30 September 1904|
Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales
20 May 1971 (aged 66)|
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.
Waldo was born in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, the third child of John Edwal Williams (1863–1934), headmaster of Prendergast primary school in Haverfordwest, and his wife Angharad Williams (1875–1932). His father spoke both Welsh and English, but his mother only spoke English, as did Waldo himself in his early years.
In 1911 Waldo's father was appointed head of the primary school at Mynachlog-ddu, Pembrokeshire, and it was there that Waldo learnt to speak Welsh. In 1915 his father moved again, to be head of Brynconin School, the primary school at Llandissilio, Pembrokeshire. Waldo was raised as a Baptist and baptised as a member of Blaenconin Baptist Chapel in 1921 at the age of 16.
After attending the grammar school at Narberth, Pembrokeshire, Waldo 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.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Waldo Williams was a close friend and supporter of Willie Jenkins (Hoplas), one of the pioneering organisers of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and the Labour Party in Pembrokeshire. Willie Jenkins was a pacifist who had been imprisoned as a conscientious objector in the First World War. He was the Labour candidate for Pembrokeshire in four elections between 1922 and 1935. Waldo's famous poem "Cofio" (Remembering) was written in 1931 during a visit to Willie Jenkins' farm at Hoplas, Rhoscrowther, near Pembroke.
Williams married Linda Llewellyn in 1941. Her death in 1943 caused him anguish and extreme distress. He never remarried. Later he used to describe his two short years of marriage with Linda Llewellyn as 'fy mlynyddoedd mawr' – 'my great years'.
A pacifist, he was a conscientious objector in WW2, leading to his dismissal from a headmastership. During the Korean War (1950–1953) he refused to pay his income tax on pacifist grounds, as a protest against the war and forced military conscription – a protest which he continued until compulsory military service ended in 1963, and all the men conscripted had been released. His goods were sequestrated by bailiffs and he was twice imprisoned in the early 1960s as a result of his refusal to pay income tax.
His volume of poetry Dail Pren (The Leaves of the Tree) was published in 1956 by Gwasg Gomer. This is often considered to be the most outstanding work of Welsh language poetry published since 1945.
By the 1950s, partly influenced by his friend D. J. Williams, he had become a supporter of Plaid Cymru, and he stood as a parliamentary candidate for Plaid Cymru in the Pembrokeshire constituency at the 1959 General Election, when he won 4.32 per cent (2,253) of the votes.
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 names painted in Welsh on one side.
Waldo died in 1971 at St Thomas's Hospital, Haverfordwest, and was buried at Blaenconin Chapel burial ground in Llandissilio.
Waldo 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, 1931), "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, Pembrokeshire, when his father becomes head of the primary school.
- 1915 – Moves to Llandissilio, 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.
- 1931 – "Cofio" (Remembering) – inspired by a visit to the farm of his friend Willie Jenkins at Hoplas, Rhoscrowther.
- 1936 – Publication of Cerddi'r plant (Poems for Children) jointly with E Llwyd Williams.
- 1938 – "Y Tŵr a'r Graig" (The Tower and the Rock) – an important milestone, in which Waldo contrasts the independence of judgment he valued in the Pembrokeshire community with the militarism of the state.
- 1941 – Marries Linda Llewellyn in Blaenconin chapel (April).
- 1941 – "Y tangnefeddwyr" (The peacemakers) – a poem of love and affection for his parents, peacemakers, and horror at the bombing of Swansea.
- 1942 – Conscientious objector to military service on pacifist grounds. Conditionally exempted by the South Wales Tribunal sitting at Carmarthen (February 1942).
- 1942 – Moves from Pembrokeshire with his wife Linda to the Llŷn Peninsula in north-west Wales, where he starts teaching at Botwnnog County School (1 March 1942).
- 1943 – Linda Llewellyn's health fails. She dies from tuberculosis (1 June 1943). Waldo is griefstricken.
- 1945 – Leaves Llŷn for England, working in schools in Kimbolton and Lyneham, Wiltshire, between 1945 and 1948.
- 1949 – Returns to Wales, to a post as a supply teacher in Builth Wells.
- 1950 – Returns to Pembrokeshire, where he remains for the rest of his life, teaching in schools and in extramural classes.
- 1950 – The Korean War: Williams resigns from teaching to begin a protest of non-payment of income tax against the war. His protest continues after the war until the end of compulsory military service in 1963. Bailiffs sequestrated his possessions and ultimately he was imprisoned.
