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The Journey of the Taf

user image 2009-04-27
By: AmeriCymru
Posted in: Guest Articles

In 2009 we received the following communication from Mike Jenkins ( excerpted ) "Dear friends, Here is a poem which I recently wrote , which you can use on your site if you wish.". We proudly present Mike's poem below.

Jumping forward to 2018 we are also excited to include a short film based on the poem.  'Journey' is an Al Jones Weird Unit Film. 'Journey' will be premiered at the Cardiff International Film Festival on October 21st.



Journey of the Taf - Mike Jenkins


It begins in the centre of a mountain, waters breaking.

Nobody can say

exactly where

I come from :

parents Earth and Water

and the midwife Air.

Soon Fire, the sun

and everything

I feed upon.

This place of summits

called a watershed :

tears as light

stings my eyes.

I am just a stream

a nant, a toddler

finding my way

downslope, over the edge

of my mother

and with my father's constant

push of rain.

One like many others

till I start to cut teeth,

to haul stones

to erode the bed

and banks into a gorge.

I'm moving quicker

with steeper gradient,

my veins pulse

with the thrust of water

like a salmon at the point

of a journey across the world.

Soldiers with back-packs

and booted outward-bounders.

fight against my movement,

believing it's a challenge.

The children who paddle

squeal, splash and fling

their stones, sound like

an echo in my bones.

The Sun, my teacher,

comes and goes

promising destinations

and then, dips down low;

so any season

I could be bellyfull

or parched to a trickle.

Sheep sip clear water

heads bowed as in prayer

to a lost mother ;

or they're dead weight,

blood mingling with light,

soon a veil of flies.

Winding and wending around

scarp and spur

I reach a sudden drop,

a ledge of resistant rock:

the descents of childhood

then youth when greys

and blues and browns

become a frothing white ;

into the devil's punchbowl

and a whirling might.

Here secret swimmers come

to shed their many skins

and exuberant leapers

plunge into a scream

and come out laughing.

I am joined by others.

by brothers and I'm 'Fawr'

to their 'Fechan',

they emerge on the scene

demanding confluences,

driving deep into chasms

before we're all lost

in a man-made lake :

they term it 'llyn'

but it is reservoir,

a store of water

we are schooled into

( even in most vivid reflections

we wear our grey uniforms ).

I straighten, I widen,

my girth held by bridges

and above are viaducts

which span into another age.

Rocky islets - trees and bushes

growing from them - bring doubts

as I begin to be fixed,

my route determined by walls

and a weir which parodies

the earlier waterfalls.

Now salmon struggle upstream,

as I welcome the many heron

whose measured wing-beats

are like the peace I strive for

and the returning colours

of the kingfishers diving

like winged rainbows.

All this, as I am dumping-place

for trolleys, cans and bottles

like some cess-pit of the past,

some cholera-infested slum.

My parents seem so far away :

mountains aloof, quarried or conifered

and clouds that drop their load

then move on. They call me Taff

but I much prefer my Welsh name

(its what I call myself

and sounds like a stones edge).

Sometimes I seem to slumber along

all controlled by sluice and gate ;

sometimes Im far too busy

to notice those who gaze

like seagulls on the bars,

or those who cavort in heat ;

too busy with the flow, the downward trek.

I have too many shadows :

rail and trail, the once canal,

higher up the road obeys the curve.

Each shadow more purposeful

to traffic and trade;

I begin to wonder

why I move in such haste

and whether I will be

beyond it all, lost.

There are so many white weeds

hanging in the trees,

fluttering like flags of surrender

sometimes falling and filling

into tumours on my surface.

Just as cormorants are fishing

so I begin to sense the sea.

Silt accumulates in my bed,

slows me down after years

of scraping and scouring;

I begin to meander,

to waver across the floor,

the buildings start to ignore

my presence and there are outpourings

secretive and poisonous

which seep into my limbs.

Becoming sluggish, my murky waters

of blurred vision in the suburbs.

I try to remember stretching terraces

where the only vines were children

spreading tendrils of imagination.

The mud is gathering,

the flood-plains a resting-place

for birds on their journey south.

Anglers wade out to tempt

the fish with threaded flies.

I yawn into the city

past a parkland of lovers

and solitary office-workers,

I am broad and straight now

without the energy of gradient.

The grand stadium looms

as if it were a ship of state,

but finds no reflection.

I have almost forgotten

the distant mountains I came from,

the fact I am water at all.

Afon is a slow way of saying ,

it seems to suit me better

than the rip of river.

Already I can feel the saltiness

creep into my body

and seagulls mocking calls

hover then swoop all day.

At the Bay, Im trained and tamed.

On calmer days feel stagnant;

when theres a restless breeze

I begin to wave and voices

of my ancestors come back :

Once you were black, all thick

with dust like a colliers throat.

Once this was flats of mud

where waders and dippers

would pick for worms.

Now I am becalmed,

waiting for the gates to open,

where I will lose my name.

