ABERFAN


We were staying that weekend with your parents

at their corner shop to tell them you were

two months pregnant. You were already there

on Friday night when I came through the back door.

You were in the kitchen at the sink. A programme

about Captain Scott and his companions

entombed in ice and sliding seawards

was playing unwatched in the living room.

You told me the news about Aberfan.

 

That evening and in the many, many days

to follow there were bulletins and pictures,

all black and white memory suggests –

the rescuers of hope, the devastation –

then explanations, recriminations –

‘the price of coal’, a forgotten spring

seeping beneath the tip – but, above all,

above all, the hillside of dark slag

glistening in the October sunlight.

 

Twenty years later I took a school assembly

and read Leslie Norris’s ‘Elegy

for David Beynon’, the deputy head

at Pant Glas Primary, who died

in the slurry with children in his arms.

I did not cry then, a youngish man,

as I read the last quatrains to an intent

audience of young people but I cry now,

in the knowledge of my age, writing of

such love amid such waste.

 

 

Notes: 1. The Aberfan disaster occured on 21st October 1966; 2. Leslie Norris’s poem, ‘Elegy for David Benyon’ – http://www.aikiweb.com/blogs/moon-in-the-water-19051/land-slide-4296/

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by Steve Crewe - October 21st, 2016 at 09:06

    Thanks, David. I had not come across Leslie Norris’s poem before, but very touching indeed, especially in these later years as it tears from the depths of memory of such a tragedy that happened a half century ago. And as you put so well, and now the tears flow.

  2. #2 by John Huddart - October 21st, 2016 at 11:39

    Both poems very moving. Why do we get more emotional as we get older? Why does everything get more precious? Why does the echo of tragedy get louder, instead of fading? I suppose it’s the way the layers of an event become more obvious, and the unfolding drama becomes more complex and more enormous.

    In this way we can never escape the monstrous booming of the guns across the channel, or the lines of de-trained victims at Auschwitz.

  3. #3 by John Plummer - October 21st, 2016 at 15:36

    The horror of Aberfan never recedes but I find it hard to contemplate or return to the words and images. Cowardice I suppose. I met a former student (from a 1976 tutor group) recently. Now in the upper echelons of public broadcasting, she recalled inter alia that I had played Martin Luther King’s ‘Dream’ speech with them. A lasting impact apparently. Did I realise then just how much influence we might, almost incidentally, wield? But I never carried them to Aberfan. Always unspeakable. Except for poems maybe.

  4. #4 by Clive Watkins - October 21st, 2016 at 21:03

    This is a fine and moving poem, David – a cluster of discreet connexions I will not try to tease out here. It is a subject on which it would be easy to get the tone wrong. You get it right. Leslie Norris was a very accomplished poet whose work deserves to be remembered.

  5. #5 by David Selzer - October 22nd, 2016 at 17:50

    As I began to process the causes and the implications of the disaster that Friday half a century ago I knew that I must write about it.

    However, it took forty nine years to work out the right way for me to do it! I began the draft on the 21st October 2015. The version posted was completed on the 19th October 2016.

    I had written pieces about Scott of the Antarctic –http://www.davidselzer.com/2012/03/a-terrible-place/ – and ‘the price of coal’ –http://www.davidselzer.com/2010/03/the-price/. Aberfan was always there like an echo. But my attempts to write directly about the disaster were didactic or polemical – and self-regarding.

    What has enabled to get the piece right – that is, simple and true – to my satisfaction is, I suspect, old age.

  6. #6 by Elise Oliver - October 23rd, 2016 at 15:59

    Owen Sheer’s film-poem, ‘The Green Hollow’ also moved me to tears. Anyone who lived in the shadow of those vile slag heaps knew, by their very nature, they were unstable but that’s the sacrifice which had to be made for coal, jobs and food on the table. Instead it was the children’ lives that bore the true cost. Apparently, Princess Anne visited after the tragedy and took gifts of toys.

    Not long before 21 October 1966, I was driving up the Bwlch mountain, near Hirwaun, and was startled to see a mountain of slag , which had combusted underneath and was sliding down the mountainside as if it was being carried along by molten lava. Couldn’t be extinguished, apparently, but there were no houses in its wake and the NCB didn’t care.

  7. #7 by Alex Cox - October 24th, 2016 at 18:17

    David,
    Very moving poem.

    I have the bizarrest memory of the Aberfan tragedy being announced on the evening TV news. In those days universities had ‘rag weeks’ and did pranks — and a student from some uni somewhere had sneaked into the studio and, as the announcer began to read, leapt into frame declaring “AND ON BEHALF OF (whatever it was! I have forgotten!) RAG WEEK…”

    The screen went black and then he was gone. Singularly inappropriate moment for such a prank, but how was he to know?

  8. #8 by Jane Corrigan - October 25th, 2016 at 22:30

    A great capture of one of those moments where everyone can remember exactly what they were doing when they heard the news. I can’t as I was just 2, but my brother had a friend who was the only survivor from his class (off school that day due to being unwell). I agree about ‘The Green Hollow’ (Pantglas in Welsh, the name of the school), a beautiful tribute.

    How hard it must have been to share your happy news at that point.

  9. #9 by Mary Clark - November 6th, 2016 at 03:05

    When the Twin Towers came down one of my younger friends said it seemed like a dream. It didn’t seem like a dream to me. It was all too real. But I nodded, trying to give him space for his perception. Now I wonder if it haunts him in a more real way than he could then imagine. But that’s true for me as well. I flinch now when I unexpectedly see an image of that day.

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