Song of a voiceless person to British Telecom


Ga’ i rif yng Nghaerdydd , os gwelwch…’

‘Speak up!’


‘Speak up- you’ll have to speak up’.

‘Speak up’ is, of course
The command to speak English.
I sentence myself to a lifetime
Of sentences that make no sense.
No pronunciation ,no annunciation,
Inflection. I am infected
With dumbness. I can neither lampoon,
Sing in tune; much less can I
Intone. My grace-notes
Are neither music nor mumble.
I am not heard at Evening Prayer
Nor at triumphal Matins,
Nor am I that voice in the dusk
That is husky but vibrant.

An impediment, then? No. No thick tongue,
No chip on my shoulder, a compulsion to please.
And if I am without speech
What of the fluency of my people?
We are mutes, Trappists,
Conspirators in a corner.
The usurper’s language pierces
To the very centre of our being,
A minister of darkness before whose tread
Our civility must give ground.
From the safety of my television
I see nations forced into a hole,
Possessors of nothing but their dispossession,
Mufflers over their mouths,
Their captive craft under curfew.
There is an injunction against their speech,
And I perceive it is Y GYMMRAEG that we share.

So the next time I am commanded
To ‘speak up’
Deferring to the courtesy
That is our convention,
With like courtesy I will require the operator
To ‘pipe down’;
And like ‘sounding bras’
I will suggest the superfluousness of barbed wire,
Since our language has berylled wares.
I will sing and make contact
In cynghanedd,as the small nations do,
A people in counterpoint
To the leit-motif, dominant
Though its pitch be,
Ending each time on the same
Obstinate monotone
With the same passionate concern
Though mortally muted our metrics.

‘A nawr a ga i-
y rhif yna yng Nghaerdydd’.

Translated from the Welsh by R.S Thomas