Harri Gwynn and ‘Y Creadur’ / ‘The Creature’
In this year of his centenary, Harri Gwynn is overshadowed by R.S. Thomas, and in 2014 will be overwhelmed by the Dylan Thomas industry. That’s life. Some of Harri Gwynn’s papers can be found in the National Library of Wales and are said to include English and Spanish notes towards ‘Y Creadur’, a long poem in free verse (pryddest), controversially overlooked for the Crown at the 1952 National Eisteddfod. I did not consult these papers when making my version of his pryddest.
The way I’ve translated Harri Gwynn stresses his ability to create characters in his poetry. These days the people I’ve depicted in ‘Y Creadur’ might be seen as soap opera archetypes. “Minnau a adwaenwn yr wynebau, / Rai. (Here are some of those faces / I recognise”) writes Gwynn, and indeed he makes a gallery of them.
For me, these characterisations are necessary for humanising an otherwise long and exhausting poem. Possibly ‘Y Creadur’ reveals or even celebrates a fear of female sexuality and supposed duplicity.
The great relationship of Gwynn’s life was with his wife, Eirwen, a scientist and prolific writer. Together they were a formidable couple, politically adventurous, especially in feminism and linguistic matters. Eirwen published a celebrated account of their life together, ‘Hanes Dau Gariad’ (Gomer) in 1999.
Harri Gwynn was a writer before he became famous in Wales on the nightly news programme, ‘Heddiw’. Yet there is surely a journalistic element to his poetry. Unsurprisingly, he was also a prolific author of short stories.
For me, translation provides an opportunity to remix or rescore poems I admire or find intriguing. In this way, I see translators as able to become experimental composers and musicians.
Because for me, translation should be imaginative and always based on music. Otherwise it can prove a mere dogged copying from one language into another. Why do it?
Before I was asked to translate ‘Y Creadur’, I had never heard of Harri Gwynn. My attempt to make a ‘version’ of ‘Y Creadur’ is described in an essay in ‘Poetry Wales’ (49:2) issued October, 2013. As to that huge Bloodaxe volume , it is full of poems probably accurately translated into English. But mostly it fails to catch fire. The collection is dutiful but too many of the translators were intimidated by the idea that Welsh is ‘the senior language’ in Wales. Thus they avoided risk taking.
When I look at my version of ‘Y Creadur’ now, I hear music: erotic, disgusted. I think of The Velvet Underground’s ‘European Son’ or ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’, with John Cale’s atonal viola to the fore. More complex and ambitious than those pieces, ‘Y Creadur’ is one of the darkest and disturbing poems I have ever encountered.
On October 30, 2013 in The Studio, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, there was a public reading of ‘Y Creadur’ by Twm Morys, and I premiered my version, ‘The Creature’. Twm explained why Harri Gwynn is on his ‘hero list’. I talked about the idea of ‘translating’ as ‘music’.
Next Reading will be at the Green Room, James St., Porthcawl: Friday November 29, at 8pm.
Robert Minhinnick will read parts of his translation of Harri Gwynn’s terrifying ‘Y Creadur’. Followed by Open Mic’