Gelli Fach

Gelli Fach

I'm a cell, I'm fragmented, I change my form;
I'm a repository of song, I'm a dynamic state.
I love a wooded slope and a snug shelter,
and a creative poet who doesn't buy his advancement.

Wyf kell, wyf dellt, wyf datweirllet;
wyf llogell kerd, wyf lle ynnyet.
Karaf-y gorwyd a goreil clyt,
a bard a bryt ny pryn y ret.

From: Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, edited and translated by Marged Haycock

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Bride is welcome! Bride is come!

Brigit's Day has come and gone and never before have I been so aware of the change as I am this year. Last year was a dismal one and the winter particularly so. But over the weekend a subtle change occurred and I've been feeling the shoots of my usual enthusiasm and creativity return.

This year, for the first time, one of our number was unable to come on the evening of her day, so after taking the shawl out to hang on a tree for Brigit to bless, I dressed the Bride doll myself, made up her bed, decorated with snowdrops, shells and quartz and softened with the wool I'd gathered from the Park at Hawarden, went to the door and standing on the threshold, holding the door jams, I sang an invocation to invite her in. The song I used is one by Nickomo and Rasullah - it's very gentle and evocative. I sometimes play it on my whistle as I can't sing in tune, but this year I sang and it didn't sound too bad! You can find details of the songbook with the music and the CD, both called the Song of the Land, on Nickomo and Rasullah's website. (Their Brigit's Blessing is lovely as well.)

It was quite special to have this time alone meditating on Brigit and as I was choosing ribbons and sewing them in place to make a gown for the rush doll I felt in touch with previous generations of people who had made a figure to represent the return of spring, not only in Ireland, but I suspect in other countries in the distant past. I was also aware of the festival as one of the return of the light, of the sun, the very first spark of spring rather than spring itself. It chimes for me with the perception of Brigit as a goddess of the dawn, of the beginning of light, of enlightenment.

The next day, Brigit's Day, I made lunch and my two friends came to celebrate with me. After we'd eaten we recited Ruth Bidgood's Hymn to Sant Ffraid (Brigit's name in Welsh) for 3 voices, as we have done for the last few years. This year I was the first voice and I felt the words at the beginning resonate with me:

month of Sant Ffraid.
Earth has long lain white, rigid,
locked into lifelessness.
Ice on river, no lively running:
ice on field, no soft furrow:
ice on byre, no boon for beasts:
ice on hills, no high pasture:
ice on heart, no hope leaping."

And later, a moving on, a freeing as I said the words:

month of the quickening,
month of Brigid the Threefold,
muse, healer, goddess of fire.
Ice clutches copse and cataract;
earth faints with cold, craves to be free.
In grey of grim dusk,
in black of bleak night,
a cry dies, a life is given.
Blood blots the Bridestone,
flame springs, fire supplicates -
Bride, goddess, bring now
the breaking, the slaking,
the flowing, the growing!"

Several pages later, in unison, we invoked Ffraid:

"We call you now to walk on the riverbank,
to break the ice, to free the river.
We greet you now
from your churches and your wells,
from the cold sea-coast and the colder hills,
with the immemorial cry,
'Ffraid is come! Ffraid is welcome!'"

After this we set to work weaving crosses. The rushes came from a different place this year and were thicker and stronger so they didn't bend so easily but we persevered. While we worked we shared some poems and talked about our lives.

I feel as if I am moving into a new phase where I crave more simplicity, more of an uncluttered life. I've always been reluctant to remove side shoots from plants or some of the apples that form a cluster and prevent just one or two reaching a good size. All things want to live, the life of plants spills out into these growths, who am I to stop them? But last summer I began to see, or to feel in my bones, how this may stunt growth and weaken the plant. If I want good-sized fruit that ripens well, it's necessary to limit unchecked growth. I could see the analogy with my own life - how 'spreading oneself too thin' may result in a weakening, especially when one's energy is limited, as mine is. I was beginning to crave the cutting down of ideas and projects so that I could focus on the few important things that I would like to bear a rich fruit.

So this is my agenda for the year ahead. I hope to be successful in this. I'm beginning to declutter, it feels more urgent as I may move at some point to be nearer my siblings or my son and family since my mobility is deteriorating. In which case I need to start clearing out the many drawers and cupboards in this house, getting rid of the dross and giving away things which aren't useful or beautiful, things which, in a subtle way, I feel are weighing me down. I hope to emerge lighter, more focused, more fruitful, more fit to engage with whatever lies ahead.

