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Not Cantre'r Gwaelod

February 24, 2017

 

Science is often berated for its habit of using the arts as 'window dressing', often misusing and misrepresenting en route. The same, though, happens in reverse, generally with less critique; artists using science as subject matter but without checking the facts. Sometimes this is done in full knowledge of the deviation, other times it is through a lack of thorough research - but usually it is an innocent error, one false brick being placed upon a false brick by another hand, propelled by trust, until a wall of misunderstandings are formed and labelled 'authority'. In all routes, the results are frequently well publicised,  becoming entrenched in the normative psyche, leaving a false trail of information behind them. 

This is one way in which myths are born.

Such myths stifle the truth, rather than encoding it.

It takes very little time for the reality to thus become lost, with lone voices of genuine knowledge railing against the huge weight of alternative facts. Those who work in the scavenged areas are on the sharp side of this issue, being left attempting to clean up the tide of misinformation, often with dramatic implications. 

We are, nowadays, all too familiar with this pattern in the political media. Yet still we tend not to notice when we fall prey to doing it ourselves. Nor do we tend to speak up when we do spot it happening. Here then, is an example of a simple correction, posted in good faith. Gillian Clarke's well known poem 'Cantre'r Gwaelod' is about the flooding in west Wales during 2014, which includes the modern myth (not a legend) of The Lost Hundred. Clarke's poem can be found printed by The Guardian as a comment on climate change, here. It is regularly quoted at me when I am working on climate change issues. It is intriguing how easily people believe its content over the evidence of their own eyes, or the discourse of a qualified specialist, often dogmatically so - thus arguably making it an excellent example of the power a simple poem can hold. 

 

 

Not Cantre’r Gwaelod

(After Gillian Clarke)

 
The morning after, the beach at Borth
is walking with skeletons of time, sand
beds drawn back from bones of oak and pine
who drowned here four, five, thousand years ago,
when the saltmarsh came
and the sea was but a distant shore.

They rise out of the past with brittle faces,
still offering small fingers to the fire,
creeping around footprints, forgotten in the clay
where peat comforts them and gods are named.
It is we who are petrified, not they,
of storms whose stories break

our fears like driftwood, truth turning on a myth.
New rivers run through houses, skies waving
overhead and under hoof, ​drowning in salt,
drumming a bandstand, a falling
cliff clawing at false foundations;
a rhythm-less inundation. Winter
 

is melting, in the wilderness of our deceit
the glaciers weep.  Taliesin’s salmon
sing upstream in the never ending
cauldron, a climate changing sides
as the blackest bee lays herself down
to die. Harriers watch over Cors Caron

where dragonflies are waiting with the otter,
silent in the shouldering bog. Gorse flowers
early on Pen Dinas, sheep learn to swim
and the brown hare has nowhere left to hide.
Where once the daffodils grew the ground is bare.
Our spring is carried in the rain, a gale of sighs; for

Seithenhin has got his way; the lost hundred
may not be here but we are, driving our wheels
along a hinterland of hills.
The forest remembers when we were small,
unforgiving and tired it pulls the sea
back with the indifference of a dream.

 

 

 

 

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