This is a translation of the original poem by Alan Llwyd. Click here to read the Welsh-language poem.
The guns fell silent at last. Through the heavy stillness
the sound of grief became clearer. The world was immersed
in blood and tears, and after such endless carnage,
throughout the whole savage earth the names were dispersed,
common-place surnames of which no record existed
except in the prayers of mothers in the hours of the night,
the millions of names which were once dispatched on envelopes
from genial homes to reach the madness of the trenches.
And someone asked: ‘What shall we do with all these names?
To leave them in foreign fields would be an affront.
We must carry these names back to their own country,
gather all these names together from the wooden crosses.’
And others answered: ‘Their sacrifice must be preserved
from oblivion; in every town and village, commemorate them;
carve their names with a sharpened chisel on stones instead
of leaving them on pieces of wood, so that their names will last forever.’
And the stonemasons were busier than ever, ploughing the stones
and sowing the letters like seeds along every monument;
the chisels were sharpened by names, so that they could carve
more and more names on stones, disfiguring the grain;
and the sculptors also shaped images of soldiers
in bronze and in stone with their restless chisels,
sharpened on the hearts of mothers, the stone in each bosom,
thus remembering all those young men who would never grow old.
But then someone asked, ‘What about the grief-stricken mothers,
the mothers who slept in the graves of their silent sons,
the mothers who gave their sons their names and their breath?’
But the names of their sons claimed every inch of the stone,
leaving no room to carve the names of the mothers,
although they were also victims, dying of heartbreak
and merciless longing, when all the graves became cradles;
they died and were never named on the hewn stones.
‘But what about those who preferred to destroy themselves
rather than murder others on the fields of fire,
those who chose the rope instead of the furious hell
where young men were smashed and blown to smithereens,
and the fathers who slashed their wrists because their sons
had been snatched away from them in their prime of their lives?’
This was the unwise question bravely asked by others,
but there was no room for cowardly souls on the stone.
And someone else asked, ‘What about the God who forsook us
throughout the whole Armageddon, through the weary years,
the God who died in the ranks, the God who was murdered
in the days when the conflict of nations destroyed civilization?’
And someone answered: ‘The whole earth is his monument;
no stone could ever contain his name, to preserve his name,
as the other names will be kept alive forever, and therefore
may all the graves serve as a monument to God.’
And so it was. Every village and town was transfigured;
monuments were raised to the sons of the silent mothers;
the names were safeguarded for ever, the grief was preserved;
the whole earth was a monument, the whole world a memorial;
and the names, the thousands of names, all those endless names,
were frozen forever in stone, all those cheap names
close-knit, a brotherhood on monuments, but the other names
astray through the whole world, forever lost.
Translated by Alan Llwyd.
About Alan Llwyd
Alan Llwyd is currently a Professor at Academi Hywel Teifi, Swansea University. He is a writer and editor of 71 books. Between 2011 and 2016, he published a series of biographies about some of Wales’ most important writers. The first was the controversial but highly acclaimed Kate: Cofiant Kate Roberts 1891-1985(2011), then biographies of R. Williams Parry (2013), Waldo Williams (2014), Gwenallt (2016), and a new edition of his Hedd Wyn biography in 2014. He also wrote the script for the hugely popular film, Hedd Wyn. In 2018 he published Colli’r Hogiau, his in-depth study of the effect the First World War had on Wales.