Murmur by Menna Elfyn
Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation
Menna Elfyn's latest collection in Welsh and English is full of murmurings, such as the need ‘to walk the earth as if there’s a baby sleeping next door’. Murmur is a poetry of meditation, from the reverberations of dead poets to murmurs of the heart which force the poet to dwell on the irregular beat of the poet’s lot.
Distant sounds too are heard from captivity in a sequence of poems about the last princess of Wales, Catrin Glyndwr, daughter of Owain Glyndwr, who was incarcerated with her children in the Tower of London for over two years until their mysterious death. Fittingly enough, mur-mur in Welsh also means wall-wall, so the book's leitmotif is one that stresses the distance between words and worlds – and the way poetry is a language beyond language which we can sometimes only grasp through sound.
Menna Elfyn is the best-known, most travelled and most translated of all Welsh-language poets. The extraordinary international range of her subjects, breathtaking inventiveness and generosity of vision place her among Europe’s leading poets. Murmur was her first new book since Perfect Blemish: New & Selected Poems / Perffaith Nam: Dau Ddetholiad & Cherddi Newydd 1995-2007, and includes translations of poems by Welsh folk hero and poet of peace Waldo Williams (1904-71) which challenge the notion of the Celtic melancholy and testify to a ‘hesitant hope’. Her own poems have facing English translations by leading Welsh poets: Elin ap Hywel, Joseph P. Clancy, Gillian Clarke, Damian Walford Davies and Paul Henry.
'Menna Elfyn is the firebird of the Welsh language, bright, indomitably modern and as undestructible as the phoenix. She gives hope to all writers in lesser spoken languages that great things can rise from the ashes' – Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
'Elfyn is a poet of healing…both compassionate and celebratory. Like a soul doctor she questions and probes, like St Teresa she endures the darkness, but in the end she sings a song which affirms that flawed humanity is indeed perfectible’ – Katie Gramich, Planet
'Liberation and enclosure are powerful themes in Menna Elfyn's work. She is a political poet, writing with passion of the Welsh language and identity for which she campaigns. But she makes her claims with realism…a restless, intensely responsive imagination’ – Helen Dunmore, Observer