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Welsh Incident

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Joined: 23 Apr 2004
Posts: 1
Location: Lincolnshire

PostPosted: Fri Apr 23, 2004 11:12 pm    Post subject: Welsh Incident Reply with quote


I am fascinated by this poem, but I do not understand it. Could someone attempt to interpret it for me please.

Thank you in advance.

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Joined: 25 May 2002
Posts: 63
Location: Bristol, England

PostPosted: Thu Apr 29, 2004 2:34 pm    Post subject: Welsh Incident Reply with quote


Michael Kirkham discusses this poem in his book The Poetry of Robert Graves (London: University of London, The Athlone Press, 1969, ISBN [0] 485 11103 9), pp. 129-30.

The poem was originally titled "The Railway Carriage" and was published in Poems 1929, but is now better known as "The Welsh Incident", the title it was given when published in Carcanet's Collected Poems (1975). It retained this name in Carcanet's Complete Poems Volume 2 (1997) edited by Beryl Graves and Dunstan Ward.

The full details of variations in the published forms of the poem, taken from this last publication are:

WELSH INCIDENT [from Complete Poems Volume 2 (1997), Carcanet]
Text: CP75.
Previous title: 'Railway Carriage' (Poems 1929 [P29], P26-30).
l. 7 Very strange, un-Welsh, [CP75] Various, extravagant, P29
l. 10 All strangest shapes, sizes and sizelessnesses, P29
l. 15 puce] blue
l. 16 crimson,] yellow,
purplish.] greenish.
l. 18 nor] or
l. 21 How] What
l. 36 wonder,] strangeness
l. 39 noise of scuffling?'] scuffling noise?'
The next three lines were added in CP38; they replaced ll.40-1 in P29:
'No, a loud belch, so resonant and rumbling
It robbed the hospital of five hundred pounds.'

Kirkham writes about the poem:

"...Assertion of the poet's self in opposition to society and convention and the refusal to restrict its field of behaviour are moral actions reflected in the manner of some of these poems.

The manner varies according to which persona Graves has assumed to dramatise this individualism, but the persona most commonly used by him for this purpose belongs to what might be called the intellectual roughneck. 'Railway Carriage' (better known by its title in the Collected Poems, 'Welsh Incident') is a well-judged and amusing example. It takes the form of a dialogue between two Welshmen. In response to the one's eager questions the other narrates in tones of pious horror how on Easter Tuesday last the chapel congregation witnessed the emergence from the sea caves of Criccieth [NB: a small town on the coast of North Wales near Harlech, where the Graves family had a home -PV] of a strange gathering of 'things'. Never having seen anything like them before, they watched in amazement as they moved across the sands, not heeding the crowd, slowly, silently and 'Not keeping time to the band'. The only sign they gave of being aware of their observers was when, on being addressed ceremoniously if somewhat nervously by the mayor, they emitted 'a loud belch'; in the revision this becomes-

...a very loud, respectable noise

Like groaning to oneself on Sunday morning

In chapel, close before the second psalm.

The mythical creatures are evidently a disrespectful embodiment of the poet's [religious] non-conformism. They are 'various, extravagant, utterly peculiar/Things' - the revised version adds 'un-Welsh'; they are all shapes and sizes, 'each perfectly unlike his neighbour'. As distinct from the eponymous heroes of [Graves's poem] 'The Legs', these had 'Not a leg or foot among them'. And they end by insulting - in the revision parodying - the respectability and piety of mayor and congregation. The revision removes from the original version the only traces of self-indulgence in the satire."

Kirkham goes on to write that:

"Generally speaking, however, Graves was not successful in this role, and he soon stopped writing in it. He was more successful with a manner first employed in Welchman's Hose that went with an urbane tone, modulating at times into well-bred arrogance. It is a tone that has been heard frequently in his work ever since."

Personally, I find 'Welsh Incident' is one of several poems (and short stories) set in Wales by Robert Graves that are strangely reminiscent of the style later made famous by Dylan Thomas, who would have been aged only about 15 in 1929. Graves, famously, had little time for Dylan Thomas's poetry; but it would be interesting to know if Thomas was influenced at all by Graves's writing on Wales, a country of which Graves was very fond.

NB: The text in square brackets within the quotes from Kirkham, above, is my own. The variations of the poem are from Complete Poems Volume 2 edited by Beryl Graves and Dunstan Ward (Carcanet, 1997).

Patrick Villa
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