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Poem #20 The Welsh Marches. The Uncaringly Unconquerable

Yesterday kind of blew me out. That second poem was so long for me to type up that today I’m looking for just a short one. But it has taken me so long to find anything I want to write about I might as well have just taken the next thing on my list (turns out it is Eliot’s “Wasteland” – yeah, that ain’t happenin’ for a while) and just got it done. But no, today, family history is calling in my veins, so I turn to A. E. Housman, XXVIII.


High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam
Islanded in Severn stream;
The bridges from the steepled crest
Cross the water east and west.

The flag of morn in conqueror’s state
enters at the English gate:
The vanquished eve, as night prevails,
Bleeds upon the road to Wales.

Ages since the vanquished bled
Round my mother’s marriage-bed;
There the ravens feasted far
About the open house of war:

When Severn down to Buildwas ran
Coloured with the death of man,
Couched upon her brother’s grave
The Saxon got me on the slave.

The sound of fight is silent long
That began the ancient wrong;
Long the voice of tears is still
That wept of old the endless ill.

The heart of the Welsh Marches is my ancestral home. I’ve never been there but I long to visit. I’m hoping someday soon.

I recently read a fascinating book, Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland, by Bryan Sykes. Wow! What a read. While it does provide a little bit of history, its focus is on genetics. It was so much fun to see the genetic distributions throughout the British Isles. Now I want to take a DNA test and see what mine shows.

One of my favorite stories about the Welsh is how they related to the Romans and other attempted conquerors. Conquering the Welsh is sort of like conquering air. The Romans took over the eastern side of the Marches comparatively easily. But once they crossed into Wales proper the people just didn’t care. The Romans would conquer and take over. The people would just let them do it. But as soon as the Romans yawned the Welsh would move right back in. They didn’t care about being ruled or governed. And that’s why the Romans never really got a foot hold in the western part of the island. it isn’t because the Welsh were so formidable. It was because they just didn’t care. It makes me giggle every time I think about it. It was the same way with the Vikings. They just didn’t care and the Vikings hardly made it a mile inland. I don’t know. It’s just hilarious to me.

My son, my second child, is much like this. I could put my oldest daughter into time out when she was a toddler and she would stay there till the cows came home. “Sit there and don’t move until I tell you.” I’d demand. She would just sit there and watch me. A few times she flailed her arms to see what I would do, but she would literally sit there forever if I demanded it. But not #2. No way. I’d sit him down and make the same demand. “Sit there!” and by the time I turned around he’s walking out the door. Time out was out of the question for him. He is just like the ancient Welsh and it makes me laugh.


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