Robert Rhydwenfro Williams, known as Rhydwen Williams, (29 August 1916 – 2 August 1997), was a Welsh poet, novelist and Baptist minister. His work is mainly written in his native Welsh language, and is noted for adapting the established style and context of Welsh poetry from a rural and bygone age to that of a modern industrial landscape, while retaining traditional prosody and metre.
Born in Pentre, Rhondda, in 1916 into a miner's family, Williams spent his childhood in the industrial community of the valley before his family moved to Christleton, Cheshire, in 1931 to escape the economic depression. Williams was very unhappy in England and returned to live in the Rhondda in 1941.
Before his return to Wales, Williams worked mainly in menial jobs, and later studied intermittently at both the University College of Swansea and Bangor. A conscientious objector on Welsh nationalist grounds, he served in a Quaker relief unit during the bombing of Liverpool. Williams was given his first pastorate in 1941 in a Baptist chapel in Ynyshir, where he developed his style of poetry. A controversial figure due to his pacifism and nationalism, he was nevertheless a popular minister, with a wonderful voice, comparable with that of Richard Burton. A gifted reader of poetry, he often read for the Welsh Home Service on the BBC.
As a member of the Cadwgan Circle, he mixed with fellow members J. Gwyn Griffiths, Pennar Davies and Gareth Alban Davies, and was especially close to J. Kitchener Davies. From this informal group of like-minded intellectuals, Williams developed a style of writing and literal ethic opposed to eisteddfodic tradition. Amongst his heroes were writers Aldous Huxley, W H Auden and George Orwell.
Although Williams' poetry was not in keeping with the tradition of the National Eisteddfod, he was still embraced by it. In 1946, at Mountain Ash, he won the Crown competition for the poem Yr Arloeswr (The Pioneer) and again in 1964 for Yr Ffynhonnau (The Springs)
Leaving Ynyshir in 1946 he travelled Wales, holding pastorates at Resolven and Pont-Ilew in the Swansea Valley until 1959, before spending a year at Rhyl. Williams later moved from his ministry to accept a post at Granada Television in Manchester, presenting Welsh language programmes, in which his skills as a communicator came to the fore. He wrote television scripts; one about Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the first Welsh-language television play to be broadcast on a foreign network.
Of all Williams' work, his trilogy Cwm Hiraeth is seen by many as his finest achievement; semi-autobiographical, the three books form a prose epic of life in the depression hit Rhondda through the eyes of the author's Uncle Sion, a poet and thinker.
During the 1970s, Williams and his family lived in a council house at Coed yr Haf, Ystrad Mynach, where he continued his membership of Plaid Cymru. Williams suffered a stroke in 1981, the physical effects of which he suffered for the rest of his life. Between 1980 and 1985 he edited the current affairs magazine Barn. He died at Merthyr Tydfil in 1997.
- Y Briodas (1969)
- Y Siol Wen (1970)
- Dyddiau Dyn (1973)
- The Angry Vineyard (1975)
- Amser i Wylo: Senghennydd 1913 (1986)
- Barddoniaeth Rhydwen Williams: Y casgliad cyflawn 1941-1991 (1991)
- Davies, John; Jenkins, Nigel (2008). The Welsh Academy Encyclopaeia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6.