No 17 - May 2002
South Wales Echo
for David Jones
|He does what is done in many places|
what he does other
he does after the mode
of what has always been done.
What did he do other
recumbent at the garnished supper?
What did he do yet other
riding the Axile Tree?
Moving Towards the Southfacing Form
‘A man in himself is a city, beginning, seeking, achieving and concluding his life in the ways which the various aspects of the city may embody…’
That a child, uncertain as children are of the boundaries of guilt and innocence, should in certain circumstances surrender to the sense of an invading darkness will occasion no surprise. That the darkness should establish itself as unchangingly central in the consciousness of the child and on into youth and maturity, that the uncertainty should remain unresolved, that for the man - even though perhaps one of a naturally sanguine disposition - The sun should remain centred in darkness . . . what then? Have we here entered the realm of the pathological? Yet to the man himself it may well seem that the boundaries between health and sickness are as uncertain as those between innocence and guilt.
However all this may be see the child - playing in his school playground, games broken into to chant in unison with his companions ‘bonfire night, bonfire night . . .’ and excited talk of coming fireworks and guy. The eyes are bright, the voice clear yet these things veil an inward quailing before the necessary return home through the winter nightfall. His way will take him by the long wall of the City Gaol and the slums of Adam’s Down. And he knows - it is the talk of the City - that inside the Gaol are three men, of whom two are brothers, awaiting execution, condemned to death for murder. He believes - perhaps mistakenly, who knows? - yet he believes with his father and mother and many others in the City that one of the men is innocent. Was he not sitting, his hat beside him, in the Anchor at the time of the murder, before leaping up at the sound of police whistles to rush into the street and run towards the Castle? He has heard too that another of the men has become insane - and for the child there is a peculiar slant of horror in the story going round the City that this man’s insanity grows from his knowledge of his companion’s innocence.
So the child walks home through the darkening streets each evening in growing apprehension and dread. At first there is some comfort in the bells sounding faintly across the sky from his school church. Yet as the evenings pass it seems to him there is fear in the sound of the bells too, as, in remembrance of another death, another execution of three, they call to prayer.
He marks, on more than one evening, a woeful group moving at the pavement edges among the passers-by in City Road - an elderly man tremulously singing out of a gaunt countenance, a ragged girlchild holding out his cap beside him, a tall black man a little apart only occasionally attempting to loin the singing. There is that about the haggard singer - an air of utter dereliction, a hint of more than half crazy - that is never to fade from memory. All the riff-raff of the world collects in Tiger Bay’: so the child has been warned. Who is the singer? Some veritable Ishmael - outcast and wanderer from the outer reaches of the world - drifting up from Tiger Bay even as another Ishmael might have turned up, derelict and half-crazy, at some dingy seaport after the sinking of the Pequod by the White Whale? With a ghostly dagoo in tow? Some late-born Odysseus after dreadful chance – ‘and I only am escaped to tell thee’ - cast up at the mouth of the Taff to follow his small white-faced Nausicaa to the grim palace in her home-city? The child never sees him again yet always sees him; shadowed away in the background, glimpsed in the eyes of any man, for the most part but a sleep and a forgetting, at a moment of stress or remembrance. Sees him more especially inwardly present in all those around the singing fool - those who hurry by indifferent, mocking, leering, worried, or compassionate.
In the mind of the child this trinity of threes becomes confusedly inter-related; later indistinguishably one. So at least memory with blurred edges symbolises in the mind of the man the initiation in the mind of the child of the still enduring darkness.
One may perhaps fancy - why should one not? - the presence among the crowds in the city streets, on the night before the execution, of a stranger - a man from another place - waiting and listening, pausing and observing, and as he watches he overhears snatches of conversation, words spoken or sung, voices too breaking in from the background reaches of his own mind, from the remote past, from the future, senses unuttered pressures in those around him as part of the total complex of thoughts and feelings and reactions charging the atmosphere in that particular time and space. It is certain the child of our story sensed the presence of some such stranger - a stranger unknowing it may be of the things which had come to pass in the city in those days. Yet the child thought not: and in this writing attempts to re-echo the words the stranger heard.
