Annual Lecture 2023 - John Gwilym

Annual Lecture 2023 - John Gwilym

In delivering the Annual Cymdeithas Waldo Williams Lecture at Y Drwm in the National Library, Aberystwyth, on September 29th, the former Archdruid, Rev John Gwilym Jones, chose as his subject ‘Plentyn y Ddaear’ (Child of the Earth).

Professor Mererid Hopwood welcomes everyone to the lecture

He mentioned his recollections of seeing Waldo and the impression he made on him. The first occasion was at Mynachlog-ddu schoolroom when he was around ten years old and he noticed that Waldo as a poet was ‘different’. He wore a short trousers and had been for a walk in the company of Cassie Davies, the educationist. “The glint of a child was to be seen in his eyes and he never ceased to be a child,” he said.

Another notable meeting was at Pontgarreg in 1965 when the Maldwyn National Eisteddfod Winning Compositions were under scrutiny. W. D. Williams, Barmouth, had won the Chair with an ode on the subject ‘The Quest’. It was showered with praise and by Waldo himself when he stood up to give his verdict. The poem referred to the discovery of early animal paintings at the Lascaux Cave in France dating from 20,000 years previously.

Suddenly Waldo dropped on his knees in the isle as if he was a young boy on his all fours in the cave and then raised his head in astonishment when he saw the paintings on the wall. In other words Waldo argued the poet could have described the discovery in a much more dramatic way. “We were all with Waldo in the cave at that moment”, said the lecturer.

He added that the dramatic element was very much to the fore in Waldo’s school lessons and he referred to his frustration when sharing a classroom with a teacher at Lyneham who was not of the same inclination. ‘Agor mas’ (Opening out) was Waldo’s usual expression when describing the dramatic element which he held to be essential in order to make a lesson memorable to a pupil and to stretch his imagination.

He insisted Waldo had a special relationship with children which can be clearly seen in the famous Welsh Arts Council poster. Waldo looks down on the pupils surrounding him and not at the camera. And the children themselves are full of joy.

The lecturer then dissected the dramatic dialect poem ‘Galw’r Iet’ (Calling the Gate). He might well be referring to a tollgate and a traveller shouting for it to be opened so that he can continue on his journey. But the stanzas call on him to bide his time in order to appreciate the world of nature around him and thus cherish a wealth other than material wealth.

Again we were given an appreciation anew of another early poem ‘Dychweledigion’ (Returnees) which is a eulogy to Pembrokeshire people no matter what their genetic background; the Langwm fisherwoman is as much part of the county as Twm Pen-lan the farmer. In other words the poem showed that in Waldo’s mind an attachment to one’s hinterland does not split humanity but rather brings it closer

Three students from the Welsh Department – Betsan, Megan and Rebecca – are congratulated by Eluned Richards, Waldo’s niece, for being the recipients of a scholarship provided by the family.

A reference was made to the word ‘bach’ (small) i.e. ‘small words in long forgotten languages’ in the poem ‘Cofio’ (Remembrance). It was explained that small words are the basic foundations of all languages whereas big words can change their meaning. Hence the misuse of prepositions as often happens in Welsh precipitates the decline of the language.

Perhaps the most stunning statement was the declaration of the similarity between Waldo and Jesus Christ in temperament as they were both prepared to accept favours. Both regularly accepted lodgings with friends. There was no pride in material values or abodes. Both saw all nations as children sitting around the same table sharing victuals. Both lift us to a higher plain of morals and understanding.

The lecture was chaired by the Rev Eirian Wyn Lewis, the Cymdeithas Waldo chairman, and many had joined on-line.

The Crew ready to leave for Waldo’s walk

The following morning, for the second successive year a Waldo Walk was organised by Menter Iaith Sir Benfro (Pembrokeshire Language Initiative) from Bethel Chapel Vestry to the Waldo Memorial Stone on Rhos-fach Common nearby. The walk was filmed by a BBC Wales television crew as part of a new series of ‘Weatherman Walking’ presented by Derek Brockway. Mererid Hopwood read the poem ‘Preseli’ at the site.

Mererid Hopwood reads the poem ‘Preseli’ to the camera

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