I certainly feel a renewal of my spirit. But last year has not been wasted, for one thing it has shown me that I haven't achieved that Still Centre which enables one to keep one's balance, one's equilibrium, through the vicissitudes of life, though I have moved some way towards it. This gives me the prod I need to spend more time in practice - with meditation and ritual work centred on Brigit, with yoga exercises to make up for my lack of walking, with carefully chosen creative work and with Being-in-Nature. My Buddhist calendar for February supports me in this resolve, saying:

'It is better to practice a little than talk a lot.'  Muso Kokushi. Or write a lot perhaps?! (But I hope to write my blogs a little more regularly, though shorter posts perhaps.)

Friday, 28 November 2014

Robert Graves and William Ewart Gladstone’s Grandson, William G. C. Gladstone


William Glynne Charles Gladstone (Will) 1885-1915, the son of William Henry Gladstone, eldest son of Willam Ewart Gladstone the eminent Victorian statesman.

As mentioned below, during a recent stay at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Flintshire, I went to view a WW1 exhibition in St Deiniol’s church which is next to the Library. I was interested to see that there was a board on the Royal Welch Fusiliers. As well as learning more about Robert Graves’s regiment, which recruited primarily from North Wales, I was delighted to find that R G had known Gladstone’s grandson, also a Royal Welch Fusilier, and had attended his funeral in Hawarden in 1915. After looking round the exhibition, I went back to the Library to find a copy of Goodbye to All That and locate the passage where he is mentioned: 

From Goodbye to All That:

“Of the officers sent out before me, several had already been killed or wounded. The killed included a Liberal M.P., Second-Lieutenant W. G. Gladstone, whom we called ‘Glad Eyes’. He was in his early thirties, a grandson of old Gladstone, whom he resembled in feature, and Lord-Lieutenant of his county. While war hung in the balance he declared himself against it, whereupon his Hawarden tenantry, much ashamed, threatened to duck him in the pond. Realising that, once war was declared, further protest would be useless, he joined the regiment as a second-lieutenant. His political convictions remained unaltered, but, being a man of great integrity, he refused to take the non-combative employment as a staff-colonel offered him in the War Office. Soon after joining the First Battalion in France he was killed by a sniper while unnecessarily exposing himself. General French sent his body home for a military funeral at Hawarden; I attended it.”   (GTAT, Penguin Books, 1985, p 66)

I was told by the head of the Tourism Committee of St Deiniol’s Church, who had organised the exhibition, that William Glynne Gladstone was particularly tall so that when he was standing in the trench his head was above the parapet. The sergeant told him to duck down but he said “I can’t do that. The men will think I’m in a funk”. Consequently he was shot. She also told me that, although it was usual for officers to be buried with their men, a special dispensation from the king allowed him to be brought home to be buried in the churchyard at Hawarden. Here are some photos from the exhibition:

The body of W. G. C. Gladstone in the Temple of Peace, Hawarden Castle

Lieutenant Gladstone’s body, drawn by estate people, leaving Hawarden Castle through the park his grandfather loved so well

The funeral procession through Hawarden village

Brothers-in-Arms pay their Tribute in the churchyard.

The last scene in the peaceful old churchyard. All the villagers were there to mourn the young soldier squire.

I had hoped to be able to identify Robert in the photos but they aren’t detailed enough. Still, it was good to think that he is there in them somewhere.

Unfortunately the name of the member of the Tourism Committee of the church who provided these photographs and the information is obscured by poppies in the photograph I took of the complete board, but I am grateful to him or her for their research.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Gladstone's Library - Day 7 (belatedly)

My last morning at the Library was a beautiful one and the jay appeared again as though marking the beginning and end of my stay. Although jays are not uncommon birds, it's only the second I've ever (knowingly) seen.

After breakfast I went to the church, St Deiniol's, which is next door to the Library to look at the WW1 exhibition. I wasn't sure what to expect but found it fascinating with boards on the subject of such things as Women's Work and Women's Poetry, Venereal Disease and Brothels, Wounds, Posters. The exhibition had been put on by the Tourism Committee of the church and the call had been put out to the local community to submit any relevant information and photos they had. I was particularly interested to read about the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the local regiment to which Robert Graves had belonged, and the 'young earl', Gladstone's grandson who had served in the regiment and been killed; Graves had attended the funeral and mentions it in Goodbye To All That.

After viewing the exhibition and taking photos of it (I'll post some interesting snippets another time), I went back to the Library for lunch. I was thinking that I must get a copy of GTAT, my own having vanished somewhere long ago, so that I could copy out the reference to William Glynne Charles Gladstone. Then I suddenly realised that I was in a library which would surely have a copy so I went along there, the librarian found it for me, brought it to my desk and after some searching I found the relevant passage. Job done!