The scene is outside ‘The Anchor’ as evening moves on to closing time. Passages printed in italics are singing voices.
now get along home now Lizzie get along home
there’s the paperboy there
old bones at the fort of Didius
they received no provisions for the way
living men though short of time
we can’t hear you
from the assumptions of the grex
listen to the bells
bright spearpower declines to fibrin
little Dai loves sheep
a saint I said a saint you call ‘im
eight frozen plutonian years
it’s a bitter wind the east wind ... smells empty
bubble up bubble up!
and now I’ll not be lost in a maze
aye won it up the valleys
late news echo echo
calling all down Adam’s Down
aye! Gentleman Jim the baby giant!
one’s gone clean daft they say
the guileful deceptions of God (10)
no tears for Priam?
sightlesse he drownes
eyes darkened at Plwcca halog
only a penny for the guy mister
I too am under orders
night I dream
lux est perpetua una
freezing the black fire burns
the day is dark
* * * * *
VOICES IN THE WIND SINGING (18)
* * * * *
there goes Tom again
‘e’s a regular queer plain scatty
who I am or what I am
flotsam I come
there’s tricky Tom Dolittle the artful dodger
the valley spirit never dies
Tom mooches south at sunrise
glances askance at the brightshiner
then slopes off north
* * * * *
Diawl Dai let’s get home
I woke up in the dark last night
going to the incinerator
please put a penny in the old man’s hat
move along there move along
any bits or pieces
eyes in the wind
all right Lizzie
this night is no night
but hurrying men have ears to hear
time now lads come on lads its time
white to red
won t you put a penny in the old bloke’s hat?
London’s burning London’s burning
O bring me some water
Omeg gimme the clock gimme the clock (31)
no no put it back gimme Alph's button
Judy judy judy jud ju ju ju d
* * * * *
VOICES IN THE WIND SINGING
AND NIGHTLIGHT GLOW
A certain familiarity with the history of Cardiff as far back as Roman times is assumed.
A number of echoes from other writings are integrated into the substance of the work, If these are read in their original contexts they provide any comment necessary for fuller understanding. Peter Pinch, the only living poet whose work I have consciously used in this way, has generously given me permission so to use it. Friends have drawn my attention to some passages that seemed to them obscure. In this connection the following notes may be helpful.
Among the Somali a man under extreme nervous mental or spiritual stress may seek help by calling his friends and womenfolk to a ‘bahilowi’. They all meet at night in the open away from dwelling places and stand round him in a circle. He gives utterance to his suffering perplexity in a questioning chant. The others reply - sometimes singly, sometimes in unison - with comments, admonitions and exhortations accompanied by singing, clapping, and stamping.
A Somali - an old seaman who, when I knew him, had long been back in his own country - once told me how years before he had found himself stranded for a time in Tiger Bay. Friendless and in distress he had solaced himself one night by walking out onto a piece of waste land and holding a ‘bahilowi’ - pretending some of his people were present. He had been, he said, ‘made whole’ in this way. This lonely ‘bahilowi’ seems to have been held somewhere in the desolate area I often played in as a child - and knew as ‘the tidefields’.
South Wales Echo might perhaps best be understood as the result of a similar attempt to recover wholeness.
To the many ghostly friends
whose voices sound in the circle
an expression of gratitude is due:
more especially to Smart, Blake, Clara
and Tom O’Bedlam:
I knowe more they Apollo
far oft when hee ly’s sleeping
I see the starres att bloudie warres
In the wounded welkin weeping.
(1) Throughout the 8th and 8th centuries A.D. the prayer ‘from the fury of the Northman deliver us’ was commonly included in the litanies of the Church along the coastal regions of north-west Europe.
(2) I remember walking with Huw Menai from Coity aver the bill past Parc Wyllt. There we were glimpsed from within, over a wail, by a group of women standing among trees. They greeted us with a wild outcry: clamorously babbling, laughing and screaming: ‘For upon us all had come grief that might not be borne’. Huw started talking of the Dogs of Annwn. His formidable presence has been constantly with me in this attempt to restate our theme that afternoon as we talked the sun down the sky.
(3) ‘a grave for Mark, a grave for Gwythur
a grave for Gugaun of the ruddy sword
not wise (the thought) a grave for Arthur’
The Black Book of Carmarthan
Trans. Sir John Rhys.
The Arthur of Preiddeu Annwn. ‘Arcturus’: ‘the Watcher of the North’. In Celtic Myth ‘the wild land of hell’ lies, frozen and dark, to the north.
(4) During one revolution of Uranus earthborne Tom might circle the sun fourscore odd times even as Uranus achieves all but three completions of his orbit in one plutonian year. Each instant in all such gripped circlings within the structured order of the cosmos holds hidden within itself an end and a beginning: all the possibilities of a death and a birth into ... but to stay outside these circles, to follow Tom on this walk, one must needs buy stout boots - such as were stitched by Master Jacob at Bonito.
See also Fludd’s geocentric picture of the universe reproduced by Otto R Frisch on page 11 of his work The Nature of Matter.
(5) ‘this stone is sparkling white and red like a flame of fire ... a flawless mirror in which all things live ...’ see The Book of the Sparkling Stone by Jan van Ruysbroek, chapter 4.
