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The rough ground of Wales lives in the mind for years
This poem is an elegy for a departed friend, still walking together with me in my mind and memory, through mist and sunlight, rain and wind, as we did many a day in the Mountains of Snowdonia, North Wales, or as the Welsh call them quite accurately, 'Eryri, the mountains of longing.' Michael and I lived and worked together, two whole seasonal rounds on Tan-y-Garth farm, digging the sheep out of snow drifts, lambing on freezing March nights, shearing, and bringing them down from the tops on breathless summer dawns. In perfect balance, the evenings were spent sipping brandy by a coal fire and reading and studying William Blake: his writings, paintings and engravings; the only books we had being Michael's precious art volumes of that radical, prophetic and prolific artist. Michael was no mean artist himself, and as I write this, I sit beneath one of his own landscape paintings bequeathed to me after he was gone. The painting has a very, very tiny flaw in it where the paint has flaked into the perfect silhouette of a figure walking through the sunlight; always to me it is Michael and always to me I am just about to catch up with him and join him; and pick up the conversation once again, just where we left it.
TAN-Y-GARTH This grass-grown hill's a patchwork lined with walls I've grown to love. Four hundred years at least the hill farm's clung tenacious to the weathered slope, over the Ogwen and the green depths of Mon. The eye has weathered also, into the grey rocks and the fields bright with spring, the wind blown light from the mountain, filling the valley, the low backed sheep following the fence, hemmed by dogs and John's crooked staff, the still valley filled with his shouts and the mewling of sheep pressed through the gate. Beneath Yr Elen, the bowl of Llafer's stirred with mist, the dogs lie low in the tufted grass and watch with pure intent, the ragged back of the last sheep entering the stone-bound pen. The rough ground of Wales lives in the mind for years, springing moor grass under feet treading concrete, hundreds of miles from home, and the ground has names, songs full of grief, sounds that belong to a single stream, Caseg's the place of the mare, Cwm Llafer's the valley of speech, utterance of wind, Fryddlas the blue moorland filled by the sky. The farm passed down but never possessed lives father to son, life after life, feeding the sheep with grass, the people with sheep and memory with years lived looking at mountains. One single glance of a hillside darkened by cloud is enough to sense the world it breathes and the names need all the breath we have- Carnedd Llewellyn, Carnedd Dafydd, Garnedd Uchaf, all the Carneddau, Yr Elen of the shining light, Drosgl the endless ridge curving to nothing. One man I know loved this place so much he said he'd found his place to die. Years I knew him here, walking the high moor lines or watching the coals of a winter fire in the cottage grate. And die he did, but not before one month's final joy in wild creation gave him that full sight he'd glimpsed in Blake, he too struggled with his angel, in and out of hospital, the white sheets and clouds unfolded to the mountain's bracing sense of space, now he was ready, his heart so long at the edge of the nest shook its wings and flew into the hills he loved. Became the hills he loved. Walked with an easy rest cradled by the faith he nursed for years in doubt. His ashes are scattered over by Aber, the water continually saying his name, as I still go home to Tan-y-Garth speaking the names of those I know. -from River Flow: New & Selected Poems
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