Ce 1er mars, fête nationale galloise, est l’occasion de présenter un nouvel ouvrage consacré à l’hymne national gallois qui vient de paraître chez Y Lolfa.
L’auteur présente par ailleurs sa démarche.
Sing loud, sing proud, and let’s hope we thrash the French in today’s big rugby clash. Siôn T Jobbins looks at the history and meaning of our beloved national anthem
Can I be honest? The best part of an international rugby game for me is the first three minutes, before the game actually starts.
That is, the bit which is given to the singing of the national anthems.
Like any sporting teams, anthems vary in style, pedigree and appeal and, of course, you can have an enthralling game of rugby or football.
But let’s be honest, a good chunk of any game can be fast-forwarded and passively ignored whilst tweeting, making a cuppa or chatting someone up at the bar.
Anthems, on the other hand, can rarely be ignored. For a start they’re not too long and they’re also a cacophonous concoction of the very personal and the communal.
They offer one of the rare occasions grown men can cry without other blokes questioning their parentage or sexuality. And nobody ‘loses’!
So when Y Lolfa asked me to write a little book on our national anthem I was definitely up for it.
If ever there was a national anthem grown from the very soil of its culture and language, Hen Wlad fy Nhadau is it.
The author, Evan James, is what Gramsci would call an organic intellectual. The erudite and shy weaver was a follower or the English radical, Tom Paine.
He swam in the poetry and legends of medieval Welsh high culture but also of the fantastically deep folk culture of Glamorgan and Gwent of the first half of the 19th century.
This was a time of dreamers and revolutionaries. It was an age before the public school codification of ball games which became the rugby and football age. It was a time when muscular Welsh folk sports like Bando and Cnapan were played in our parishes. It was time when a farm hand couldn’t get a job in the Vale of Glamorgan unless his voice was sweet enough to sing to the oxen as he ploughed the fields.
A time of the ‘cwrw bach’ drinking dens of the Merthyr back streets. It was a time when one could walk from Splott to Amlwch and from the Golden Valley in Hereford to St Davids and speak nothing but Welsh in every parish along the way.
It was a time when Wales should have caught the wave of the Springtime of Nations in 1848 but was dragged down in a Welsh autumn of Victorian colonialism.
Evan Robert’s words were a polite but heartfelt manifesto by a man who could feel the Welsh earth he knew start to slip like quicksand beneath his feet.
One of the great joys of writing The Welsh National Anthem is that it gave me the opportunity to learn more about the subject.
The more I read the more I wished I could share a pint with old Evan at the Colliers Arms or listen to his son, James, play his harp in the smokey, smelly, noisy Gwenhwyseg pubs of the old cantrefi of Senghennydd and Penychen.
The more I read, the more I appreciated the anthem which I’d taken for granted.
Yes, there are one or two slightly dodgy bits where Evan is scrambling for a rhyme. I wish the title didn’t nasally mutate ‘tadau’ to ‘Nhadau’ which seems to hide the word; I wish he’d have written ‘ein tadau’ (our fathers) and so avoid the mutation.
‘I’r bur hoff bau’ is a mouthful of pure Latin but it’s a bit obscure and I’m still not keen on the ‘enwogion o fri’ (famous people of renown) which feels like a 19th century homage to Z-list celebrities.
But even these add to the authenticity of the anthem. It’s not surgical, it’s a personal letter in verse. The anthem belongs to a peasant democracy – a gweriniaeth.
It belongs to those anthems of the Slavic and Baltic nations to whom we should belong. The nations which did feel the warm sun of spring and the smell the flowering of their culture in 1848 not the pesticide of British imperialism.
In fact, every single anthem by a Slavic nation is a class act in anthem-writing.
Like Hen Wlad fy Nhadau they combine the slightly melancholic, hiraethus tone and words with depth.
Evan James would have felt very much at home in the Slovak revival town of Turciansky Svätý Martin or with Bedrich Smetana among the Czechs of Prague.
And that’s its secret. Hen Wlad fy Nhadau works where other anthems don’t because it actually resonates with its society.
It’s not a made-to-measure song for an invented state of angular lines draw on maps in the 1878 Congress of Berlin or after the Great War.
It’s a national anthem of a people and a language that has been here for 2,000 years and has the will – ‘parhau’ – to be here for generations to come.
The Welsh National Anthem is published by Y Lolfa., £3.95