Monday, May 27, 2019

Ann Griffiths

Ann Griffiths (1776—1805) is a Welsh hymnwriter who, as a young woman, was deeply influenced by the Methodist Revival. There are no pictures of her, but this effigy (from the Ann Griffiths Memorial Chapel at Dolanog) is based on descriptions of her. According to E. Wyn James of Cardiff University, “Ann’s hymns have long been regarded as one of the highlights of Welsh literature, and since the mid-nineteenth century she herself has become a prominent icon in Welsh-speaking Wales.”

This is particularly remarkable considering that Griffiths received little education and lived in the same remote farmhouse “Dolwar Fach” her entire life. Only 70 stanzas of her verse survive, mostly due to the efforts of her spiritual mentor John Hughes, and his wife Ruth who had been a maidservant at Dolwar Fach and a close friend of Ann’s.

Known as Ann Thomas for most of her life, she had only been married ten months — following the birth and death of her only child, a daughter — when Ann passed away.

The following translation by Rowan Williams, though beautiful in its own right, does not seek to maintain the complex musicality of the original Welch. It takes an image from Song of Songs (attributed to Solomon) and turns it around — seeing Jesus as the Rose of Sharon from the perspective of the bride.

I Saw Him Standing

Under the dark trees, there he stands,
there he stands; shall he not draw my eyes?
I thought I knew a little
how he compels, beyond all things, but now
he stands there in the shadows. It will be
Oh, such a daybreak, such bright morning,
when I shall wake to see him
as he is.

He is called Rose of Sharon, for his skin
is clear, his skin is flushed with blood,
his body lovely and exact; how he compels
beyond ten thousand rivals. There he stands,
my friend, the friend of guilt and helplessness,
to steer my hollow body
over the sea.

The earth is full of masks and fetishes,
what is there here for me? are these like him?
Keep company with him and you will know:
no kin, no likeness to those empty eyes.
He is a stranger to them all, great Jesus.
What is there here for me? I know
what I have longed for. Him to hold
me always.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.