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Carol for the Coalfield and Other Poems, A (Corgi Series: 2)

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Manylion a Disgrifiad y Llyfr | Book Details & Description

  • ISBN: 9780863817021
  • Author: Idris Davies
  • Publication December 2002
  • Format: Paperback, 148x103 mm, 96 pages

A pocket size selection of 17 poems by a Rhymney-born poet reflecting his love for his people together with his sympathy for the hardship of life in the mining communities, with a short biography and a useful bibliography.

Gwales Review
The second in the Corgi Writing from Wales series offers a good introduction to the poetry of Idris Davies. Described by T.S. Eliot as 'the best poetic document I know about a particular epoch and a particular place', Davies’s work aimed to give a voice to the men and women of industrial south Wales living through the deprivation of the inter-war years. This collection opens with extracts from Davies’s first and finest book, Gwalia Deserta (1938), a long poem which establishes the themes that were to dominate his writing for the rest of his career. Davies praises the courage of the people of the Valleys ('The bravery of the simple, faithful folk') while simultaneously condemning the greedy capitalist mine-owners: 'Shall I sulk, and curse them/Who made their lives so cheap?'

His second book, The Angry Summer (1943) also attempts to fight 'For those who toil without a name / And pass into the night'. The dramatic poem’s multiple voices record the events of the General Strike of 1926 and its effect on the mining communities of south Wales. However, the poem doesn’t seem to flow as well in extract form as it does when read in its fifty-section entirety, though the rich variety of voices are nevertheless represented here by the likes of Dan the Grocer and Shinkin Rees the little tailor.

Davies’s autobiographical poem 'I was born in Rhymney' (published in his third book, Tonypandy and Other Poems, 1945) gives the most helpful insight to the poet’s political development. This series of four-line verses serves as a touchstone for many of the other poems and also for Davies’s general philosophy:

'I saw that creeds could comfort
And hypocrisy console
But in my blood were battles
No Bible could control.'

This leads us to the poet’s distinct distrust of institutional authority, usually directed towards the mine-owners and politicians, but also reserved for the Chapel, as in light satires such as 'The Ballad of a Bounder' and 'The Lay Preacher Ponders'.

A more evident characteristic of Davies’s work, however, is its sentimentalism. For this reason, it is best read in patches – there are times when the reader feels that once you’ve read one Idris Davies poem, you’ve read them all. This is not to say that Davies’s sentimentality has a wholly negative effect. The final stanza of Gwalia Deserta, for example, offers an optimistic vision in the face of adversity:

'Though blighted be the valleys
Where man meets man with pain,
The things my boyhood cherished
Stand firm, and shall remain.'

The downside of this, however, is that Davies’s poetry offers no meaningful sense of change. Although this is not a bad thing in itself (Davies famously noted that there is a 'difference between poetry and propaganda'), it does mean that the sentimentality that permeates much of his work can result in doggerel verse. In 'Rhymney', for example:

'And the drabbest streets of evening,
They had their magic hour,
When April came to Rhymney
With shower and sun and shower.'

This should not distract the reader, however, from the strength of Idris Davies’s poetry. His depiction of the suffering, resolve and endurance of the Valleys means that it stands as a significant apologia for his people. For this reason, A Carol for the Coalfield and Other Poems is to be recommended to newcomers to this poet’s work.

Owain Wilkins