Saturday 27 June 2015

4 Cyril Gwynn, Bard of Gower

4. Cyril Gwynn (photos: Cyril Gwynn, Penrice castle) - 27 June 2015

Peninsular Gower can boast a major Poet in Vernon Watkins, a Folk Singer in Phil Tanner, and, though less well known, a Bard in Cyril Gwynn.

Born in Briton Ferry in January 1897, the eldest of twelve children, Cyril Gwynn grew up at Langland Bay Farm where his parents were tenants, until it was sold in 1906 to make way for Langland Bay golf course.  He could speak the Gower dialect, and went to school in Newton and Mumbles.

After serving on mine-sweepers during the First World War, he married in 1922 and settled initially in Parkmill.  At different times he worked as a farmer, steam-roller driver, and road mender in various Gower parishes.

When ploughing or working with horses he might compose verses about local matters.  If he wrote them out they were rarely altered from what he had composed mentally, being intended to be recited rather than read.

One time when the entertainment booked for the Gower Inn could not come, Cyril Gwynn was persuaded to recite some of his rural poems.  This led to him being regularly called upon to recite one or more of his “yarns” - after a ploughing match, at a harvest supper, when welcoming a new vicar, or at a wake.  His subjects might be the village blacksmith, harvest prize-giving, the Penrice Castle Shoot, local characters, new road schemes - all delivered with a native wit, and often an ironic twist in the final line.  He made some pithy comments on the changing face of farming, and on town dwellers’ views of the countryside.

In 1928 Cyril Gwynn published a small booklet of 33 of his Gower yarns, but with no illusions of literary ability.  He wrote “I now submit them as a truly rural product with no pretension to literary excellence or grammatical perfection”.  That year he was political agent for the unsuccessful Conservative candidate for Gower, and was offered a job on the ‘Western Mail’, which he declined.

But in the 1950s he moved from Gower.  After ten years working as an engineer in Neath Abbey, he emigrated to Australia in 1964 for the sake of his wife’s health, as two of their daughters had already settled there. 

During his first visit back to Wales in 1975 (aged in his late seventies), Cyril Gwynn was still able to recite scores of his yarns, some having ten or twelve verses.  J. Mansel Thomas, deputy headmaster of Bishop Gore School, had written about him in the 1951 Gower journal describing him as “The Bard of Gower”.  He persuaded him to let the Gower Society publish ‘The Gower Yarns of Cyril Gwynn’, containing 31 of his poems and including 12 from the 1928 publication.  It was reprinted in 1989, and is a collection of narrative folk poems depicting a rural society that is no more. 

The sentiments of another Welshman, W.H. Davies - ‘What is life so full of care we have no time to stop and stare?’ - are echoed in Cyril Gwynn’s poem ‘Contentment’:

So save your pity, ‘tis as well, he needs not it who labours,

And they who in the country dwell, lack neither life nor neighbours.

I have the birds, the flowers, the trees, beside my cottage door,

did you bit know the worth of these you would not count me poor.

For nature’s beauty doth outweigh the pageantry of kings,

And I am quite content to stay here, near the heart of things.

The Bard of Gower died in Australia in 1988, aged ninety.  The late Nigel Jenkins wrote an appreciation in that year’s Gower journal and described Cyril Gwynn as an authentic bardd gwlad/folk poet, albeit using the English language.                      


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