In a shadowy, circular room at Aberystywth Arts Centre, on the centenary of Harri Gwynn’s birth, writers Robert Minhinnick and Twm Morys came together last autumn to perform the poet’s original 1952 National Eisteddfod entry, ‘Y Creadur.’
As I enter the room, Twm Morys stands below a dome-shaped ceiling. Centre-stage and dimly lit, he welcomes the small gathering. Casually dressed, pint in hand, he begins to read Harri Gwynn’s poem in Welsh. Or perhaps I should say, ‘perform’ rather than ‘read’ – this poem cannot be simply ‘read’. The poem’s title, ‘Y Creadur,’ literally translates to ‘The Creature’ but Morys finds it impossible to effectively translate the multiplicity of the word.
As I listen to his rendition, I can’t help but wonder, what, if not who, is the creature? Is it the poem’s narrator, vengeful and hurt, scorned by his wife?
I saw two wet lips
Deployed by desire.
And that’s when I felt a funeral inside me.
Somehow I don’t think so. Gwynn is filled with his own self importance. His delusions of grandeur do not go hand-in-hand with a title such as ‘creature’. Is it, then, the adulterous woman he has killed, or speaks of killing, deemed no more than a creature due to her sexual ‘deviance’?
Two lips that would drink from love itself
But were seeking instead
The suck of some
Or is the creature simply the black beetle which is addressed throughout the poem? This seems the most likely interpretation.
Written with the sentiment of a man who has murdered, or perhaps plots to murder, his adulterous wife, ‘The Creature’ is filled with Biblical references and journalistic language. Imagine a black beetle, crawling and scuttling along the ground, unable to evade the vengeful boot of the scorned narrator:
I’ve trodden on so many of your kind
And the more pointless the death
The bigger the thrill.
The poet seems to become engaged in a masochistic relationship with the black beetle, to whom he reveals his inner turmoil. Possessed by the idea that there is ‘a leopard’s heart / In every woman’s purring breast’, the speaker subjects his companion to a running monologue. It would be as easy, he says, to smite the bug as it would be to ‘squeeze the white neck of his lover’. Personally, I feel the poem is centred on this one-way dialogue between the speaker and his insectival cohort. Fantasies of murder are projected onto the vulnerable, scuttling beetle. The beetle becomes a member of the Biblical burning brothers, scorched to death for disobeying God’s call to worship. In that case, does the speaker in the poem see himself on par with God? An all-powerful being worthy of taking life from another?
I’ll show you how
To reveal your respect
How to humble yourself
So you resemble a creature
Crept close to its Lord.
Between the two writers, the poem is read in both its original language and in English. Minhinnick tells the small group that it was difficult, if not impossible, to retain the meaning of ‘Y Creadur’ in his translation, which began as a commission from Bloodaxe Books. Instead, he claims to have written his own version of the poem, which digresses from the original and could be seen to include several ‘mistakes’ if you were to read the work literally. ‘I translated with the sonic idea that the poem should sound like what was in my head,’ Minhinnik tells the audience following his slow, harrowing reading. ‘I got an idea in my head and pursued it.’
Minhinnik’s drawling deep voice and beetle black eyes set off the murderous tone of the narrator, while Morys’ loud, strong passion sits at the other end of the scale. Both are fantastic readers and passionate artists, although in very different ways. The poem certainly casts doubt over women and their sexual powers, whether or not you share the original poet’s paranoid attitude. There is something deeply disturbing about the way ‘The Creature’ takes so much pleasure in recounting the power which women are able to hold over men, mentally and emotionally, if not physically. While the speaker seems to believe himself to be in charge, easily able to wrap his hands around the ‘white neck’ of his lover, it is he who is fixated, jealous, possessed.
As Edgar Allen Poe once wrote ‘The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.’
This article appeared originally in the New Welsh Review.