Some for the road —

“Sun” by Micheal O’Siadhail

(I believe he read this poem at the reading we attended)

A fireball I cannot hold a candle to —
Light-years more giving, ample and rife
With desire, magnolia chalice of body

I touch petal by petal and undo.
Like an overcoat a wife must last a life
My poor sober father had cautioned me.

Paced madness . Patient furnace of sun.
Shape me, kiln me, cast me, love me,
Mate, mistress, queen, courtesan, in one.

Our naked nothing. Wing-giving delirium.
All caution to winds and kings of Jericho,
In Rahab’s window tie a crimson thread.

Jag of bliss. Drowsed and overcome
My life for yours. Ravish me! I grow,
I sweat, I ripen in your pleasured bed.

“Homing” by Micheal O’Siadhail

Longbow years of longing
Bends an arc’s wooden U.
Tenser stretch, fiercer shoot.

An arrow rigs a violent route
Gathering into a shaft of yew
Dreamed eye of a golden ring.

Cupidinous. Desire overdue.
A goose cock-feather quivering. No hard-to-get. No pursuit.

Come what may. Coute que coute.
I finger a silk-whipped string.
My life takes aim for you.

O Eros ravish and enlarge us.
Just to gaze, to listen, to mingle.
Sweet fusion. Carnal relish.
Break me again with outlandish
Desire my prowling Mademoiselle.
The arrow of our time discharges.

A shaft so full of amorous remembering,
Deja vu of yearning’s consummate fit
As I stoop to fondle a hollow in your nape.

As if such hunger coiled up in a man
Wakes some reminiscence we relearn,
I kiss in your flesh your spirit’s kiss

Like Hermes’ son fallen for Salmacis.
Our nature divides only to return.
I’ve known you since the world began.

A woman’s desire now bends to shape
The long elucidation of my spirit.
An arrow homes into its golden ring.

Local Welsh Place Names

As you probably recall, Waldo Williams, one of the poets we read, was from Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, both of which are names that show up on the Haverford and Bryn Mawr campuses, respectively. Knowing this, I decided to look into the origins of some of the Welsh place names in the area.

I found this website about the “Welsh Mainline” (, which talks about some nearby towns and their origins. Welsh Quakers settled 40,000 acres west of Philadelphia (Delaware, Montgomery and Chester counties). In 1684, they tried to get William Penn to agree to make it a separate county, where government business would be conducted in Welsh, since few of them spoke English. However, their request was unheeded, as the land was divided between different English counties.

A map of the Welsh Tract

When the Pennsylvania Railroad put in the Mainline in the 1800’s, many non-Welsh place names were changed by the railroad in order to give the area more of a unified history and make it more marketable. Following are some local Welsh names and their origins.

Haverford means “goat crossing” in Welsh. As we discussed in class, it was named for the Welsh town Haverfordwest. It was settled in 1681 by Welsh Quakers.

Bryn Mawr was originally Humphreysville, but was renamed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1869. However, its Welsh name does have significance (unlike some other towns’ later Welsh names which are just nonsense). It means “big hill” and is named after an estate in North Wales, the farm of Rowland Ellis, a settler who came to Pennsylvania in 1686 fleeing religious persecution.

Brecon was given its current name in 1981, since it was dedicated by a Lady Brecon. Brecon is the name of the county where the town Bryn Mawr is found in Wales.

Radnor (the township, not the dorm) is named after Radnorshire, Wales. It was founded in 1682 on land from William Penn, and the town grew up around a meetinghouse built by the Welsh settlers in 1718, which is the same meetinghouse that stands there today. Many of the Welsh settlers left to avoid high taxes in the late 1700’s. Supposedly, there are monuments honoring their founding of the town; however, I was unable to find information on exactly what these are.

Saint David’s is named after a local Saint David’s church built in the 1700’s. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales.

Paoli is not a Welsh name, but is actually named after the Corsican general Pasquale Paoli. The center of the town was an inn, built in 1769, and run by a Joshua Evans, whose father had bought the land from William Penn. Evans named his inn Paoli, because the general was given the last toast in a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration at the inn.

Gladwynne is good example of an example of a settlement (although not a census-designated place) that was renamed to fit in with the other Welsh names in the area. It was originally “Merion Square,” which presumably came from Meirionnydd County in Wales. However, this name was apparently not Welsh enough for the casual listener, as it was renamed to Gladwynne in 1891. “Gladwynne” sounds Welsh but doesn’t actually mean anything.

Calan Mai!

