What is it to be human?
What is staying alive? To possess
A great hall inside of a cell.
What is it to know? The same root
Underneath the branches.
What is it to believe? Being a carer
Until relief takes over.
And to forgive? On fours through thorns
To keep company to an old enemy.
What is it to sing? To receive breath
From the genius of creation.
What's work but humming a song
From wood and wheat.
What are state affairs? A craft
That's still only crawling?
And armaments? Thrust a knife
In a baby's fist.
Being a nation? What can it be? A gift
In the swell of the heart.
And to love a country? Keeping house
In a cloud of witnesses.
What's the world to the all powerful?
A circle spinning.
And to the children of the earth?
A cradle rocking.
translated from the Welsh by Menna Elfyn
This from the translation issue of Poetry. I dig into it when it arrives in the mail because the poems sound so different. Even through the veil of English they retain the trace of their native language. This issue, which the journal started a few years ago, is a favorite because it's full of new sounds. I tire sometimes of the droning of words in my head or on the page. This issue brings refreshment.
Menna Elfyn wrote this about her work with Waldo Williams' poem.
In Welsh poetry, and in Celtic poetry in general, poets sang their poems, and we sense here the aura of the songs, in tune with the sounds of trees and harvests. He depicts an era where singing was second nature to breathing, part of that same joyous song.