In 1936 three Welsh nationalists took direct action following the controversial demolition of a site of cultural importance for Wales to establish a ‘bombing school’. They entered the site and set fire to a shed. They then waited for the police to arrive to arrest them. One of these was the poet and dramatist Saunders Lewis. Following a failure by the jury at Caernarfon Crown Court to agree, the case was transferred to London and the three were imprisoned. Saunders Lewis was then dismissed from his post as a lecturer in Swansea University. In spite of a campaign within the University of Wales many of his fellow academics refused to sign a letter opposing his dismissal. The poet R Williams Parry was incensed and fired off the following sonnet.
From your heights you came down to the grain on the floor
Blinding with your light all the chicks and the chicklings;
Creating above your head in the dovecot doors
The twitter and flutter one expects among pigeons.
O idios – O forsaken fool; fie for the shame
Of a great, unloved bird winging its lonely way;
Hatched in a different field’s corner not the same
God as ours rules over – shaped from a different clay.
As for us, we drink wisdom with cups of tea
And learned talk in the afternoon peace together;
We’ve an ear for the classics and a sense of place and can’t see
That parish pumps or prisoners’ cells could endeavour
To intrude on our taking of toast in grave squares
Of a sick academy. Relish your prisoner’s fare.
Some background to this: There is a barbed reference to afternoon tea and toast sessions held by Ifor Williams weekly at Bangor University. The word ‘dost’ in “academig dost” in the original can be read in Welsh as either meaning ‘toast’ or ‘sick’. Williams Parry, an occasional attender of these tea and toast afternoons, presumably includes himself among those who comfortably sip tea while Saunders Lewis has prisoner’s gruel. There is added layer of sarcastic wit here in the word “betryal”. On the surface it means squares of toast. But Ifor Williams had, just a few years before, published his edition of Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi where he supplies a lengthy note on the words “bed petrual“, referring to Branwen’s grave, indicating that ‘petryal’ means square. There are also references in the poem to the fact that Saunders Lewis was a catholic in a protestant culture and, in general, an unrepresentative representative of his people. Such is the nature and the fate of prophets.