Sunday, January 8, 2023

Four Ammanford Poems by Kenneth Morris

Here are four Kenneth Morris poems recalling the Ammanford he knew as a youth. Three poems cover his family’s three houses, Pontamman, Brynhyfryd, and Werneleu. A fourth poem discusses St. Tybie’s Well at nearby Llandybie (St. Tybie was a daughter of a fifth century Welsh king, and an active evangelist for her Christian faith.  She is commemorated with a church in her name in Llandybie.) The poem “The Well at Llandybie” also appears in Morris’s retelling of part of the Mabinogion, The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed (1914).

Pontamman Garden

I remember a crimson rosebush that was in old Pontamman Garden,
And the royal sprays of blossom she would toss and sway in the windy sky,
Speechlessly eloquent in the speech of the soul of the winds and stars and summer
And the blue and dew-dropping Rose of God on high.

And I remember the snow and silver of the clouds over old Pontamman Garden;
And the blue bloom gentianella;  and the windy poplars;  and behind,
The far slopes of Bettws Mountain—the green, quiet slopes of the mountain—
And God in the scent and sound of the mountain wind.

All that had their welfare and pleasure of old in old Pontamman Garden—
They and their prayers and courtships—their hopes and doings and the ways they trod—
Are made a part now of all roses, and snow and silver, and green mountains,
And the far off whisper of mountain winds, and of God.


Old Brynhyfryd Garden

There’s a quiet old enchantment of the heart that’s calling, calling
From when Myrddin wielded magic powers, and Gwydion wove his tales;
And you’ll hear it any April morn, when the apple-bloom is falling
In old Brynhyfryd Garden, in White, Wild Wales.

There’s an Ousel in the Orchard there, and dear knows what he’s telling;
But I think there’s Welsh comes welling from his throat when no one’s nigh,
And it’s he that in Cilgwri in the olden days was dwelling,
And he saw the Quest of Cilhwch, and the old worlds die.

There’s a lonely, lofty spirit that will fire your soul with craving
For the kind and haughty glory of the old, Heroic Kings,
Where the foxglove and sweet-william on the turf-topped walls are waving
In old Brynhyfryd Garden, when the West Wind sings.

There’s a ruin filled with nettles, where I think Ceridwen lingers
When she’s out to gather herbage for the Wisdom Broth she brews:
And maybe you’ll close your eyes there, and you’ll feel the touch of fingers,
Or the dropping down of healing with the cool June dews.

Ancient Magic of the World, it’s the fires of you are burning
When the Wind is in the pine tops, and the moon is o’er the vales;
It’s a rumor of immortal hopes, Immortal Hearts returning
That’s in old Bryahyfryd Garden in the white West of Wales.


The Blubells of Wernoleu: A Welsh Legend

Out of the bluebell bloom of the night
When the east’s agloom and the west’s agleam.
Over the wern at Alder-Light
And the dark stile and the stream,
There’s dew comes dropping of dream-delight
To the deeps where the bluebells dream.

It’s then there’s brooding on wizard stories
All too secret for speech or song,
And rapture of rose and daffodil glories
Where the lone stream wandereth long;
And I think the whole of the Druids’ lore is
Known to the bluebell throng.

For they say that a sky-bee wandered of old
From her island hive in the Pleiades,
Winging o’er star-strewn realms untold,
And the brink of star-foamed seas—
Thighs beladen with dust of gold,
As is the wont of bees.

She left the hives of magical pearl,
Of dark-heart sapphire and pearl and dreams,
Where the flowers of the noon and the night unfurl
Their rose-rimmed blooms and beams—
Fain of the wandering foam awhirl
On the wild Dimetian streams.

Of the rhododendron bloom on the hills—
(There’s dear, red bloom in the pine-dark dell)—
Of rhododendron and daffodils,
And the blue campanula bell,
And the cuckoo-pint by the tiny rills
That rise in Tybie’s  Well.

(And where’s the wonder, if all were known?
There’s many in Michael’s hosts that ride
Would lay down scepter and crown and throne,
And their aureoled pomp and pride,
So they might wander and muse alone
An hour by the Teifi side.

