30 September 1904|
Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales
|Died||20 May 1971
Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales
|Occupation||Poet, teacher and political campaigner|
|Known for||Poetry, pacifism|
Waldo (Goronwy) Williams (30 September 1904 – 20 May 1971) was one of the leading Welsh language poets of the 20th century. He was also a notable Christian pacifist, anti-war campaigner, and Welsh nationalist.
Williams was born in Preseli, Pembrokeshire. His father, a primary schoolteacher from the county, spoke Welsh as his native language and his mother English. He himself spoke only English in his early years.
In 1911 his father was appointed head of the primary school at Mynachlog-ddu, Pembrokeshire, and it was there that Waldo Williams learnt to speak Welsh. In 1915 Williams's father moved again, to be head of Brynconin School, the primary school at Llandissilio, Pembrokeshire.
After attending the grammar school at Narberth, Pembrokeshire, Williams studied at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he graduated in English in 1926. He then trained as a teacher and worked in various schools in Pembrokeshire, the rest of Wales and England, including Kimbolton School, Huntingdonshire. He also taught night classes organised by the Department of Extra-Mural Studies at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.
Williams married Linda Llewellyn in 1941, but she died in 1943, and he did not remarry. He left the Welsh Baptist Church for the Quakers during the 1950s, and during the Korean War refused to pay his income tax on pacifist grounds. He continued until the ending of compulsory military service in 1963 with a campaign for which was sent to prison.
In the late 1960s, Waldo Williams taught Welsh to children aged 10–11 at the Holy Name Catholic School, Fishguard, Pembrokeshire. He is said to have been a mesmerising teacher, passionate and enthusiastic, who used wooden silhouette cutouts of farm animals with their "Welsh" name painted on one side.
Waldo died in 1971 at St Thomas's Hospital, Haverfordwest, and was buried at Blaenconin Chapel burial ground in Llandissilio.
Williams belonged, first of all, to the Welsh tradition of the bardd gwlad or folk poets who would serve a locality by celebrating its life and people in verse. But he was also a poet inspired by the mystic revelation he had experienced in his youth about the unity of the whole of humankind. This revelation was realised in the cooperative and harmonious living he witnessed among the farming communities in the Preseli Hills and reflected in feelings of belonging, knowing, and desiring that people should live together in peace – constant themes in his poetry. This very moment of revelation inspired some of his greatest poetry, including "Mewn dau gae" (In two fields, 1956), which was perhaps his greatest poem of all.
Other well-known poems by Williams include "Cofio" (Remembering, before 1936), "Y tangnefeddwyr" (The peacemakers, 1941), "Preseli" (1946), and "Pa beth yw dyn?" (What is it to be human? 1952).
Important events in Williams's life
- 1911 – Moves to Mynachlog-ddu when his father becomes head of the primary school.
- 1915 – Moves to Llandysilio, Pembrokeshire, when his father is appointed head of the primary school.
- 1917 – Attends grammar school at Narberth.
- 1923 – Begins studies at University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.
- 1926 – Graduates in English and trains as a teacher.
- 1928 – Begins to teach at various primary schools in Pembrokeshire.
- 1936 – Publication of Cerddi'r plant (Poems for Children)
- 1941 – Marries Linda Llewellyn.
- 1942 – Moves from Pembrokeshire to teach in north-west Wales.
- 1943 – Linda Llewellyn dies.
- 1944 – Moves to teach at Kimbolton School.
- 1946 – Moves to Lyneham, Wiltshire.
- 1949 – Returns to Wales.
- 1950 – The Korean War: resigns from teaching to begin a protest of non-payment of income tax against the war. Protest continues after the war until the end of compulsory military service in 1963.
- 1953 – Leaves the Welsh Baptist church to join the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
- 1956 – Publication of Dail pren (The Leaves of the Tree).
- 1959 – Stands as the Plaid Cymru candidate in the Pembrokeshire constituency at the general election.
- 1960 – Imprisoned for six weeks for non-payment of income tax.
- 1961 – Imprisoned for a further period for non-payment of income tax.
- 1963 – Resumes teaching at various primary schools in Pembrokeshire.
- Dail pren (The Leaves of the Tree, 1956), was the only volume of poetry published by Williams in his lifetime. A new edition was published in 1991 by Gwasg Gomer.
- Cerddi Waldo Williams (The Poems of Waldo Williams, 1992) is a selection of his poetry, edited by J. E. Caerwyn Williams.
- Waldo Williams: rhyddiaith (Waldo Williams: Prose, 2001) is a selection of his prose writings, edited by Damian Walford Davies. Includes writings in both Welsh and English.
- Cerddi'r plant (Poems for children, 1936) is a volume of poetry including work by Williams and E. Llwyd Williams.
- The Old Farmhouse (1961) is Williams's translation of Yr hen dy ffarm by D. J. Williams (1953).
- Translations of his work: A significant collection of his poems have been translated into English by Tony Conran. His work has also been notably translated by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and by Joseph P. Clancy.
- Nicholas, James (1975). Waldo Williams. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. A general introduction to Williams's life and work.
- Williams, Waldo (1997). The peacemakers: selected poems. Translated by Tony Conran. Llandysul: Gomer. ISBN. Includes an introduction to Williams's life and work by Tony Conran.
- Davies, Damien Walford (2001). Waldo Williams: rhyddiaith. Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru. ISBN. Includes critical introductions and notes to the texts. Includes both his Welsh-language and English-language prose.
- Nicholas, James (editor) (1977). Waldo: cyfrol deyrnged i Waldo Williams. Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer. A collection of articles about Williams's life and work.
- Rhys, Robert (editor) (1981). Waldo Williams. Cyfres y meistri. Abertawe: Gwasg Christopher Davies. ISBN. A collection of articles about Williams's life and work.
- Rhys, Robert (1992). Chwilio am nodau'r gân: astudiaeth o yrfa lenyddol Waldo Williams hyd at 1939. Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer. ISBN. A study of Williams's literary career until 1939. An appendix includes a significant collection of his early poems not published in Dail pren.
- Thomas, Ned (1985). Waldo. Llên y llenor. Caernarfon: Gwasg Pantycelyn. A general introduction to Williams's life and poetry.