The journey back to Aberystwyth is always lovely, bordered by trees, hills and mountains. That day the sun was colluding with the trees in making it a golden one and I enjoyed driving along with Van Morrison singing ('on the road with my soul'). I stopped briefly at Bala Lake, aka Llyn Tegid, where Ceridwen of the cauldron was said to live. The sun shone brightly on the water.

This reminded me of the glass sculpture in the chapel at the Library. I'd asked who had made it and heard that it was by a Liverpool artist called Linda Crabbe. She had been told that Gladstone had originally called the Library 'Monad', meaning Oneness, One, the original number. It reflected his belief that, as long as people studied solidly and seriously, the truth would be served and the sculpture she made is her interpretation of this Oneness, of the coming together of shards. This is very different from the way the piece had spoken to me and I reflected yet again that sculpture, primarily non-representational sculpture, is rather similar to poetry in its suggestibility and openness to various interpretations. The truth - the coming together of many disparate fragments. (And yes, the arms of the cross are copper.)

Leaving Bala, the sun was bright and low in the sky making the journey both difficult and uplifting as I headed back towards Aberystwyth and the setting sun.

 Autumn afternoon
travelling West
the sun in my eyes

Friday, 14 November 2014

Insight in the Library - Gladstone's Day 6

Yesterday I set aside the morning to work out how to resize my video so that it would fit onto the page properly. I could see where I had to change the dimensions in the HTML but did't know how I would keep the correct ratio - being rubbish at maths. However, having googled and discovered that I would get the right height by multiplying the width by 0.8235 (who knew!) I had the bright idea of looking at YouTube dimensions for videos then took a calculated guess and hey presto! it worked first time. I felt inordinately pleased by this and quite energised. Having the morning free I set off for the Library with no goal in mind, knowing that something would catch my attention.

That something was a journal called Interreligious Insight, (volume 12, No 1, June 2014). There were several interesting articles in it and some things that I noted down to muse upon. One article mentions Karen Armstrong's use of myth and logos as useful vocabulary for talking about different approaches to our understanding of life and the world we find ourselves in: 

Myths, Armstrong says, are not concerned with practical matters but with meaning; the need to find significance in our lives else we despair. Myth is rooted in the unconscious mind; myths are ancient forms of psychology. Logos is the rational, pragmatic and scientific thought that enables people to function well in the world... Logos must relate exactly to facts and correspond to external realities. (Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, 2000) 

I find these useful designations for the dual tools that are necessary for us to function effectively in the world as well as engage with meaning and significance, each mode of being or of thought complementing the other rather than being mutually exclusive as some would have it. In fact I believe that both are vital and need to interact and cross-fertilise each other in order to maintain psychic health for the group as well as the individual.

I was also interested in a mention of a book I hadn't come across before, The Mystery of Being by Gabriel Marcel. In it he says that mysteries such as the existence of God or of life and death are not problems to be solved because we cannot objectify them, we cannot isolate them from ourselves. They are inseparable from us and "encroach on our own data". How then do we approach mysteries? By participation! We participate in mysteries.

It seems to me that there is resonance between problem-solving and Logos and the participation in mysteries and Mythos. My need to fit my video into the required space was something outside me, a problem to be solved. The mystery of the elements as symbolic of my personal make- up and functioning, which I was contemplating earlier, is something to experience and participate in, by following intuition and imagination and promptings from the unconscious mind. Both are, for me, a necessary part of living and being effective in the world.

Today, after another session reading the Times Literary Supplement in a comfortable armchair in the library by the window, I bought a sandwich and then went to sit on the steps going down to a wooded and tangled area of the grounds. Sitting there, the sun warm on my back, the gentle movements of leaves in the breeze and the half-seen presence of various birds and insects in the wood, I am aware that I am totally happy.

Later it's time for tea. Gladstone extolled the virtues of tea, saying: "If you are cold, tea will warm you, if you are too heated it will cool you; if you are depressed it will cheer you, if you are excited it will calm you." I concur :-)

Here's a picture of him in the hall, taking tea with (one presumes) his lady wife.