And if anything lovely is under the sky,
That the eye beholds, or the proud heart dreams,
When the pomp of the world goes triumphing by,
When the sea with the sunlight gleams—
It’s show you a lovelier thing could I,
’Twixt Tywi and Teifi streams.

Let be!  whatever of praise be sung,
Here’s one could never make straight the knee,
Nor stay the soul from its paeans flung
Where the winds might flaunt them free,
For a thousand o’ mountains, cloud-fleece hung,
’Twixt Hafren Hen and the sea.)

Musing, down through the firmament vales,
Here and there in a thousand flowers,
Even till at last she was wandering Wales,
Lured by the pure June hours,
Lured by the glamor of ancient tales,
And the glory of age-old towers

Peony splendor of eve and dawn,
Tulips abloom on the border of day,
West on fire with the sun withdrawn,
Night and the Milky Way—
Ah, it was midnight’s bluebell lawn
Most in her heart held sway.

O’er Bettws Mountain she came down slowly,
Drowsy winged through the tangled wern;
Where in the sky was there hill so holy,
With so much glamor to burn,
As the hyacinth wilds beyond Wernoleu,
With their white bells ’mid the fern?

Musing, round by the wern she wandered
From bell to bell with her wings acroon,
There where they laughed and nodded and pondered
Through the beautiful hours of June;
Bluebell-dark were the dreams she squandered
On the gold and green of noon.

And the wild white hyacinths, wondering, heard her.
Suddenly caught by her starry song;
Gave no more ear to the woodland bird, or
Heeded the wild bee throng,
Or laughed with delight of the sunbright verdure
Of fern they had loved so long.

Marvelous thought took hold of them wholly,
Azure of mingled darkness and light,
And they deepened to dark-heart sapphire slowly
With brooding on the splendor of night;
And the first of the bluebells of white Wernoleu
Bloomed, night-blueness dight.

And that’s why the wern at Alder-Light
Is sweet with silence and deep in dream,
In that wizard region of dream-delight
Beyond the stile and the stream,
When the dews have fallen from the bloom of night
On the glooms where the bluebells gleam.


The Well at Llandybie

It’s there, when the glimmering hosts of twilight throng,
That the soul of the Land of Song comes whispering near;
And your heart is caught in a wandering sound of song
That rings from the hills, by the Well at Llandybie,

And you hear strange secrets breathed through the dreaming eve,
Strange secrets breathed, and a learning lone and dear,
Till you’re wrapt away from the will to fear or grieve
By the starry spell of the Well at Llandybie.

The world lacks naught of laughter, naught of light,
When the stars gleam white on the waters cold and clear;
For Immortal Feet are passing, night by night,
Through the old, Welsh field of the Well at Llandybie.

Ah, dear little well where the sunlit kingcups glow
And the stream croons low through the mint-beds, dear and dear!
There’s a Druid’s verse on the least of the winds that blow
O’er the dancing sands of the Well at Llandybie.



Original appearances:

“Pontamman Garden” The Theosophical Path, July 1926

“Old Brynyfrud Garden”  The Theosophical Path, August 1911

“The Blubells of Wernoleu: A Welsh Legend”  The Theosophical Path, December 1911

“The Well at Landybie” The Theosophical Path, January 1912

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Kenneth Morris in Ammanford

Kenneth Morris was born on 31 July 1879, at Wernoleu, near Ammanford, in Carmarthenshire, Wales. His father was Arthur Vennor Morris (1849-1885) and his mother Rosa, née Leach (1845-1883).  Kenneth's father was one of the sons of William Morris (c. 1812-1885) and his wife Ann, née Chivers (c. 1808-1902).

The marriage of William Morris and Ann Chivers in the early 1830s brought together two prosperous Ammanford area families. From the 1820s and 1830s, the Morris and Chivers families were associated with the Amman Bridge Chemical Works, later known as the Pontamman Chemical Works. There is a quite extensive Town of Ammanford website, located here, from which I have extracted relevant quotations below and a few photographs.

Kenneth's life in Ammanford lasted only from his birth in 1879 through around 1885 or 1886, following the deaths of his mother in September 1883, his grandfather in early 1885, and his father in August 1885. The deaths came at the same time as new tariffs took effect which crippled the family business. Kenneth and his siblings were sent to his mother's family in Wiltshire, though he did occasionally return to visit relatives. 