- 1953 – Joins 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. Receives 2,253 votes (4.3%).
- 1960 – Imprisoned for six weeks in Swansea Prison for non-payment of income tax.
- 1961 – Imprisoned again for non-payment of income tax. Held in Ashwell Prison, County Rutland, between February and March 1961.
- 1963 – Resumes teaching at various primary schools in Pembrokeshire.
- 1971 – Suffers a serious stroke. Dies in St Thomas Hospital, Haverfordwest.
- Dail Pren (The Leaves of the Tree, 1956), was the only volume of poetry for adults published by Waldo Williams in his lifetime. A new edition was published in 1991 by Gwasg Gomer, with an introduction by Mererid Hopwood.
- 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), edited by Damian Walford Davies – a selection of Waldo's prose writings in both Welsh and English.
- Cerddi'r plant (Poems for children, 1936) is a volume of poetry including work by Waldo Williams and E. Llwyd Williams.
- The Old Farmhouse (1961) – Waldo Williams's translation into English of Yr hen dy ffarm by D. J. Williams (1953).
- Waldo Williams: Cerddi 1922–1970 (Poems 1922–1970) (2012), ed by Alan Llwyd and Robert Rhys – a comprehensive collection of Waldo's poetry
Translations of his work
- A significant collection of Waldo Williams's poetry has 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.
- "Peace Profile: Waldo Williams". Retrieved 31 August 2016.
- He is often referred to by his first name only, but not usually by his surname alone. "Williams, Waldo Goronwy (1904–1971), poet and pacifist", Robert Rhys (2017) Dictionary of Welsh Biography, National Library of Wales.
- For Waldo Williams' friendship with Willie Jenkins, and for the inspiration for "Cofio", see Robert Rhys' entry on Waldo in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography, and the Waldo Williams Society website at  and .
- See "The Waldo Tour" (2013), Eirwen George and Damian Walford Davies, published by the Waldo Williams Society (especially entry 18, Botwnnog).
- "Waldo Williams website". Retrieved 31 August 2016.
- Davies, John A History of Wales (revised ed, 2007), p.629
- "UK General Election results October 1959". Retrieved 18 August 2007.. Pembrokeshire had returned a Labour M.P., Desmond Donnelly, to the Commons since 1950. Donnelly's views were very different from those of Willie Jenkins and Waldo Williams – Donnelly was a leading supporter of German re-armament (1954) and a vociferous opponent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (from 1958).
- One of Waldo's best-known poems, it was set to music in choral arrangements by Eric Jones, and is often performed by Welsh choirs. Waldo's parents were also pacifists – he remembered his father in 1916 reading to his mother the anti-war poem ‘Gweriniaeth a Rhyfel’ (Democracy and War) by T.E. Nicholas (Niclas y Glais). See Waldo's entry, by Robert Rhys (2017), in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography
- For Tony Conran's volume of translations, The Peacemakers (1997), and for Rowan Williams' translation of "Between Two Fields" (Mewn dau gae), see English-language sources, below.
- 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. Translations by Tony Conran. With an introduction by Conran to Waldo Williams's life and work. Llandysul: Gomer (1997). ISBN 9781859024447.
- 'Williams, Waldo Goronwy (1904–1971), poet and pacifist', Robert Rhys (2017) Dictionary of Welsh Biography, National Library of Wales. With photographs of Waldo from the National Library's collection.
- The Waldo Williams Society, contents page at . Waldo's Life and Work at ; Poet at , Pacifist at , Quaker at , Politician at , Waldo's wife Linda Llewellyn at , What they have said – appreciations of Waldo by Rowan Williams, Jim Perrin, Professor M. Wynn Thomas and Carol Rumens at , Dr Robert Rhys's lecture on Waldo & D. J. Williams at , and three English translations of Waldo's poems : 'Between Two Fields', translated by Rowan Williams , 'Remembrance' (Cofio) translated by Alan Llwyd and 'Preseli', Waldo's own translation : all retrieved 18 December 2017.
- 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.
- Llwyd, Alan (2014) Waldo: Cofiant Waldo Williams 1904–1971 (Biography and Bibliography) ISBN 9781784610456.
- Information and pictures of Waldo Williams from the Puncheston School website. Williams was a teacher at the school.
- Listen to Waldo Williams's voice on the BBC Wales Cymru ar yr awyr website. This site is in Welsh.
- Listen to Rowan Williams's lecture on Waldo Williams, 'Poetry and Peacemaking' (2012) (20Mb, 42 mins)