the original did, made a satisfying knot. To prioritise a different strand produced a different poem. One, two, three… until no aspect of the original had been left unworked-though. I had five. The irony of this felt like proof of its rightness. The Welsh title ‘unwaith’ means ‘once’.
Is this ‘translation’? It was equally a ‘collaboration’, from a book- length project called Troeon/Turnings (a Welsh term for translation), due from Seren in late 2019, in which our pieces part-translate, part-improvise around each other. ‘Translaboration’ is one word for it.
You could see these versions as a Cubist painting – all facets on one picture plane. Or as an atom in a particle accelerator, disintegrated to be revealed:
in the cloud chamber, atoms tear, spin, split,
translate past and future
into spirals, spun silk, sheer
release, the heart of matter
– Philip Gross