Morris's family had owned three manor houses, Wernoleu (where Kenneth was born), Pontamman, and Brynhyfred.  Pontamman was the northernmost and largest of the three, with Wernoleu only a few hundred feet to the south. Bryhyfryd, the smaller of the three, was about a half mile away, to the south and a bit to the west. When Morris visited in the summer of 1886, when he was almost seven, only Brynhyfred remained in the family, owned by his cousin Ivor Morris.  

In later years Kenneth would write some poems reminiscing about these houses and their gardens. (I will post these as blog entries in the near future.)

Meanwhile, here is a photo of Wernoleu from a 1903 auction listing, along with the auction description:

And some extracts from the Town of Ammanford website as they pertain to Kenneth's family.

The Amman Bridge Chemical Works is believed to have been the first major industrial venture (other than coal mining) in the area. It contained two factories, one processing timber (felled from forests in the locality) into charcoal, along with white and brown vitriol/vinegar, and the other producing paint. Initially there were three ovens and four machine shops, increased later to twenty-one ovens and twenty-four machine shops. The workforce in 1871 was recorded as 62 males, 13 women and 26 boys, working a twelve hour shift at a wage of eighteen shillings for a six day week.

A group of chemical workers at Pontamman circa 1900.

With no extraction or ventilation equipment the grinding machines preparing the paint pigments were hazardous, to say the least: workmen at the end of the shift were literally covered in powder dust and it wasn't unusual to see red- or green-faced men in the hamlet. Depending on their colouring, management were able to judge how hard they had performed on the shift. The smart lads, however, avoided strenuous efforts by adorning their faces with colour dye in an attempt to confuse their masters. Irrespective of these little tricks, working conditions were deplorable and washing bowls or any other washing facilities were unknown.

In other matters concerning welfare of workers they were a little more far-sighted (mainly due to the influence of Anne Morris, the wife of William Morris, the proprietor), and around 1840 a school was set up for children of the employees, what today would be described as a creche. The school was located in a separate building on the opposite side of the road – official reports record it as the Pontamman Chemical Works School. In 1877 there were 38 pupils on the register; in 1880, 34; and in 1882, 50 children.

These premises were also utilised for religious purposes, being entered in the Religious Census in 1851 as a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, having seating capacity for 72, with attendance at morning and evening services being then registered as 35. Mr William Morris was named as steward.

Some records of this school have come down to us and offer a glimpse into a school system barely recognizable to us now after a century of state-funded education. Until a Parliamentary Act in 1902 transferred responsibility for elementary education to local County Councils just about anyone could open and run a school. In practice schools were run either by private individuals or voluntary bodies and the two main voluntary bodies of the nineteenth century were governed by religious interests.

On the technical side, management at Pontamman Chemical Works were advanced for their day, installing a generator for production of electricity, the first plant to operate in the district. Sons Edward Sumner Morris and Herbert L. Morris followed into the business. Financial difficulties appeared in 1887 which split the identity of the company, forming a partnership with the Callard brothers (who until this period had been employees at the works). . . .

Pontamman House

Pontamman House was one of the gentry manor houses of the area, dating back to the early 1800s, and known also by other names – Maes-y-Felin (Mill Field) or Plas-y-Felin (Mill Mansion). It was the residence of William Morris, who not only became involved in the Amman Bridge Chemical Works, but was known as the peacemaker of the valley, an industrial arbitrator respected by all parties, gaining recognition for his diplomacy in settling arguments and disputes that arose from time to time in the town's workplaces.

In the 1890s, Pontamman House became the residence of Samuel Callard, who by this time was a partner in the Pontamman Chemical Works. . . .  

Brynhyfryd

Brynhyfryd (translated – 'bryn' is a 'hill' and 'hyfryd', is 'pleasant' – a pleasant hill).

The house is believed to have been built by a Mr Samuel Chivers, around about the mid 1800s.

The Chivers' family were connected with the chemical manufacturing industry in Pontamman, creating a very successful vinegar and pickling business and achieved national repute for over 120 years. In the 1920s, the property was acquired by the Amalgamated Anthracite Company Ltd. who converted the premises into offices. At one time it was occupied by the financial section of the company where, every Friday, colliers would queue at the pay hatch to collect their hard earned wage packet.