Compare also Ezekiel 10:1; Isaiah 54:11.
‘in dense darkness thy stainless beauty sparkles’. Hindu Hymn to The Destroyer.
(6) Tophet: ‘the beating of the drum’.
‘and this, as they say, was the manner of sacrificing in Tophet ... The statue of Moloch was of brass, hollow within, with its arms extended, and stooping a little forward. They lighted a great fire within the statue, and another before it. They put upon its arms the child they intended to sacrifice, which soon fell into the fire at the foot of the statue, putting forth cries … To stifle the noise of these cries they made a greet rattling of drums, that the spectators might not be moved with compassion …’
(7) Tudor Rose - a popular streetgirl
Dal central-‘eatin’ - the Devil
‘Arry the boxer - the undertaker.
Such humorous sobriquets are common in Wales.
Daddy Howe : an old man. Well known for his kindness and integrity, He received into his home several orphaned children. (See also Exodus 24:10).
(8) See The Elephant Man and other Reminiscences by Sir Frederick Treves 1923. (TLS 9th June 1972 page 855). Merrick known as the Elephant Man lived by exhibiting himself at freak shows - ‘tuppence a time’. He is described as ‘the most disgusting specimen of humanity ... a frightful creature that could only have been possible in a nightmare ... There emanated from him a sickening stench ... what made his fungoid deformity perhaps even more appalling were those portions of the body not invaded: the left ear perfect, the left arm and shoulder delicate as a woman’s, the genitalia normal as any man’s ... his only idea of happiness was to creep into the dark and hide ... he was a gentle affectionate and lovable creature free from any trace of resentment ... the weight of his head was so great that he could only sleep by raising his knees and resting his head against the ...’
He often told Sir Frederick Treves the surgeon who befriended him in the last years of his life that he wished he could lie down ‘like other people’. One afternoon, in April 1890, he was found lying back on his pillow ‘like other people’. He was dead - his neck broken by the weight of his head.
(9) old Adam’s cold
an early keeper at the Castle Gate was named Adam. He acquired landrights on the East Moor which lay between the ‘warths’ or tidefields along the Severn Estuary and the Castle. Ha sent his sons to herd his cattle and swine on the moor which became known as Adam’s Down. This Adam became identified in my imagination with the First Adam.
(10) a multitude of men of all nations bus passed the point of no return. Then silence. In deepening anguish and despair after long waiting those left behind join in prayer for tidings : see the opening chorus of elders in Aeschylus’ The Persians (lines 107-114).
(11) ‘but ever-ageing time teaches all things’. (See Prometheus Bound trans. Weir-Smyth, lines 980-983). Plotinus, who accepted the possibility of re-incarnation, in speaking of ‘the sorrows of Priam’ (Enneads 1 : 4) echoes the taunt of Hermes to Prometheus: ‘alas? that is a word unknown to Zeus.’ ‘the one and only transmigrant is the Supreme Spirit’ (Shankara). Plotinus shared this view.
(12) Public executions were carried out for many years at Crwys Bychan: the Little Cross in Cae Budr: ‘the defiled field’. The area was known as Plwcca halog: ‘place of pollution’. Here the way from the north entered the town to run along the old Castle Road to the Big Cross. There it joined the ancient via maritima and swung west to cross the river beyond the south wall of the Castle. Before the Castle Gate another way branched south along St Mary’s Street to the mouth at the river end the Church which was swept away by a tidal wave in 1907.
From early times these crossing ways carried the flows of human movement towards and away from the Castle. To venture too far from a stronghold brings danger. Men sailing from the estuary in the Nova Terra would, after a long voyage, come to a cold end under the shining of the Southern Cross: a constellation hidden below the horizons of their northern latitudes. And many an ocean-wanderer moving north under the ever-circling, ever-watchful, southward-gazing Bear reached an end likewise ‘without fire, without bed.’ Yet midgetina movements between the river-mouth and Castle - an impatient turning from his nets, or a careless running away from his hat - might initiate for a man, whether with or without fire, even darker farings.
(13) Rawlins White, a fisherman from the Estuary, was burned at the stake before the Castle Gate in the reign of Mary under the revived statute de heretica comburendo.
Richard Capper suffered the same fate some years earlier.
The sheriff recorded the cost of the burning to the townsfolk at four and fourpence. A century earlier ropes for public hanging close to the present site of the Blue Anchor were priced at two pence.
(14) The sentence on John Rowland one of the brothers convicted of murder was commuted shortly before execution to detention at His Majesty’s pleasure in Broadmoor.
(15) Compare Matthew 24 : 27.
