Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Fallen leaves

The leaves of the lime tree are falling. They pile up over the back of the garden. They’re a pain. Leaves on the street make lovely patterns of shape and colour. It’s a treat to look down at them as I pass. I’m hoping we’ll see more leaves in Canada. (We’re off there tomorrow.) Or will the Canadian leaves have fallen already, overwhelmed by the onset of winter?

Meantime, Autumn leaves in London have created an earworm in my head. It’s the first couple of lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ beautiful poem (see it all at the end of the blog):

Margaret are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving

Love of poetry – it’s a Welsh thing – also added spice to my reading of one of the pieces in last week’s edition of Golwg, the Welsh magazine I get sent on subscription. This particular piece was about a big new work, Nawr yr Arwr (Now the Hero) that has been created by choreographer Mark Rees as part of UK commemorations of the First World War. How I wish I’d been there when it was recently performed in Swansea.

Swansea was a big city far away on my childhood horizons. As a place especially badly affected by the Second World War, it made an appropriate venue for Nawr yr Arwr. Another appropriateness was that the performance itself took place under the huge panels in Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall which were created by the artist, Sir Frank Brangwyn, to commemorate the First World War.  

Especially affecting by all accounts was the choral recitation performed by a large group of women from the Swansea area who stood on the steps of the Brangwyn Hall as the audience arrived. What they recited – in Welsh and in Welsh choral style – were the ancient words of Y Gododdin.

Y Gododdin was written in what is now known as old Welsh  by the late 6th century poet, Aneirin, at a time when Welsh was the language of Britain. The poem is a lament for the war-band of men that set out on a military expedition from their lands in Lothian to engage with the overwhelmingly larger numbers of Anglo-Saxons massed at Catraeth. (Catraeth is now identified with Catterick in Yorkshire and, poignantly for me, it’s where my father had to go to report when he was joined up as a tank driver in the Second World War.) Here are just a couple of lines from the Welsh of Y Gododdin:

Gwyr a aeth gatraeth oed fraeth eu llu
glasved eu hancwyn a gwenwyn vu.

Translated into English, those lines tell us:

The men who went to Catterick were a speedy band
fresh mead their sustenance, it became bitterness

It’s the alliteration, the sprung rhythms, the internal rhyming, the intensity of feeling, that make that old Welsh poetry so affecting even when you don’t understand the language. As it happens, Gerard Manley Hopkins was affected by those same qualities in Welsh poetry when he was setting out on his life as a poet. The poem of his that’s been resounding through my mind makes full use of them. Entitled Spring and Fall and dedicated ‘to a young child’, it is both a celebration and a lament for Autumn which happens to be the season of my birth and is still very much my favourite time of the year. Here it is in full: 

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! As the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie:
And yet you will weep and know why,
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

PS: Autumn is full of potential photos. My blogs in the next two weeks might only be photos, who knows, we’ll see how things go. Meantime, happy leaf-looking.


One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Fallen leaves”

  1. Lesley Dowding Says:

    Safe travel I have not long returned form Victoria Canada
    Seasons of Mist an dMellow fruitfulness.
    I can’t imagine life without poetry and heard Clive James recently on No one reads poetry any more.

    We were fortunate to have Carol Ann Duff here in our humble city what a poet.

    We are blessed to have seasons here and now opposite to you my Maples are just bursting and my Copper Beech called Swat Maigret.

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