September 1914,
a profusion of blackberries:
and that was when
the de Wyncks came to stay.
Father had read out loud
about the autumn in their land,
how corpses collected
like drifts of beech leaves on the streets,
and thousands fled.
And so we fetched them
from the station platform,
a trio petrified,
their eyes swivelling like smoke;
their whole world in a few armfuls,
and their same aged son, holding his mother’s hand.
Next day, without a word in common,
I was sent blackberrying with him.
We picked together, mute.
Fingerpricked and armscratched,
seeking out blackberries:
until we were blackberry blind;
their shiny spheres filled our eyes,
the fat ones mocked us
from the depths of the hedge
and its topmost crests:
te hoog!;
too high!
And we laughed in our innocence
with purpled mouths.


It was only afterwards
that I marvelled to see the de Wyncks
putting their trust in the Lord using beads,
like blackberries, strung in each hand.


They were giving thanks like us
said Father
for the boon of each new morning
without babykillers at the door


And it was only afterwards
that we wondered at Mr de Wynck,
with  narrow chisel and detailed intensity,
carving the ‘Flight into Egypt’
to pay his way…
and our Welsh papers had their Pentecost!
Vlaamsch vor Belgen, a weekly column,
told the news of the oorlog,
the long war
that bound us together still.


And it was only afterwards…
over four harsh winters
when the naked brambles
reminded us like barbed wire
just why we shared a roof,
it was only then that I’d recall
that first time bramen plukken:
when compassion begat action
in our house
and the first fruits of frustration
for a young girl who could not
put her language in your mouth
So I put blackberries
like sharp sweet kisses
on your surprised tongue,
four and a half years exactly,
before you and your family
left, unsung,
to rebuild a shattered country


Ifor ap Glyn
Bardd Cenedlathol Cymru | National Poet of Wales

(Between 1914-1918 a quarter of a million displaced Belgians were granted refuge by the British authorities. Some of them came to Wales…)

Back to Ifor ap Glyn: National Poet of Wales 2016 – 2022