The National Coal Board placed Brynhyfryd on the market in 1965 and the new owner re-instated the premises to its original use as a private residence.

Wernoleu

Wernoleu is situated on land which was originally part of an old farmstead. On the Ordnance Survey map of 1831 it is shown as 'Gelli Grafod'– 'gelli' is a wood or copse and 'grafod' means 'gravely' so the word translated means, roughly, 'a gravely wood'. On the 1875 Ordnance Survey map the farmstead has disappeared and in its place is a property called Wernoleu, meaning 'the location of the alder trees'.

Wernoleu, originally designed as a gentleman's residence, was built about 1872 by the Morris family who became involved in the nearby Amman Bridge Chemical Works; the grounds were laid out as park land with an imposing selection of trees, an ornamental lake, and a large walled garden.

After the Second World War, Pontamman House was converted into three smaller residences, but it still stands, according to this listing (with photos). 

Brynhyfryd House still stands too, according to this listing (also with photos)

Wernoleu eventually became a residential hotel, confusingly called the Ammanford Hotel, but it is now permanently closed. See here

 

 

Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Druids by Kenneth Morris

A poem, from the April 1926 issue of The Theosophical Path.

The Druids

Iolo told me there were men of old
Who fashioned harps of flowers and faery gold.
The hills of eve, the dew-cool vales of morn,
He said they wandered singing, gathering bloom—
­Pale cuckoo-flowers, wood-sorrel, elfin-thorn,
Dewed mountain-field cowslips, and yellow broom,
The raggedrobin bloom, the daffodil—
And would with song distil
All the virtues of these mountain-flowers
To gold, and fashion harps of such strange powers,
In them would be tunes wherewith at will
They could cure every ill.

Iolo told me, too, they were so wise
Little escaped them in the night-blue skies:
They could interpret all Ophiuchus’ moods
Ever and ever round the Pole who swings
His solemn stars. The oaks’ imaginings,
And what the wild bee, clover-drunken, broods,
And what the morning dew,
Iolo said, the gentle Druids knew,
Because they were still-hearted as deep noon
In a green, bee-loved glade where ringdoves croon—­
Still as the mirrored sudden jewel gleam
Of kingfisher wings on a dark-pooled forest stream. . . .

Sunday, May 23, 2021

New Issues with Following Blogs by email

The short version:  Most blogs I'm involved with have a "Follow by email" option. The "Follow by email" function worked (fine) via Google's Feedburner since I started using it.  Google is eliminating Feedburner in July, which means I have had to find an alternate source. I have transferred this following-by-email function to follow.it. I already have seen anomalies, and hope they won't be numerous. This blog has a new "Follow by email" widget that goes directly to follow.it. I have migrated the subscription list there too, but I suspect there will be issues. I'll try to fix errors if they are reported to me.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Blackbird by Kenneth Morris

Here is a recently discovered poem, "The Blackbird" signed as by Cenydd Morus. It appeared in The Nationalist: A Non-Political Magazine for Wales, October 1912:



Thursday, January 28, 2021

The New York Times Book Review on Fates

A recently discovery is a short review of Kenneth Morris's first novel, The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed (as by Cenydd Morus), on its original publication in 1914. This appeared in The New York Times Book Review, November 29, 1914, in unsigned column “Books for Christmas Gifts”. 

Before she felt the charm of those legends of Ireland which she has so gracefully retold, Lady Gregory was an eager student of Welsh folklore. Now, through the enlightened scholarship of Cenydd Morus, some specimens of this most interesting mythology are made accessible to readers ignorant of Cymric. “The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed” (Point Loma, California. Aryan Theosophical Press.) is an elaborate reconstruction of ancient Welsh mythology. The framework of the plot is taken from “The Four Branches of the Mabinogi.”  But the author has been more interested in recreating the spirit and the atmosphere of the bygone days than in keeping close to the letter of the text that has come down to us. His thought is Theosopphical, but the book is not a piece of propaganda, it is a work of art. And R. Machell’s sympathetic illustrations in black and white greatly increase this singular book’s value.