This weekend Bryn Mawr continued one of it’s long standing traditions, May Day.
In Wales, May Day (Calan Mai) is a bit different from the May Day we celebrate at Bryn Mawr. Along with the traditional May Pole dancing, the traditional Welsh Calan Mai included lighting ritual fires that sometimes had animals roasted on them. These fires were, according to the BBC page, traditionally made from nine different types of wood collected by participants on May Day, and are a purification ritual that can be traced to druidical sacrifice to the god Beltane. It seems that these fires are less common today, though if you happen to head up to Edinburgh for May Day, the Beltane Fire Society puts on a rather exuberant Beltane festival on Carlton Hill involving these traditional fires, music, and acts that weave their way through the crowds.
Since the first of May is a liminal time zone in Welsh mythology, Calan Mai also involved divination. This divination usually takes the form of divining one’s true love rather than divining battle outcomes. Hawthorn was also used to decorate the outside of houses ((but never the inside- hawthorn is unlucky, then last thing you would want to be when welcoming in the spring and the fertility of the ground).

In some areas of Wales, such as Anglesey, straw dolls were made and hung near girl’s homes on May Eve. These dolls were hung by young men whose sweethearts had left them for another man, and often incited jealousies over the lady’s affections that could lead to fights.

Not all the traditions of Calan Mai are different, however. Like at Bryn Mawr’s May day celebration, dancing around a May pole formed an integral part of the celebrations. The May Pole is traditionally made of birch, though the way in which the dance is performed varies by region. In the South of Wales, the dancing works much the same way it works at Bryn Mawr, with the dancers weaving their ribbons around the pole through their circling dance.

In the north of Wales, however, the may pole ritual is called “Cangen haf”, the summer branch, and requires eighteen young men dressed entirely in white with ribbons attached (rather like the Morris Dancers of May Day look) and two young men to play the Cadi and the Fool. The Cadi carries the “cangen haf” around the town, often decorated with spoons, watches, and other silver borrowed from the people of the village, while the others sing and dance and ask for money from everyone they meet.
Calan Mai also has a May Queen, a young woman who presides over the festival. Traditional Welsh dancing also forms a large part of the festival.

Today, amusement park rides and bouncy castles like thoe ones Bryn Mawr set up this Sunday on Merion and Denbigh Greens also tend to make an appearance, especially since May Day is a bank holiday in the UK and most people have the day off to join in the festivities.

And for some fun, here’s a Monty Python sketch on May Day!

Celtic Knots

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love to cook and bake. Recently I was struck by a hankering for pretzels, but was bored by the traditional pretzel twist before I even started. I began playing around with the dough, and realized that I could kill two birds with one stone by making some delicious Celtic knots.

Batch #1: First try making pretzels, mostly braids, a couple of boring semi-normal ones.


The Triquerta


“Celtic knot mat” – the pattern on the uncooked pretzel is a bit easier to see.

I found a tying tutorial for this knot here.

The baked version.


After researching Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, I was interested to learn more about the Innti literary journal and the other poets that contributed to it, as well as the later movement of poetry accredited to Innti. This movement was defined by the “introduction of modern themes into Irish poetry and a movement away from the traditional nationalist politics,” or as Nuala herself put it, a movement towards writing about “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.” This movement has been compared to the Beats poetry movement in the United States, comprised of post-World War II writers with a culture of “rejection of received standards, innovations in style, experimentation with drugs, alternative sexualities, etc.,” including American poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. The literary magazine Innti was originally a broadside (one large page printed on one side only), created in 1970, which was continued as a magazine. The editor was a poet named Michael Davitt. Besides Davitt and Ní Dhomhnaill (the only female poet involved), Gabriel Rosenstock and Liam Ó Muirthile have gone on to be well known Irish poets. Defining aspects of this poetry movement were the public readings that made Irish poetry more accessible to the common man, creating excitement in the community. Other poets of this movement than Ní Dhomhnaill, such as Michael Davitt, have embraced translation into English by well-known poets like Paul Muldoon and John Montague. These poets, while committed to revitalizing the Irish language, were determined to avoid “isolationism [and to] bring internationalist energies of a new youth culture” to their poetry. On the subject of translation, Nuala has referred to her allowance of translation by Anglophone poets as a “vocation to the missions” that can motivate the English-speaking Irish population to “pick up the long-lost threads of the language which is so rightly theirs.” The founder of Innti, Davitt, passed away in 2005, just two years before Irish was designated the 23rd official language of the European Union.


The question of language: Postcolonial translation in the bilingual collections of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Paul Muldoon (article, requested)