A Poem by Gwyneth Lewis

It’s week three of Wales Readathon 21 and we look at a poem about the lure of the open sea by the first National Poet of Wales 

As we roll into week three of Dewithon 21, I introduce you to one of the most prominent Welsh poets of her generation, often referred to as a ‘bilingual virtuoso’ – and without doubt one of my favourites.

Gwyneth Lewis was born into a Welsh-speaking family living in Cardiff in 1959. Bilingual from an early age, she attended Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen near Pontypridd before first going on to study English at Cambridge, followed by six years in America attending Harvard and Columbia universities, then finally completing a DPhil on literary forgeries at Oxford. Her first book in English, Parables & Faxes, won the Aldeburgh Festival Prize, and she has since received innumerable awards and accolades for her work in both languages.

She was Wales’s National Poet from 2005-06, the very first writer to be given the Welsh laureateship. She is also the person responsible for the bilingual words across the front the Wales Millennium Centre, in six-foot-high stained-glass letters, said to be the biggest poem in the world. Her 2002 biographical book, Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book on Depression, was inspired by her well documented battle with clinical depression and alcoholism. 

Sea Virus by Gwyneth Lewis

I knew I should never have gone below
but I did, and the fug of bilges and wood
caught me aback. The sheets of my heart
snapped taut to breaking, as a gale
stronger than longing filled the sail
inside me. To be shot of land
and its wood smoke! To feel the keel
cold in a current! To see the mast
inscribing water like a restless pen
writing a fading wake! It’s true,
I’m ruined. Not even peace will do
to keep me ashore now. Not even you.

 



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22 replies

  1. That’s gorgeous Paula, thanks for sharing!

  2. Great poem. And a new one for me so double plus good. Thanks.

    • Every morning I look at the sea from my kitchen window. Yesterday I thought of Lewis’s poem, although it’s some time since I last sought it out. I couldn’t resist sharing. 😊

      • Great companion piece for Masefield.
        I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
        To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
        C.Elwydd felt the same way until that time when he had enough and turned his back on the call of the sea and said goodbye to the restless waves and swapped the billowing oceans for a billabong and a life on a sheep station.
        Sea Virus is just a great poem.

      • Yes indeed, I love that Masefield poem.

        You’re so naughty, Josie. You tantalize me with snippets of C.Elwydd’s life when I’m unable to read his work. I really feel an anthology is long overdue! 🤣

    • Oh! dear! I don’t want to upset a valued book jotter. I will write to Gwen Juniper. She’s the senior lecturer in Outback Studies at the UofB. (I mistakenly called her professor before.) I know she’s preparing her application for University Promotions Committee hoping to be elevated to assistant professor. This is based in part on her work at the Prentiss Archive. This means she may be a tad busy at present. But let me see what I can do. It may take a while.

  3. Just a Wales tidbit. I am reading the forthcoming Maisie Dobbs mystery. In a very small plot point, two radio operators opened and closed with something in Welsh as the Germans would not, they felt, know the language. It also served as the way the two made sure that they were in touch with the correct person.
    Anyway, Jacqueline Winspear’s series is one that I very much have enjoyed.

    • I’m ashamed to say I know next to nothing about Jacqueline Winspear and had to Google her name after reading your message. I see she was born in England before moving to the US. Her Maisie Dobbs books look rather good – I must make time to familiarize myself with them. Anyhow, many thanks for sharing that nugget of information. I wonder if it actually happened? It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it did. 😊

  4. Thank you for this information about Gwyneth Lewis as well as the poem, I’m afraid it’s all new to me but I’m learning!

  5. Such a fantastic poem! 😀

  6. Harvard and Columbia and Oxford: well, that’s quite an academic record! No wonder she’s not a novelist, she’d have to be happy scribbling just a few lines here and there! (Not to dis poets, in general or specifically either! LOL) Happy Dewithon to you and so pleased to see so many reading along!

  7. Ohh I like that, a lot!
    Thanks Paula – will check out more by Gwyneth.

  8. Such a jolly rollicking poem 🙂 My Wales Readathon 2021 efforts so far have been non-existent but I am working on it! I was sidetracked by a slim volume ‘Unexplained Laughter’ by Alice Thomas Ellis in which Lydia recovers from a broken relationship in a cottage in the Welsh countryside. Written in 1985 by a non-Welsh author, I did enjoy the writing style.

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