by RS Thomas
All right, I was Welsh.
Does it matter?
I spoke a tongue that was passed on
To me in the place I happened to be,
A place huddled between grey walls
Of cloud for at least half the year.
My word for heaven was not yours.
The word for hell had a sharp edge
Put on it by the hands of the wind
Honing, honing with a shrill sound
Day and night.
Nothing that Glyn Dwr
Knew was armour against the rain’s
What was descent from him?
Even God had a Welsh name:
He spoke to him in the old language;
He was to have a peculiar care
For the Welsh people.
History showed us
He was too big to be nailed to the wall
Of a stone chapel, yet still we crammed him
Between the boards of a black book.
Yet men sought us despite this.
My high cheek bones, my length of skull
Drew them as to a rare portrait
By a dead master.
I saw them stare
From their long cars, as I passed knee-deep
In ewes and wethers.
I saw them stand
By the thorn hedges, watching me string
The far flocks on a shrill whistle.
And always there was their eyes; strong
Pressure on me; You are Welsh, they said;
Speak to us so; keep your fields free
Of the smell of petrol, the loud roar
Of hot tractors; we must have
Peace and quietness.
Is a museum
Peace? I asked.
Am I the keeper
Of the heart’s relics, blowing the dust
In my own eyes? I am a man;
I never wanted the drab role
Life assigned me, an actor playing
To the past’s audience upon a stage
Of earth and stone; the absurd label
Of birth, of race hanging askew
About my shoulders.
I was in prison
Until you came; your voice was a key
Turning in the enormous lock
Did the door open
To let me out or yourselves in?