Plant yr Almaen; The Children of Germany

Plant yr Almaen

Y mae Rahel* o hyd yn yr Almaen
Yn wylo yn wanllyd a di‑stŵr;
Trugarocach ydoedd cleddyf Herod
Na'r newyn ar y Rhein, yn y Ruhr.

Magu swp o esgyrn sychion
A wna esgyrn breichiau hon,
Nid oes fawr o fwyd yn ei phantri
Na diferyn o laeth yn ei bron.

Ac y mae’r gwŷr wrthi hi yn ceibio
Y dialgar bridd a chlai,
Bydd yr elorau dipyn yn ysgafnach
Am fod yr eirch dipyn yn llai.

Mae tosturi’r Crist ar Ei Groesbren
Yn ffrydio o’i ystlys a’i draed;
Pob angladd yn ddraen yn Ei benglog,
Pob bedd yn ddiferyn o’i waed.

The Children of Germany

Rachel* is still there, there in Germany,
Where her faint weeping makes not a stir;
That sword of Herod had more pity
Than the famine on Rhine and on Ruhr.

Coaxing soup from bones that are dry
Is a task for the bones of her own arm,
There’s so little to eat in her pantry
There's no milk in her breasts without form.

There are men out there who are digging
Into the vengeful soil and the clay,
The biers will need less and less carrying
As the coffins get lighter each day.

The compassion of Christ on His Cross
Flows from His side and His feet
Each funeral a thorn in His skull,
Each grave a drop of His blood.

This poem, which comments on the disastrous years in Germany immediately after the Second World War (1939 – 45), was included in the author’s collection, ‘Eples’ (‘Leaven’), published in 1951. Tragically, it is still relevant today and has poignant echoes of Ireland’s own past.

The poet, David James Jones, better known as ‘Gwenallt’, (1899 – 1968) was born in Pontardawe and grew up in a bilingual, industrial and Nonconformist culture in the shadow of the steel and aluminium works. Later, in revulsion at lukewarm religion and the cruelty of industrial capitalism — his father had died in a stream of molten metal — he turned at first to Christian Socialism and then to Atheistic Marxism.

However, he also had family links with rural Carmarthenshire and his visits there brought him into contact with a different, more traditional, Wales.

He was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs and Dartmoor because of his conscientious objection to WW1.

After that war he graduated in English and Welsh at Aberystwyth and spent a short period teaching in Barry (near Cardiff) before returning to Aberystwyth as a lecturer in the Welsh Department where he was to remain until his retirement.

A visit to Ireland’s Gaeltacht (Irish‑speaking area) deepened his interest in his own Welsh roots and extensive reading led to a restored Christian faith within the Calvinistic Methodist tradition. This tradition was at once traditional and radical. Thus he came to reject most twentieth century theology but argued that Christians had a duty to work for and to demand social justice.

He won the Chair at the National Eisteddfod yn 1926 for an ode called ‘Y Mynach’ (‘The Monk’). Two years later his ode ‘Y Sant’ (‘The Saint’) caused a literary storm and the Chair was withheld but he won it again anyway in 1931 (readers of Welsh may wish to note that there is a detailed discussion of the poem and the attendant controversy in Barddas, 253, Gorffennaf/Awst, 1999).

His is a major national voice which has roots in industrial Glamorgan and in rural Carmarthen, in English and in Welsh, in Christianity and in Marxism. As he once famously said, “Ac y mae lle i ddwrn Karl Marx yn Ei Eglwys Ef” (“And there is a place for Karl Marx’s fist in His Church”).

We are very grateful to Mr. John Lewis of the publishers, Gwasg Gomer, for allowing us to reproduce the original poem.

Welsh text ©: Gwasg Gomer, Llandysul, Wales.

Translation: Wales Famine Forum, 1999.

*‘Rahel’ / ‘Rachel’ :
This refers to Matthew 2. 18 and Jeremiah 31. 15, “A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children and would not be comforted, because they are not.” (Douay version).

Published in The Green Dragon No 9, Winter 1999.

Gorgysylltiadau i’r Gymraeg / Nascanna don Bhreatnais / Links to Welsh