1904 – 1971
Waldo Goronwy Williams is regarded as a mythical figure. No one who knew him bore a grudge towards him. Whoever spent time in his company would embrace him and treasure every meeting. Young children were always fond of him when he taught them.
Some would insist that he possessed the attributes of a saint. Indeed, he had strong convictions and an impish humour. Someone once said it had taken two thousand years of Welsh civilization to create a man such as Waldo. He had immersed himself in the history of his nation. On one occasion he stood as a Plaid Cymru parliamentary candidate.
Although he lost his deposit he won many admirers. To many Waldo was the greatest Welsh poet of the twentieth century. To others he was a pacifist who happened to be a poet. He was much admired for his insistence on serving two prison sentences for his refusal to pay income tax in protest against war and compulsory military service.
In his mid-fifties he joined the Quakers. He relished the inner stillness he would experience in the Meeting House. He dedicated his only volume of poetry Dail Pren (Tree Leaves) as a source of healing for his nation. We do not know of any other poet who made a similar gesture to his nation.
2023 ANNUAL LECTURE
The 2023 Annual Cymdeithas Waldo Lecture will be held at Y Drwm, National Library, Aberystwyth, Friday 29th September. The guest lecturer will be the Rev John Gwilym Jones and his subject will be ‘Plentyn y ddaear’ (Child of the Earth).
John Gwilym is known as one of the three Parc Nest brothers who all entered the ministry and have won major National Eisteddfod literary competitions. Refreshments will be available prior to the lecture which will start at 4.15pm. The lecture will be broadcast live on zoom in both languages.
Following the lecture a volume consisting most of the annual lectures delivered so far, including this year’s lecture, will be launched. Emyr Llewelyn, one of Cymdeithas Waldo’s Honorary Presidents, will introduce the volume.
The following morning at 10am Menter Iaith Sir Benfro will organise a short Walk to visit Carreg Waldo on Rhos-fach Common, Mynachlog-ddu. Meet at Bethel Chapel Vestry. Refreshments to follow.
Llinos Penfold, on behalf of Cymdeithas Waldo, organised three Sunday afternoon walks over the summer in areas associated with Waldo Williams. As expected, the first on May 7th was in the Mynachlog-ddu area where the poet spent four years of his childhood and where he was introduced to the Welsh language which he learnt whilst playing with his friends.
We went past the school where his father was the headmaster and the schoolhouse where the family lived. We had to linger at Carreg Waldo on Rhos-fach Common to relate the story about the American tourists who on seeing all the mountain ponies nearby thought the stone had been erected in memory of a stallion renowned for his longevity. The walk took us as far as Patshin Glas, near the entrance to Dangarn, before returning to Bethel Vestry to enjoy refreshments provided by Cymdeithas members.
St David’s was the destination of the second walk on June 4th. Before returning for refreshments at the home of Susan Cohen the walk took us around Caerfai on the coastal path. The highlight of the afternoon was being shown a copy of the three volume Pebidiog book as stunning as anything published by Gregynog Press. All three books are to do with the St David’s Peninsula and include illustrated excerpts from Waldo’s poems. Only a 1,000 copies were published.
This is how the photographer Marcus Oleniuk portrays the poem ‘Mewn Dau Gae’ (In Two Fields) in the volume ‘Pebidiog’
Mention was also made of Waldo’s friendship with one of the city’s renowned characters namely Raymond ‘Togo’ John and his futile attempts to wean him from the bottle. Raymond insisted he had been told by Waldo that the intended title of his volume was ‘Dail y Pren’ and not ‘Dail Pren’. What would the academics have made of that? Mary John, Raymond’s mother, sent a substantial cheque to Waldo’s nephews following his death, in acknowledgement of his efforts to aid her son. The cheque was never presented in any bank. Mary had also insisted in making a pair of curtains for Waldo when he bought a house in Haverfordwest.
Some time was spent outside the old Allendale hotel to remind ourselves of the effect Waldo had on his friends. He became the best of butties with Johnny ‘Batch’ Thomas and to such an extent that both would relate stories to such an extent that Waldo would forget to attend the lectures he was due to deliver in the area. And this after Johnny had initially given his wife a rollicking for allowing ‘such a tramp-like person’ to lodge in their hotel!
Waldo and Johnny ‘Batch’ in 1955
The third walk was held down in Rhoscrowther beyond Pembroke on July 2. We ventured as far as Hoplas farm, the home of another of Waldo’s close friends, Willie Jenkins. It was on the farmland, as the sun went down, that Waldo began composing the poem ‘Cofio’, which remains such a firm favourite, back in 1931. Waldo wanted to dedicate ‘Dail Pren’, his only volume of poetry, to Willie Jenkins but he would have none of it.
It can be easily understood why they were soulmates as Willie had spent many years during the First World War in Wormwood Scrubs jail as a result of his pacifism. He had also stood as an ILP candidate in several elections and became disillusioned when the party reneged on its pacifist principles.
A bonus was the company of Gwen Smith who shared her childhood memories of Willie Jenkins when her family lived at Hoplas Cottage. Her daily chore was to cycle to the farm to fetch milk. She distinctly remembered Mr Jenkins leaving the farm in a taxi wearing a top hat to catch a train to attend meetings in London. She well remembered there was an Irishwoman who served as a housekeeper and a German prisoner of war as a farmhand; Miss Donohue and Otto.
Gwen Smith sharing her memories
The walks were a means of realising how intense were Waldo’s relationships with individuals whom he believed had some special attributes. He would not let go of such friendships no matter what difficulties might arise.
We were joined by pilgrims from as far as Caernarfon, Penrhyncoch, Aberystwyth, Tewkesbury and Aberaeron as well as from all parts of Pembrokeshire. We already await similar walks next year.
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