It is a different sun,

one that threatens to burn up,

to leave me dispersed

into the Channel and after.

A roof of slate, faade of glass,

the twirling pipes of a carousel

all bring back reminiscences

of pebbles carried, reflections borrowed,

stirrings under a waterfall.

It is night-time and the moon

is whole and crying out

like a barn-owl over moorland.

I must go and never know

what will become of me.

Mike Jenkins

Wild Canary
12/31/10 12:15:38AM @wild-canary:
Thanks, for re posting...I did miss it last year.
betty pierce
07/25/10 03:46:50AM @betty-pierce:
What a lovely poemBetty
Ceri Shaw
04/30/10 11:36:26PM @ceri-shaw:
I should point out that we received this last year. I just thought it would be nice to re-feature it for anyone who missed it first time around.
Ceri Shaw
05/08/09 05:14:52PM @ceri-shaw:
A link to the author's Red Poets page:- The Red Poets
Ymwelydd anfynych
05/05/09 02:30:55AM @ymwelydd-anfynych:
I remember there being some useful material on river names in Kenneth Jackson's Language and HIstory in Early Britain, and I daresay a scout around the library shelves might throw something else out. I'll get back to you, unless anybody else has any good ideas.
Ymwelydd anfynych
05/04/09 09:13:18PM @ymwelydd-anfynych:
Depends, I guess, on what you mean by "Pre-Celtic". I.e. do you mean Indo-European (common to common ancestor languages of Celtic, Latin, Germanic, etc.) or that it was existent on the island in Pre-Celtic times (i.e. used in whatever language was spoken before the Celtic languages took over). The first would seem plausible (since the elements are common throughout Europe); the second might be more difficult to prove. But I'm no linguist.
Ceri Shaw
05/04/09 09:01:31PM @ceri-shaw:
Sorry about that old chap....I thought it was a dupe. Been a hectic morning with computers freezing left right and center. Thanks for the info. Is there any suggestion anywhere that it is of pre-celtic origin?
Ymwelydd anfynych
05/04/09 08:57:21PM @ymwelydd-anfynych:
My second post with the following information seems not to have made it through the moderation:1) the gist of the first citation I posted is that the rivers Taf, Tawe, Teifi, Team, Tame and Thames all have elements considered to mean 'flow', 'current', etc., which is common to many European and Celtic river names.2) the second suggests that 'taf' means 'spread (out), distributed, etc.' and gives comparative suggestions.
Ymwelydd anfynych
05/04/09 05:12:58PM @ymwelydd-anfynych:
Concerning the etymology of 'taf', this is what's given on the BBC Cymru'r Byd website :"Mae afon Taf yn perthyn i grp o enwau afonydd Celtaidd ac Ewropeaidd sy'n golygu rhywbeth tebyg i 'llif' er y credid unwaith mai 'tywyll' oedd ei ystyr. Yn y grp yna mae afonydd Tawe, Teifi, Team, Tame a Thames. Mae'n ddiddorol nodi bod Caerdydd, Abertawe a Llundain ar afonydd gyda'r un tarddiad ieithyddol."And here's a citation from "Yr Haul" in 1881. The references to Puw indicate that we may need to reach for grains of salt here and there, but there's a lot here of interest, and the book is digitised by GoogleBooks if you want to look further." Aberteifi "Y mae rhai yn traethu mai gwreiddyn cyntaf yr enw hwn yw taf (ymdaenawl) a bod y gair ystafell yn perthyn iddo, sef y man a byddai ein hynafiaid yn taenu pethau at fywoliaeth a chysuron. Y mae tafod tafell &c yn cael eu cyfrif yn perthyn ir teulu hwn o eiriau; dyna farn Dr Puw. Y mae ereill yn barnu mai taw yw y gwreiddyn, sef yr hyn sydd yn gyfystyr a Tawe, Tawy &c fel yr ym wedi sylwi yn barod. Y mae yn wir fod w yn troi yn f gall taw a gwy fod yn wreiddiau yr enwau Taf a Teifi . Y mae y Dr Puw n rhoddi taen yn un ystyr i taw sef the state of being spread or extended felly gellir cyfuno y ddau ystyr hwn. Afon weddol araf ac ymdaenawl yw Teifi ran ei rhediad ac felly mae yr ystyr yn eithaf priodol iddi."Y mae genym amryw afonydd o r enw Taf , y rhai yn l pob tebygolrwydd sydd yr un ystyr a Teifi. Y m yn dra thebyg mai taen yw ystyr yr afon Tyne yn Lloegr."
05/04/09 11:30:46AM @wayne:
The river in Carmathen is the Afon Taf, or River Taf not River Afon Taf think you are being confused by the common 'trying to save sign space' that goes on in Wales when putting both English and Welsh on signs - ie rather than put "Jones Park - Parc Jones" they put "Parc Jones Park" which seems a bit wierd until you work out what they are trying to achieve.Also, Taf seems to mean "Still and Deep Flowing"