I’ve recently discovered a brilliant Welsh poet – Vernon Watkins (1906-1967), who was rather overshadowed in his lifetime by his notorious and famous friend, Dylan Thomas. (A friendship that endured many years, even after Thomas failed to turn up as best man at Watkins’ wedding!). Watkins lived most of his life on the Gower Peninsula, with his wife and five children, and earned his living working as a clerk for Lloyds Bank, even though he had published many volumes of poetry. At the time of his death he was being considered for the position of Poet Laureate.
Roland Glyn Mathias of Brecon, writing in Welsh Biography Online tells us that “Vernon Watkins’s volumes of poetry, exclusive of American editions and selections, were: Ballad of the Mari Lwyd ( 1941), The Lamp and the Veil (1945), The Lady with the Unicorn (1948), The North Sea (translations from Heine) (1951), The Death Bell (1954), Cypress and Acacia (1959), Affinities (1962) and Fidelities (published posthumously in 1968). Uncollected Poems (1969) and The Breaking of the Wave (1979) were put together from the vast mass of material the poet’s demanding eye had left unpublished, and two new selections, I That Was Born in Wales (1976) and Unity of the Stream (1978), were made from the printed oeuvre.”
I’ve a long way to go before I’ve read all Watkins’ poems, but I’m already a die-hard fan – I find them so lyrical, spiritual, metaphysical. Also there are several about my great passion in life – horses, possibly not suprising since Watkins would have encountered lots of wild ponies on the Gower. I’ve included a beautiful one here, “The Mare”. If you love great poetry, if you love Dylan Thomas’ poetry, seek out Vernon Watkins – many critics have said that Watkins had the greater talent; Thomas himself described Watkins as “the most profound and greatly accomplished Welshman writing poems in English.”
The Mare (1959) from Cypress and Acacia
The mare lies down in the grass where the nest of the skylark is hidden.
Her eyes drink the delicate horizon moving behind the song.
Deep sink the skies, a well of voices. Her sleep is the vessel of Summer.
That climbing music requires the hidden music at rest.
Her body is utterly given to the light, surrendered in perfect abandon
To the heaven above her shadow, still as her first-born day.
Softly the wind runs over her. Circling the meadow, her hooves
Rest in a race of daisies, halted where butterfiles stand.
Do not pass her too close. It is easy to break the circle
And lose that indolent fullness rounded under the ray
Falling on light-eared grasses your footstep must not yet wake.
It is easy to darken the sun of her unborn foal at play.