Cwm Farm near Capel Curig by Huw Menai

Huw Menai’s poem, Cwm Farm near Capel Curig, is not just about a specific geographical location as the title implies, but is actually a sweeping commentary on the whole of Welsh history and its continued presence in the lives, language, and landscape of the Welsh people. The location is a window into a larger world in which brave heroes emerge victorious and the sounds of the Welsh language infiltrate everything, even the animals and the mountains. The poem is triumphant in the face of historical defeat, and asserts the victory of Welsh language and culture, regardless of actual military losses in the past.

 

Cwm Farm near Capel Curig Analysis

The opening line of the poem instantly catapults the reader into the Welsh past. “Some cool medieval calm hath settled here” connects the poem to the glory days of medieval Wales, populated with Welsh heroes and bards. The Welsh hero, Owain Glyndwr, is mentioned in the third line. He was the last Welshman to hold the title of Prince of Wales before a failed uprising against English rule in 1400. The English overpowered the Welsh with superior military might; the Welsh simply did not have enough heavy artillery or ships to defeat the English. Menai’s poem, however, returns the reader to a time before English rule was an accepted fact. The “humble folk” on the “lone farmstead” of Cwm Farm still speak the same language as Owain Glyndwr, and in the poet’s imagination, this connects them with that long, lost time.

Just as the Welsh language still lives, so does the glory of Old Wales. The occupants of Cwm Farm “worship in it, too, the God they fear,” meaning that church services in this area are conducted in Welsh. This is an important connection, as “Capel Curig” means “Curig Chapel” in English, so that the farm the poet is visiting is located near the chapel. Just as they have a strong link to their past through the Welsh language, the inhabitants of Cwm Farm also have a strong link to their religion through it, as well. The Welsh language becomes all, connecting the landscape, the history, the people, and their God.

The poet next refers to “perilous Ways, where rocks rise sheer.” The “Ways” could refer to the national trails in the area, one of which is called “Glyndwr’s Way,” after Owain Glyndwr. Glyndwr’s Way is 135 miles long and has a wide range of landscapes, including rolling farmland, open moorland, forests, lakes, and reservoirs, and also takes visitors through many sites where Owain Glyndwr fought the English. Another “Way” that Menai could be referring to is the Snowdonia Way, a trail which covers mountainous northern Wales and is named for Mount Snowdon. The rocky crags of the Snowdon group of mountains could be the “rocks” that “rise sheer” in Menai’s poem. That he uses the plural, “Ways,” suggest that he is referring to multiple paths, and so different elements of more than one trail could be represented in his poem.

The landscape that Menai is describing is where “kinsmen came to curse the tyrant yoke,” another reference to the uprisings led by Owain Glyndwr. He further asserts that “the proud invader’s heart was broke” in the same area, which was true for a time, as he did manage to hold off the English and regain control of large parts of Wales initially. The Welsh take pride in their hero regardless of the ultimate outcome, and the entire poem sings of a victory which, while not realized in strictly military terms, was realized in the continued prevalence of Welsh language and culture in this area. The “brave and stubborn men year after year” are “unconquerable still!” in the imagination of the poet, but also in the continued persistence of the Welsh language.

Next, the poet blends the language with the landscape in a brilliant series of images. The “birds” in the area “know the Cymric speech, ” “Cymric” being another term for Welsh language and culture. Additionally, the “very mountains brood” over the “consonants” of the Welsh language. The consonants themselves are “rugged streamlets,” which then flow into “deep vowel lakes.” The Welsh language, therefore, is one with the landscape; the landscape speaks Welsh, and anyone who speaks Welsh, speaks the landscape. “And by this wood / Where Prince Llywelyn might have stood” – Llywelyn the Great, a Welsh ruler from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, is referred to here. The poet is going back even further in Welsh history, connecting it further to the landscape and the language which, the reader has already seen, are one. Now history joins both language and landscape – all are one and the same. The final line of the poem, “Forget-me-nots in profusion grow!”, which initially seems like a mere botanical reference, is actually a cleverly concealed historical reference. Forget-me-nots are flowering plants, and, interestingly, were first called by this familiar name in 1398 during the reign of King Henry IV – the very king that Owain Glyndwr fought for Welsh independence. Menai has therefore brilliantly wrapped up the theme of the poem, language-as-landscape-as-history, with the image of these beautiful flowering plants, which demand that we “forget not” the golden age of Wales.

 

About the Huw Menai

Huw Menai was born Huw Owen Williams on July 13, 1886, in Caernarfon, Wales. He left school at age 12, and at age 16, worked as a miner at Gilfach Goch, a mining community in south Wales. As a young man, he was heavily involved in politics and wrote for publications such as Social Democrat, Social Review, and Justice, but he lost his job due to his political leanings. He discontinued writing in this vein because he had a wife and children (eventually, a total of eight!). Though he was a Welsh language speaker, he wrote all of his poems in English only. Unlike many other writers of his generation, he was not a Modernist, but was instead heavily influenced by the Romantic poets. The biggest influence on his poetry is Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, an anthology of English poetry published by Francis Turner Palgrave in 1861. Book IV of this treasury is dedicated to the Romantics, Menai’s favorite study. He was friends with several writers, including Wil Ifan, John Cowper Powys, and Raymond Garlick. He died in 1961.

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