Sunday 28 June 2009

dancing and chapels

I've just finished reading Wendy Buonaventura's Midnight Rose, her account of the life of Maud Allen, an Edwardian era dancer famed (or notorious) for her depiction of Salome, and for the court case when she sued an MP for libel, after publication of an article called The Cult of the Clitoris, which suggested that she was a lesbian... Jolly good stuff, though now I must write a review of the book which goes a bit further than saying "jolly good stuff".

Meanwhile, over at Ian Marchant's blog, there's been talk of religion and of Welsh chapels, though not necessarily in the same breath.

And that reminded me of a poem by Idris Davies, and I just found my Big Book of Welsh Poems, so here it is.

Capel Calvin

There's holy holy people
They are in capel bach-
They don't like surpliced choirs,
They don't like Sospan Fach.

They don't like Sunday concerts,
Or women playing ball,
They don't like Williams Parry much
Or Shakespeare at all.

They don't like beer or bishops,
Or pictures without texts,
They don't like any other
Of the nonconformist sects.

And when they go to Heaven
They won't like that too well,
For the music will be sweeter
Than the music played in Hell.


  1. Another poem for me to like. We had Baptist neighbours when I was small. The children were not allowed to play on Sundays.

    My dad thought he was dead the first Sunday they moved in next door. He could hear Burl Ives singing hymns when he woke up. he couldn't work out whether that was Heaven or Hell.

  2. Haven't posted my thanks here for awhile, but have been reading and enjoying while on the run---or on the throne crushing stones in my urinary pathway. Thanks, Dru, for linking to Ian Marchant's blog which from reading the latest post I know I'll enjoy. The Idris Davies poem hits the mark---I've been baptized in more than one of the nonconformist sects, drawn by sweet hymn tunes---but I only now thought to look up some of the mysterious Welshisms, confirming my flash that a "sospan" is a "saucepan", f'rinstance. Pert quote from the wiki for Sosban fach:
    "Sung slowly, the melody can deceive non-speakers of Welsh into thinking the song a hymn; it is alleged that at Liverpool station a group of Welsh rugby supporters by this method tricked a whole platformful of Englishmen into taking off their hats."

  3. There was a thing about Burl Ives on the radio the other week, Anji. Apparently one of his early records was banned- "The Foggy Foggy Dew", which can be a bit racy. Mind you, Big Rock Candy Mountain can be very racy indeed, which came as a bit of a surprise when you've been brought up on the Burl Ives version

    Hi again, Larry! The stones business sounds painful... I hope you've cleared them out now, or is it ongoing? Idris Davies' poems are very evocative of the coal mining valleys area of South Wales; alarmingly, my time there was closer to him than to the present day. The line between hymns and profane songs can be thin in Wales. We used to sing Cwm Rhondda ("Bread of Heaven") with regional variations, such as

    Beer from Courages
    Beer from Courages
    we are from the Colliers' Arms


    Bread from Braces
    Bread from Braces
    Soggy butter from the Co-op

  4. The stones were small, but the passageway is smaller, due to a swimming accident involving a motorboat twenty years ago this month. And, since I want no more of it, I must modify my diet again to exclude acid-forming foods and beverages which leech minerals and form deposits. The pain's a helluva reminder.

    My dad didn't sing, but he liked to sing Foggy, Foggy Dew along with Burl when I was young. Many years later, when I sang with Primitive Baptists, I learned about their tradition that the church was preserved in its primitiveness in Wales since Roman times.

    Any particular Idris Davies book recommendations?

  5. I've only read Idris Davies' poems in anthologies, Larry, so I can't really recommend anything. I have (as you will have seen) uploaded a few of his poems, as they don't seem very easy to find.

  6. Thanks, Dru. I might start with an anthology.