So we’re coming to the end of 2016. It’s been an interesting year, and from a political angle, a fraught one for many. Events such as Brexit and Trump’s victory have divided nations, with many branding the politicians supposed to represent Britain and America as ‘liberal elites’ out of touch with the unsatisfied majority. Donald Trump’s slogan of ‘Make America Great Again,’ has a distressing similarity to the Nazi party’s maxim of ‘Make Germany Great Again’ in the late 1920s, and the Daily Mail’s marking out of three Supreme Court judges as ‘Enemies of the People,’ sets a dangerous precedent for the Press to scapegoat a population’s discontent.
Which is why it is so refreshing to have found, in a rousing passage from the Welsh classic ‘How Green Was My Valley,’ a display of patriotism and pride so divorced from the sentiment we hear today that often seems tainted by xenophobic undertones.
I’ve been reading Richard Llewellyn’s masterpiece these Christmas holidays, and have found it an utterly immersive book, with language that is rich, warm and deep, without being pompous. The story follows Huw, a seventy-six year old man, as he relives his childhood as a miner’s son in a South Wales valley, and weaves a ‘tale of lost heaven, seen warmly and with emotion,’ as the Observer wrote in a review at the time.
This is my favourite passage, and it’s almost worth reading aloud (and in a Welsh accent, too!) to hear the music that are these words:
I awoke too stiff to move, in darkness, and still held tight by fear, so tight that I dare not move my eyes. Little at a time I had my legs at work, and as the sounds of the night come more and more to comfort me, I sat.
The wind was sharp about his business and whistling a little tune to let his friends on the mountain know he was up and about to clean house, and no nonsense with loose leaves or dead twigs, for he would have them, and quick. The more he whistled, the more the trees tried to hush him, and the bigger the tree, the bigger the hush, and beating at him with their arms to stop him tickling them, but no use, for he was in one side and out the other, and nothing they could do only wave at him, and hush more.
The sky was full of thin light from the stars, and down below me the village was a long criss-cross of small yellow lights, one bright outside the Chapel, two outside the Three Bells, and a couple of small ones upon the other side of the mountain in the farmhouse, all else dark, with the dark, clear softness that tells of coming rain. The mountain on the other side had turned over to sleep and his black hipbone curved up and fell away to thigh in the darkness, and farther over, the other mountains slept too, with shadows in the colour of lavender going to deep blue.
The wind held up above his head the sound of the choir from the Chapel for me to hear, and gave it back, but in those few notes I heard the rich, male voice of the men of the Valley, golden, brave, and clean, with heart, and with loftiness of spirit, and I knew that their voice was my voice for I was part of them as they were of me, and the Valley was part of us and we were part of the the Valley, not one more than the other, never one without the other. Of me was the Valley, and the Valley was of me, and every blade of grass, and every stone, and every leaf of every tree, and every knob of coal or drop of water, or stick or branch or flower or grain of pollen, or creature living, or dust in ground, all were of me as my blood, my bones, or the notions from my mind.
My Valley, O my Valley, within me, I will live in you, eternally. Let Death or worse strike this mind and blindness eat these eyes if thought or sight forget you. Valley of the Shadow of Death, for some, but not for me, for part of me is the memory of you in your greens and browns, with everything of life happy in your deeps and shades, when you gave sweet scents to us, and sent spices for the pot, and flowers, and birds sang out for pleasure to be with you.
I could say so much about this, from the spare imagery of the stars’ ‘thin light’ to the description of the mountain as shaped in the form of man, with ‘hipbone’ and ‘thigh’, to the frantic, accelerated listing of ‘or stick or branch or flower or grain of pollen…’ ending in the impassioned outburst of ‘My Valley, O my Valley’!
My Grandmother, Doo, gave me some help with this, especially the wording of that last bit of analysis, so she deserves lots of credit too!