James Evans “Milwyn” 1928

Poet and Collier
Passing of a Rhondda Genius
By Wil Ifan

Milwyn was collier and a poet. We can well imagine how such a combination would be commented upon and treated as being well-nigh sensational in some countries. But in Wales, fortunately, there is nothing unusual in coming across first-class poet or singer who is also a first-class collier or quarrymen or farm labourer; the artist who is also an artisan. No fuss was made last year when six colliers sat down on the “dust of the pit” to write a volume of excellent verse.

Huw Menai, possibly the most original and authentic voice in Wales, was a weigher at the pit-head until the great wheels stopped and he, like thousands of others, had to stand by, idle and wretched.

James Evans, with his university degree and his honours in Greek and his blameless character, has been underground for twenty years. And Wales was not amazed when he last a turn some years back to go the National Eisteddfod to fetch his silver crown.

Milwyn, poet and collier, Treorky, passed away last week, and I did not see a single reference to the fact in the Welsh press. It was after his burial that I heard of his passing. Indeed, I should not have cared to hear a great blowing of trumpets, because it would have been out of keeping with the whole tenour of his modest, unostentatious life.

His Polished Verse

His one passion was the fashioning of a good englyn. To have sound cynghanedd was not sufficient for him. It had to be polished and re-polished. The weaving of sounds was not enough: the pattern had to be intricate and involved. And his mentor was the incomparable “J.J.” now of Morriston.

It is impossible that his passion for intricate and cunning workmanship tended to blind him occasionally to other values, but his stanzas will be repeated with pride by his fellow-workmen in the Rhondda. This is how he described the submarine:

Draig anfad yr eigion for;- nofia’n gudd
Yn nwfn gol y cefn-for;
A gyrr ing drwy gae’r angor,
Chwyrn ei mellt, dychryn y mor.

In another stanza he tells us what he thinks of fellow-collier:

Dyn diwyd a nwyd eon;- grymus gawr
Maes y gwyll a’r nwyon;
Tarian ei frawd, tyner ei fron,
A golud gwlad y gwaelodion.

Y Deigryn

Ddihalog lwythog wlithyn;- i’r golwg
Daw’r gallon drwy’r deigryn;
A llif dwys hollo fid dyn
Fwriodd for I ddiferyn.
It is good to think that Milwyn’s good friends are endeavouring to collect the bard’s best efforts in order to publish them in time for the great meeting of the clans at Treorky. When we meet we shall remember, among other great names, the names of Ben Bowen, Brynfab, and Milwyn.