IFOR AP GLYN - An Eryri cathechism

(to celebrate the 70th birthday of the Snowdonia National Park – Eryri is Welsh for Snowdonia)

What is Eryri?
A multi-sensory symphony;
the purple heather fanfaring
the short empire of the sun,
and the furtive blue of bilberry sprigs
a sharp-eyed visitor’s feast.

And after the heady overture
of green bracken baking in the sun
or pine needles’ damp perfume
as they’re trodden under foot,
the surprise notes come;

the orange shock of mountain ash;
or the quartz rocks
like corpse candles in the mist;
for this is a year-round symphony…

Where is Eryri?
For some, it’s part of our make-up.
It exists way beyond Park boundaries
(which reproach yesterday’s quarrymen
for wreaking an ice age of change
in a few short generations)
Eryri’s ‘barren outline’
steals like a tattoo beneath our skin…

What will we see in Eryri?
Sometimes Eryri’s shy,
before it loosens itself from the mist;
but in this cathedral of the spirit,
it’s being here that’s important,
‘seeing’ is an added privilege…

And when the hammers of our hearts
fall quiet at the top of the climb,
we must listen; fine rain
will pearl the eaves of our brows.

And we will know the language
of the wind, and the bubbling burn
which only raises its voice
after rain or springtime thaw;

this is the solitude that exalts us,
and if the mist lames our eyes
we’ll just step cautiously forth
from the cliffs of our fancy

till we rise from the heath like a lark;
potter like the bee
in the flowers of here and now,

or hover in the sunset
over thrice recurring forest
like the owl of Cwm Cowlyd?

Who does Eryri belong to?
No-one. Not the fifth-generation farmer
with his sheep ribboning
through the mountain wall,
nor the first-five-minute tourist
as he steps open-mouthed, from his car.

They’ll both disappear in turn,
like pine martens and hill forts.
As we too shall disappear,
‘and our place shall know us no more’

But here, the Welsh language
will outlast us,
it’s the keynote of the hidden symphony
by which these acres are maintained.

Eryri belongs to the language;
its voice more clearly heard
in autumn than in summer,
but like the burn, it bubbles all year round.

It’s the frame to this open door.
Let’s respect it in its own home
with sut mae?* and diolch!** at least.
* sut mae? how are you?
** diolch! thanks!

What will we learn from Eryri?
To measure ourselves against mountains
and to change speed…
To understand that our time here is short,
but our responsibility huge…

Then, as we put on our instagram face
and take a walk, we’ll tread gently,
leaving only our footprints
to burnish the path for our kids.

And we’ll smile
as we enter these rocky portals,
because moments here,
can enlighten lifetimes.

(Translated from the original Welsh by the author)

profile pic Ifor

Broadcaster and poet Ifor ap Glyn has lived for over 30 years in Caernarfon on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park but grew up in the Welsh community in London. He has published six collections of poetry, and has performed his work in festivals around the world; a two times winner of the prestigious crown award at the National Eisteddfod, his poems have been translated into over a dozen languages, and in 2016 he was appointed by Literature Wales as the new Bardd Cenedlaethol / National Poet of Wales.

His latest commission, to write a poem in celebration of the Snowdonia National Park’s 70th birthday filled him with a certain amount of trepidation. ‘Eryri has always been a special place for me. Holidays with my grandparents in Llanrwst, at the edge of the Park, would always include visits to relatives that would take us into the mountains proper. And then as I grew older, I began to wander over those same mountains on my own, so I’ve always been deeply aware of my connections to the people and language of the area. Every commission presents its own challenges, but this one came with a sense of responsibility too.’

Ifor was tasked with writing a poem, that would in turn inspire a team of artists to create their own response to the Park’s 70th anniversary. ‘So again – no pressure there!’ smiles Ifor, ‘Especially as they’re all highly regarded practitioners in their respective fields – but they were all lovely to work with.’

The artistic team included painter Lisa Eurgain, who creates magical abstract landscapes inspired by the mountains of Eryri; Angharad Harrop, a dance artist, who together with harpist Helen Wyn Pari will be improvising dance sequences in the landscape; and Tim Pugh, an environmental artist, who typically uses found objects such as leaves, stones, or even litter, to create two- and three-dimensional pieces in the landscape. The three remaining artists are metalworker Joe Roberts, who creates sculpture and furniture derived from natural forms – he has been commissioned to create a gate for the Park- and musicians Owain Roberts and Eve Goodman who have collaborated on a haunting song to celebrate this milestone in the Park’s history.

‘One of the best things about the process,’ says Ifor, ‘was the opportunity to meet up with the other artists and share stories about what Eryri meant to each of us. It was fascinating too, to learn something about their creative process and I tried to reflect that in my poem. I drew my own inspiration from several long walks through the Park, in varying weather conditions – after all, being on the mountain is the thing;  good visibility is just a bonus!’

Ifor’s sequence of poems Holwyddoreg Eryri (which translates as A Snowdonia Catechism) challenges our assumptions about the area and invites us to recalibrate our relationship with the National Park, in order to deepen our understanding of what it can offer us.

A video of Ifor’s complete sequence of poems, shot by director Andy Pritchard of Dinorwig.