Thursday, 13 November 2014

Contemplating Fire and Water in the Chapel - Gladstone's Day 5

This is the chapel in Gladstone's Library. It's a very pleasing space which has a nurturing feel. Although it hasn't come out in this photo, the lights cast a golden glow. On a previous visit which coincided with it being the time of my flame-keeping vigil for Brigit, I checked with the chaplain that it was permitted to use the space and light candles in spite of not being a Christian and was told that it was. Although the Library has a strong Christian past and still has a Christian focus, it is an open-minded Christianity which is interested in interfaith dialogue. The Library holds to liberal values which it defines as: "a commitment to freedom and social justice, tolerance and respect of difference, open-mindedness coupled with intellectual curiosity, generosity of spirit and a willingness to learn from others". 

The art work you can see here has always reminded me of a sun wheel and I went to look at it in greater detail.

It is made of glass, the cross appearing to be of metal, possibly copper. With the light sparkling off it, it reminded me of the light on water, an essential symbol of my work with and understanding of Brigit - "the waters of the sun" as I refer to it in my poem to her. Added to this, the arms of the cross seemed to me, as I sat and contemplated it, to be reminiscent of fire. Water and Fire - the two elements that are usually associated with Brigit. And the metal or metal-like nature of the arms also set off associations with her as goddess of smithcraft which in my life refers to the skill of bringing creativity into physical manifestation.

Seeing these elements before me in such a potent context I began to muse on the nature and interactions of water and fire. How both, like all the elements, like most things, have both a benign and a malign nature for us as humans. Water is life-giving, cleansing, beautiful, it flows, it changes shape inspiring ideas of motion, of change, of creativity. But it may also overwhelm land and resources and take away life, cutting us off from the element air we also need to survive. 

Fire too gives us the blessing of warmth, a companion, a nurturer, representing vitality, the spark of life, of creativity. But it is also a devastating destroyer and may kill and maim. 

Each may also banish the other: fire can turn water to steam, can disperse it, leading to dryness, to aridity. Water can quench fire leaving nothing but darkness and debris. Some of the focus this brings to me involves recognising how to keep these elements in balance so that their destructive aspects only come into play when beneficial (as destruction sometimes is), while for most of the time they enhance each other as sunlight on water, symbolising inspiration in Irish tradition, or as fire under water for cooking or to make drinks (especially, in my case, tea!) symbolising the nourishment vital to life and strength.

Thinking of my own expression of these elements I realise again that I lack fire; I suffer from cold intolerance and a debilitating lack of vitality. Water is my element - I love to be in it. In water I can move easily, with no fear of falling; I adapt, I lack boundaries, I flow. My astrological element is Aquarius with Pisces rising, an air sign and a water sign: the polar opposite of Aquarius is Leo, a fire sign; I think of it as the side of me that is in shadow. Perhaps I need to use my airiness to feed the fire and the smith in me, representing strength and manifestation. 

How? It involves going deeper into the mystery! 

The Library’s Warden, Peter Francis, states, "we are committed to maintaining Gladstone’s legacy of engagement with social, moral, and spiritual questions, by helping people reflect more deeply on the questions that concern them..." This is one of the values and delights for me of being here in Gladstone's Library.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Gladstone's Day 4

The iPad failed to connect to the Internet this afternoon - which I took to be a sign that I should go and do something else. It's back now but it will soon be time for supper so I'll keep it brief.

Above is a picture of the small crooked branches of the walnut tree. I was taken with the contrast in both the patterns and the shades of green between it and the conifers that form a hedge between this (almost) hidden garden and the cemetery of St Deiniol's church. And here's the bark:

I've had a quiet day today working on a slideshow for my poem Take The Sea Road, going to The Fox and Grapes in the village for lunch - Cajun wedges with salsa and sour cream and half a pint of Doom Bar ale. It's a lovely old-fashioned pub with wooden beams.

I had a rather unexpected conversation at breakfast with the resident chaplain (who is on sabbatical from his parish in Indiana) about Robert Graves and War among other things. He introduced me to a quote from the American writer William Faulkner: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." 
Also the concept of 'moral injury' and a First World War poet I hadn't come across before, Geoffrey Studdart Kennedy. He was a chaplain and while his poems don't perhaps have the literary merit of some of the more famous first WW1 poets, they have an interesting perspective. 

That's all for now!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

By the Pool at Gelli Fach - a video poem Gladstone's Day 3

Here is the video as promised.

 I slept well for the first time here last night and perversely have felt tired and droopy all day. Spent all morning sitting on my bed working on the video, trying to get it to upload and finding out why it wouldn't... Also solved some other problems I was having so I'm hoping it will embed here now. Fingers crossed!

It has rained most of the day and few of the visitors to the garden have been in evidence except for four blackbirds who flitted back and forth among the trees as if they were playing tag or weaving invisible threads from branch to branch.

I spent some time meditating this afternoon... More about that tomorrow.

Until then!