Ffynnon Eulo (a deep map)
From beyond the mountains
They came in search of a blessing.
But to where no one can say.
There is no x that marks the spot.
No lichen-crested monument stone.
No pilgrims beating pathways of those who came before.
It could be that they never came at all.
Or they came to taste the bitter waters
so as to render them sweet.
How else to make a place
than to sink into its mire
for to crawl like a sinner into grace?
Fixing a stake for the stem to grow.
Roots that bind a kindred heart
flex and falter in the lumpen earth.
From my window I can see
the field that is now a green
is flooded once more
as if in memory of an ancient rain
that flowed from cupped hands.
Like a discarded prayer it finds its way.
Through trampled folds of seasons
that came and went but never stayed.
Where ice irrigates the pastures raw
and sunflecks pattern a vision in absentia.
It finds its way.
Like lines in a landscape
or a poem.
Through swollen grass
water runs black as the loam that cradles
the serried sheaves of the faithful.
There is no one to ferry the bale downstream.
No load to be carried beyond the old clay pit
where travellers came to rest.
"We are home" they whisper to anyone who cares listen.
But there is no one who does.
Just a field that is now a green
and a well that neither fills nor drains.
I am floating above the journeying brook.
It has a purpose that is barely disclosed.
Mine is to marshal an epistolary dream
of measured steps and a plunge into place.
The evening is quiet and gentle as the spring
that flows from her beauty.
Are we not here now in this moment
divining the nature of our bond with the land?
Or have we fallen again into another's sleep
lost already to the night that cometh?
Alone in the garden I find comfort in knowing
that others lie with me.
And when I invite them to rise
and to guide me through the bramble and sedge
hospitality is conferred.
Let us be hosts to each other's guests
as the scent of wild garlic makes us
remember where we are and we are now
among the wood melick and dog's mercury
and the brook we are following from its source.
From Kitty's bedside a wooden dish
is carried to the holy well.
Afloat upon the surface veil
it turns against the sun.
In the airless gloom of his Ashmolean hollow
Edward Lhwyd gathers answers to parochial questions.
One Dorothy Daniel died lately aged 91.
One Peter Wigh was about the same age.
One Grace Mŷnalex was about 100.
The Sea has gained here considerably in man's memory.
I find you in New Inn Brook
and again beneath the ruins
where we slip into the Wepre.
We are a gutter through the mud
and a drain into the estuary.
The bay and the sea and the ocean
that lies beyond are here in the depths
of this field that is now a green
where we kneel among roses of stone
and proclaim the Second Coming.
In the late 1690s, the Welsh naturalist, geographer, botanist, and (from 1691) Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Edward Lhwyd (1660-1709) designed a questionnaire to be distributed to every parish in Wales. These ‘Parochial Queries’, as they were known, consisted of two sets of questions: the first (16 questions) addressed ‘The Geography and Antiquities of the Country’; the second (15 questions), ‘The Natural History’. The responses that Lhwyd gathered were published in 1699 as a supplement – ‘Parochialia, Being a Summary of Answers to Parochial Queries’ – to the Archaeologia Cambrensis.
Included among the responses listed under the Flintshire parish of Hawarden was reference to ‘A Well in Ewlo’. There is no other historical reference to a well in the small township of Ewloe. If the well existed at all, its location is not known. The subsequent interpretation of Ffynnon Eulo (the Welsh word Ffynnon meaning ‘well’, 'spring', or ‘fountain’) as a ‘holy well’, can possibly be attributed to the observation, as noted in the Parochialia, that the well ‘had formerly a wooden dish’. Perhaps the dish was there for more prosaic reasons (e.g. as a tool with which to retrieve water). But why would Lhwyd’s parishioner go out of his or her way to add this seemingly banal point of detail unless it carried more significance? Wooden bowls are known to have been used for divination purposes. Perhaps the respondent was keen to draw attention to this spiritual or magical association. As part of a divinatory practice, water drawn from wells would be taken to the bedside of a sick patient. The bowl or dish would then be returned to the well and floated upon its surface. If the bowl turned in a sun-wise direction, the chances of recovery were favourable. If, however, the bowl turned away from the sun the patient was expected to die.
Edward Lhwyd’s Parochialia is notable for both the scope of its ambition and in the local cultural and geographical information it elicited. In many cases, the place names it salvages from the everyday lives of those whose voices it renders audible challenge established cartographic records, teasing out and making visible counter spatial narratives. For example, Wepre Brook, which features in the poem, was also known as both Soughton Brook and Pentre môch Brook, reflecting a very particular and localised sense of attachment to place that sat alongside, or in opposition to, more ‘official’ place-markers.
Below are place names that are either directly or indirectly referenced in Ffynnon Eulo (a deep map):
© Les Roberts 2016. All Rights Reserved.