The Cwmwysg Poacher

A poem. It doesn't claim to be any great shakes but there are two features about it that might be interesting. Firstly it is based on a family story from the nineteenth century. This is about the hasty removal of one of my great-grandfathers from rural Mid Wales to the industrial south. Secondly, it is written in a variety of fixed forms which you might just enjoy spotting.

Cwmwysg

Here beneath the singing wind,
bare hillside, the river's end,
clouds touch fingers to the ground:
this was where they held their land.

Ieuan Thomas, son of Cwmwysg:
boy of promise, on a man's task,
all the family left at home,
children hungry, mother forlorn.

The sun had not risen over Mynydd Myddfai
and yet the clouds were red and warm;
like fire in the smouldering sky.
The sun had not risen over Mynydd Myddfai,
but he could see with his shepherd's eye
a presage of the coming storm.
The sun had not risen over Mynydd Myddfai;
and yet the clouds were red and warm.

He's out to catch a rabbit, or some small bird,
from unselfish habit, trailing riverward.
He cares to be neither seen nor heard:
he'd given his mother his solemn word.

Close by the river he hears a splash:
there's something caught inside the mesh.
With a bit of luck it'll be a fish,
so it's down to the water, all in a rush.

A Spring-run salmon, caught in the trap:
it's a beauty, twelve pounds at least.
A Spring-run salmon, caught in the trap:
he can see it wriggle, see it flap,
a Spring-run salmon caught in the trap:
down to the river, get it in the sack.

Tonight the family will have their feast,
a Spring-run salmon caught in the trap:
it's a beauty, twelve pounds at least.

Tudor's the keeper, the master's man,
proud and haughty, strong as an ox.
He's seen it all, he knows Ieuan's plan,
he'll teach him a lesson, give his ears a box.

'Out of there boy. Come over here.
Don't lie to me. Don't say it's a kelt.
Bring me the fish, and your poaching gear.
I'll teach you poaching with the flat of my belt.'

But before Tudor George could bring him disgrace
Ieuan flung the salmon into his face.
Caught by surprise, the keeper fell back,
and now Ieuan knew his future was black.

It happened like this: Tudor in his temper
had dropped his stick, cursing to God.
Ieuan knew then it was him or the keeper
and fled from that place with his hands in blood.

Dowlais

They came by the score, they came by the thousand:
they came because they were poor.
They came from the village, they came from the land;
they came by the score.

They ravaged the rivers; the mountains they tore,
they cleared the woodland,
in search of precious ore.

From field and from lowland, from farm and from highland
they came selling their labour;
to become just a 'hand'
they came by the score.

And one of these was Ieuan Thomas,
fled his homeland in Cwmwysg,
and for him the only promise
was the ironmaster's task.

Lodgings were a hillside terrace,
named for some far Midland Shire.
He spent his days beside the furnace,
his was just a hand for hire.
And for him the only solace
was the money snatched from jaws of fire.

Every week it was the same:
he sent his money to his mother
to keep alive the family flame
and support his scholar brother.
But still he felt a burning shame,
and hardly spoke to any other.

Yet there was one he learned to trust:
Bridghid, woman of the house.


He told her of his troubled past,
he told his tale without excuse.

Tudor George lived, but a broken man;
Ieuan could never see home again.
Bridghid watched him in his sorrow,
resolved to lift the young man's shadow.

She had a daughter, Mary Ann by name,
soon to come back home from service.
So Bridghid played a matching game
and warmth grew in that Dowlais terrace.

Wedding Day: Jepson's Pond

Young Rhys came down for the wedding day
bringing Mam's love for Ieuan's new life.
He'd walked over hilltops, all the way,
to see his brother take a wife.
Ieuan clasped his brother's hand,
knowing the strength he'd gained from the land.
But then Rhys said these words to Ieuan:
'I too will be a man of iron:
no more the scholar's life for me.
Dowlais Top is where I'll be'.

From field and from lowland, from farm and from highland,
they came selling their labour,
to become just a 'hand'
they came by the score.

And one of these was young Rhys Thomas
from his homeland in Cwmwysg,
come to serve the Dowlais furnace
to give his strength to iron's task.

But first together in the chapel,
there before the Dowlais people,
a wedding service, short and simple,
to unite the new young couple.

Later, brothers walked together,
across the mountain, through the heather.


The Autumn air was fresh and cold,
they talked of new life, and of old.

They hear some movement from below
and down a muddy bank descend,
to see by light of furnace glow
a small grey fish gasp out its end.

The sun was setting over Dowlais
and the sky a darkening red,
lit by the smouldering of the furnace.
The sun was setting over Dowlais,
while they watched without a purpose
beneath clouds gathering overhead.
The sun was setting over Dowlais
and the sky a darkening red.

Here in this bleak upland
no breath of wind, just metal's sound,
standing by the Jepson's Pond,
is where this story has its end.

See a painting of Pwll Uchaf by Aneurin Jones.
Read the
Pwll Uchaf essay.
 

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