Poetry Corner: ‘Du Ydwyf, ond Prydferth’/‘Black am I, but Beautiful’ by TE Nicholas/’Niclas y Glais’

‘Du Ydwyf, ond Prydferth’ (Negro a fu’n cydweithio â ni am wythnos yn y carchar) ‘Niclas y Glais’ (1879-1971)

‘Black am I, but Beautiful’ (A Negro who worked with us in prison for a week) by TE Nicholas (1879-1971)

TE Nicholas ‘Niclas y Glais’, congregational minister, pacifist, champion of the disadvantaged, initially a member of the Independent Labour Party and then a founder member of the Communist Party, remaining in it till his death. Niclas was an internationalist who loved the Welsh language and the culture of the Welsh people. Writing almost entirely in Welsh, he won 17 eisteddfod chairs. In July 1940, during the Second World War, he and his son Islwyn were arrested on trumped-up charges of fascism during his 4-month imprisonment in Brixton, he wrote 150 sonnets, from which the following are selected. aWe present here the original Welsh and the English translation of his work side by side; the latter of course cannot capture the full expression of the former.

*

TE Nicholas, ‘Niclas y Glais’, 1879-1971

Du ydwyt frawd, ond prydferth megis ebon,
A’th wydn gynhyrau fel y gwifrau dur,
Crychni dy wallt yn rhwydo yr awelon,
A’th fynwes yn dygyfor serch a chur.
Pwy a fynega mesur dy radlondeb
A’th fonedd a’th deyrngarwch ym mhob ffawd?
Dy wên o glust i glust, a’th ddall ffyddlondeb
I’th berchen gwyn a’th geidw’n fythol dlawd,
Nid oes i ti na dinasyddiaeth mamwlad,
Na rhan na chyfran yn y breintiau mawr;
Tydi, y dua’i groen a’r mwyna’i deimlad,
Fe’th gedwir am dy liw yn llwch y llawr.
Ti roddaist, gymrawd croenddu, ym mhob oes,
Ysgwydd ddolurus dan ben tryma’r Groes.

*

Black you are, but beautiful, as ebony,
Your muscles tough and taut as bars of steel,
Your wrinkled hair enmeshing breeze, and bonny,
Your heart a confluence of woe and weal.
Who can relate the measure of your kindness,
Your noble fealty in every fate?
Your broad fraternal smile, your loyal blindness
To your white boss who chains you to your state;
There is for you no homeland’s brave annealing,
No part or share in privilege or trust,
You, of the darkest skin and tenderest feeling,
Are kept because of colour in the dust.
And yet, my comrade, ’neath the Cross of Fate
’Twas your own shoulder bore the heaviest weight.

TE Nicholas, ‘Niclas y Glais’ (1879-1971)

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