Sunday, 18 December 2011

Thomas Evan Nicholas ( Niclas y Glais) (6/10/1879 -19/4/71) - To a Sparrow

                                                                   TO A SPARROW
                                                               ( Swansea Prison 1940)

                                                Look, here's another bread-crumb for your piping,
                                               And a piece of apple as a sweetener.
                                               It gladdens me to hear your steady pecking;
                                               It's good to see your cloak of grey once more.
                                               You've travelled here, perhaps, from Pembroke's reaches,
                                               From the gorse and heather on Y Frenni's height,
                                               And mabe on grey wing you've trilled your measures
                                               Above  fair Ceredigion at dawn's first light.
                                               Accept the bread: had I a drop of wine
                                               Pressed from  a distant country's sweet grape-cluster,
                                               We could take, amid war's turbulence,
                                               Communion, though the cell lacks cross and altar.
                                               The bread's as holy as it needs to be,
                                                Offering of a heart not under lock and key.

Translated  from the Welsh by Joseph P.Clancy
reprinted from  Twentieth Century Welsh Poems, ( Gomer,1982)

Born at Llanfyrnach. T.E Nicholas  was a congregational minister and a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and was a political journalist as well as a poet. He was twice imprisoned,  not the first or last Welshman to be imprioned by spurious charges.'To a Sparrow ' was a poem he wrote whilst incarcenated.
Main themes of his poetry were of injustice that stemmed from his  strong socialist faith.The Spanish Civil War gave rise to his verse denouncing fascism.  In later life  translated the internationale into Welsh.
It was whilst in prison though that he wrote some one hundred and fifty sonnets. The smallest incident would provide inspiration. Denied writing paper , he wrote on the slate in his cell, and on toilet paper. Main themse were  of injustice and the power of capital. 'Cana'r Carchar'  Prison Songs and 'Llygad y Drws' (referring to the eye hole of the prison door) were both collections that were written  whilst he was in prison.
He continued writing into his old age, his support for left wing causes undimmed.
Ke died in Aberystwyth in 1971 aged 91.

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