Mockery Gap: refers to the yawning gap of ‘Chaos’, which came into being on the separation of heaven and earth: see Hesiod’s Theogony line 116 following.
(16) At this time in Cardiff, each year at the Feast of Corpus Christi, processions of children would converge from all quarters of the city at the south end of St Mary’s Street and walk up to the Castle Gate - there to enter the Castle grounds end receive the Eucharistic Blessing. Doubtless for this reason some hint of the numinous attached itself for me to the way up to the Gate, and the endless coming and going of people there shared in the significance of these processions.
I remember, as a child, late one evening becoming - in some way I cannot now account for - lost among the ever-moving crowds in St Mary’s Street. I was caught up among those strange anonymously hurrying crowds - crowds hurrying, as it seemed to me, nowhere ... with growing inward panic I hurried too - hoping to reach the Castle: a central and known thing. The street then was to me endless. I did not reach the Castle and after some time I thought despairingly I was moving in the wrong direction. At that I turned and ran back and again failed to reach it. In this way I ran to and fro several times. Gripped by a sense of nightmare I could not ask for help ... at last my tears caught the attention of a friendly stranger who quickly pressed a sixpence into my hand and saw me safely onto a tramcar for home.
It was with a shock of strangely significant repetition that years later I read Dostoievsky’s account of his encounter with the child in the Haymarket.
(17) ringed in threefold fire
in the Christian tradition : baptismal, pentecostal, apocalyptic.
From the point of view of another tradition light will he thrown on this passage by reference to the translations from the Rigveda end notes in Macdonnell’s Vedic Reader. Of more especial interest are the hymns to Agni, Apam napat, and the Funeral Hymn.
Agni, the Sacred Fire burning at the heart of all the worlds appears as threefold light in the beggar at evening to command Ratri, Night, to ‘bring the world to rest’. One of the functions of Agni, who is born of the celestial waters and appears in the east, ‘clothed in lightning’, ‘widely shining forth to all men’, is to conduct the dead by the paths of the ancestors to the highest heaven, where they are united to bodies ‘free from disease and frailties, complete and without imperfections’.
(18) Compare Isaiah 6:3.
One thinks too of the music heard by Boehme ‘shortly after midnight’ on November 21st, 1624.
(19) Mae bys Marl Ann wedi brifo -
Mary Anne’s finger is cut
David is not well
and baby is crying in the cradle
and puss has scratched little Johnny
(20) sospan fach yn berwl ar y llawr -
the small saucepan is on the tire
the big one on the bob
and puss has scratched little Johnny …
(21) During this period Jack Johnson, the great American Negro boxer, (at one time heavyweight champion of the world) was held in high honour in South Wales.
(22) the Somali name Shiddeh means ‘born in pain’
Shiddeh sings under Suhir - the star Sirius - believed to exert a baneful influence. See Jacob Boehme Signatura Rerum chapter xvi ‘on the weeping of Adam in Esau.’
(23) Steiner spoke at Pen-maen-mawr of gigantic elemental presences locked up in the planetary structures under his feet.
(24) Basho’s pool
Suzuki in his commentary on the Lankavatra Sutra speaks of the shadow dance as ‘reflected on a screen of eternal solitude and tranquillity . . .’
‘the Mahayanist aye is always gazing at the screen itself . . .’
the whole passage from which these words are taken will be found one of intense interest for our theme ... but for Tom a sudden flaming word has, more decisively than for Yeats at the crossways, broken into the ancient reverie.
(25) Compare Revelation 7:2. The Catholic Requiem Mass for the Dead.
(26) ‘O mother earth, mother earth,
O Father, Son of Earth, Zeus’
compare Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Maidens lines 885-901.
(27) sixpence for all souls
Compare Dostaievsky’s account of his visit to the Haymarket In 1862: ‘In the Haymarket .... I saw a girl of about six, no older, all in rugs .... no one paid any attention to her .... she walked along with a look of such sorrow, such hopeless despair .... she kept shaking her head from side to side as if discussing something .... I offered her sixpence. She took the silver coin, then shyly with timid amazement, looked me in the eyes and suddenly took to her heels, as if afraid I would take the money back from her.’ (See also Luke 24:18).
(28) Mary Anne’s finger is better
David is in his grave
the baby in the cradle has grown
the baby in the cradle has grown
and puss is asleep . . .
(29) Heraclitus: ‘fire when it has advanced will judge and convict all things’.
cf. Heraclitus Fragments xx; xxii; and xxvi
an infinite eternal self-creating substance .... differentiating itself into the returning movement of the many to itself .... Isaiah: ‘The shining of a flaming fire by night’.
(30) Voices si