Modernist Poets Obscurity

People Do not Care Because They Do not Understand

Sir, Mr. Keidrych Rhys has recently pointed out at considerable length in these columns how numerous and talented are the young modernist poets of the Anglo-Cymric school how “public taste in Wales is rotten;” how “nobody will care a hoot” it the best writer (of this school) starves; how fervently “poetry-nonsense,” is objected to by this fraternity, also the Victorian age, the smell of “the Tennyson garden,” and “Georgian sentimentality,” and how these young poets need everybody who can give any guidance or “helpful suggestions,” and a good deal more of this and that all in a somewhat peevish strain generally.

Allow me, therefore, to offer a little plain guidance. If “nobody cares a hoot,” it is simply because nobody has yet understood what these young people are trying to say. As one who has given them a patient and prolonged trial by the purchase and painful reading of their works, I have come to the melancholy conclusion that their main achievement in poetry so far has been to say next to nothing in the maximum number of words, on “sound and fury” principles.

Why do people who are apparently able to write coherently, intelligently and interestingly to the Press descend into the deepest dungeons of verbal darkness when they attempt to convey their thoughts in verse. Is this pure affectation, a form of self-advertisement, plain intellectual snobbery, or what?

Great literature is not wantonly obscure. Any intelligent miner or farm labourer can read his Bible and his Shakespeare with enjoyment and understanding. But just try a dose of Dylan Thomas on a University professor of literature and demand a translation! Here is a fair sample of the work of Mr. Keidrych Rhys’s high-priest, a glimpse of “the light that never was on sea or land:”

The hot wires,
Shall the blind horse sing sweeter?
Convenient bird and beast lie lodged to suffer,
The supper and knives of a mood
In the sniffed and poured snow on the tip of the tongue of the year
That clouds the spittle like bubbles with broken rooms,
An enamoured man alone by the twigs of his eyes, two fires,
Camped in the drug-white shower of nerves and food
Savours the lick of the times through a deadly wood of hair
and-so forth.

“Well, there it is: but what is it? Edith Sitwell (whom heaven preserve) hails, this as verbal sculpture almost fiercely strong.” Another critic of considerable standing describes it as “pretentious bunk.” As for myself, I am glad to give it the “convenient bird” referred to in the third line and to leave it to the rapturous enjoyment of Mr. Rhys, who may know what it is all about and why. it was worth printing.

The fact is that Mr. James Joyce has done this sort of thing so appallingly better in his monumental volumes of stygian obscurity that for those who like spending weeks on the interpretation of single sentences there is already enough material to occupy them in research for several reincarnations. But one cannot expect the average Welshman who takes some interest in literature to waste time on these fruitless inanities.

If our bright young modernist versifiers really want a hearing, they must take the straw out of their hair and write something that we can understand. Poetry should be a vital concern of the people, not the vested interest of esoteric, self-worshipping cliques.

Give us something to stir our hearts, Mr. Rhys, and we will gladly listen. But do not expect us to fall for the charlatanry of cloud-cuckoo stuff packed in bales, of obscurity.

Yours, &c.,

Shinkins, Abercwmboi

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