Poetry is notoriously difficult to translate, and Welsh poetry even more so, as part of the music it creates depends on the sound structure, utterly impossible to reproduce in another language.
So the translator has to work hard to express in the target language as much as possible of what is in the original, knowing that what he produces will never be more than a two dimensional representation of the original.
But we look at two dimensional pictures, seeing in them the three dimensions the artist's craft conjures up for us: so too we should persevere with poetry in translation (though for poetry, if for little else, I will resume in retirement the Welsh language classes I had to stop when children stopped so much else).
The name of Waldo Williams is, I imagine, unknown to just about everybody who ever stops by this place, yet he was one of the great poets of the twentieth century, just in a language few value. He was a pacifist non-conformist, and became a Quaker, but his imprisonment for his pacifism gave him an understanding of what had motivated the Welsh martyrs, and he wrote the poem, the translation of which is below, about them.
This translation is by Rowan Williams: Archbishop of Canterbury, but previously Archbishop of Monmouth and Archbishop of Wales: the first modern Archbishop of Canterbury to have been appointed from outside the Church of England. In this context, though, he is also a Bard of the Gorsedd: he really knows what he is translating.
After the Mute Centuries
for the Catholic martyrs of Wales
The centuries of silence gone, now let me weave a celebration
Because the heart of faith is one, the moment glows in which
Souls recognise each other, one with the great tree's kernel at
root of things.
They are at one with the light, where peace masses and gathers
In the infinities above my head; and, where the sky moves into night,
Then each one is a spyhole for my darkened eyes, lifting the veil.
John Roberts, Trawsfynydd, a pauper's priest,
Breaking bread for the journey when the plague weighed on them,
Knowing the power of darkness on its way to break, crumble, his
John Owen, carpenter: so many hiding places
Made by his tireless hands for old communion's sake,
So that the joists are not undone, the beam pulled from the roof.
Richard Gwyn: smiling at what he saw in their faces, said,
'I’ve only sixpence for your fine' — pleading his Master's case,
His charges (for his life) were cheap as that.
Oh, they ran swift and light. How can we weigh them, measure them,
The muster of their troops, looking down into damnation?
Nothing, I know, can scatter those bound by the paying of one price.
The final, silent tariff. World given in exchange for world,
The far frontiers of agony to buy the Spirit's leadership,
The flower paid over for the root, the dying grain to be his cradle.
Their guts wrenched out after the trip to torment on the hurdle,
And before the last gasp when the ladder stood in front of them
For the soul to mount, up to the wide tomorrow of their dear
You’d have a tale to tell of them, a great, a memorable tale,
If only, Welshmen, you were, after all, a people.