Has the Standard Written Form of Cornish failed?

For a lot of us the debate over the proper base for the revived Cornish language is about as relevant as medieval theologians arguing over the number of angels that can stand on the head of a pin. Nonetheless, the Cornish language, revived or not, is of considerable symbolic importance for Cornwall and its identity  and therefore the nature of revived Cornish should also be of wider interest. From the 1980s to the 2000s the Cornish language revival was bedevilled by arguments over its most appropriate base. Should it be based on the Cornish of the dramas of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries or the more vernacular but sketchier works from the late seventeenth century? The majority of learners and speakers preferred the former (or were blissfully unaware of the basis for the variety they were learning.) A minority opted for the latter, wishing to pick up the language from where it had left off.

In 2007 a deal was brokered that led to the Standard Written Form (SWF) of revived Cornish. The central element of this was the acceptance that ‘middle’ and ‘late’ versions of revived Cornish were of equal status. This was explicitly stated as ‘The SWF recognises Revived Middle Cornish (RMC), Revived Late Cornish (RLC), and Tudor Cornish as variants of equal standing’. (Tudor Cornish uses a combination of middle and late Cornish variants.) Effectively therefore, RMC and RLC were henceforth to be the two equal ‘main forms’ of the revived language, each with variant spellings for certain words.

The last example of written traditional Cornish

At the time, as one of those brokering this deal, I welcomed it as providing a workable compromise between different factions. I also believed that RLC, or as we preferred to call it, ‘Modern Cornish’, had at last attained equality with the middle version on which Morton Nance had reconstructed his Unified Cornish and Ken George his phonemic Cornish. Unfortunately, I was proved wrong.

Since that time Revived Late Cornish, despite being one of the two supposedly equal ‘main forms’ of the SWF, has been systematically marginalised. It now has little presence in teaching materials and even in signage, where Cornish based on the fifteenth century is bizarrely preferred even in parts of Cornwall where the language was still being spoken into the eighteenth century.

Sadly, the equality of the two main forms has been ignored in practice. The most blatant example of this appears in A Learners’ Cornish Dictionary in the Standard Written Form, published in 2018. The introduction to this completely fails to mention the fact of the two main forms. Instead, it claims that in the dictionary, ‘there are no spelling variants’ but then supplies only Revived Middle Cornish variants throughout!

The process whereby this occurred has now been comprehensively documented in an article published this year in Language Problems and Language Planning. This argues that what it calls pluricentricity in Cornwall has failed. The intended equality of the two variants has not worked out in practice. It enumerates the reasons.

  • Learners and users of Cornish fail to understand the function of the two variants.
  • Confusion about main forms and variants has been exacerbated by the presence of ‘main and ‘traditional’ graphs and the secondary status of the latter.
  • There has been no clear guidance from official sources such as the Cornish Language Office (CLO), or the Academy Kernewek (AK) and neither the CLO, Cornwall Council, AK nor Golden Tree (a community interest company producing teaching materials) show any commitment to equality in practice.
  • The fact that RMC users were in a majority in 2007 and RLC proponents were insufficiently involved once the SWF was initiated meant that Late forms became largely invisible, which then contributes to their continuing invisibility.

It also suggests some remedies.

  • Revise the online SWF dictionary to explain the variants more clearly.
  • RLC users should make the late form of the SWF more visible.

Personally, I have no intention of adopting the SWF late form as it is far too close to revised medieval Cornish for my taste. On the rare occasions I write Cornish I shall continue to use the native spellings of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the last recorded phase of the traditional language. In fact, I agree with Ken George, who argues that middle and late varieties of Cornish are too far apart to be satisfactorily combined in one orthography.

Reflections on dreckly

We’ll get around to dreckly dreckly. But first, a week or two ago the online dating site eharmony was reported as having completed a survey of accents to see which were the most ‘attractive’. The ‘Cornish accent’ came in 20th out of 20! Obviously, such ‘research’ probably tells us more about the stereotypes of the Cornish held by the respondents than they do about the ‘Cornish accent’. That’s an interesting subject in itself but let’s stick with accent for now.

In the survey people were asked to rank accents after hearing ‘an actor’ reading a couple of sentences. Was this ‘actor’ Cornish? Or did he or she put on what the media seem to think is a Cornish accent – a ‘faux-pirate’ mummerset travesty? If they were a native, which part of Cornwall did they come from? Which accent did they have? For there are, or were, before the mass in-migration of the past half-century or more, two distinct ‘Cornish’ accents. East of Bodmin we had the western branch of the Wessex accent of English. West of Bodmin there was a quite different accent, the differences reflecting the historic presence of the Cornish language.

Recently, there has been some research on the accents of English in Cornwall. However, their historic presence and use and their contemporary decline have yet to be adequately described. Moving from accent to dialect, one dialect word still widely in use is dreckly, a central part of Cornish identity. Dreckly is a temporal term indicating some indeterminate time in the future, maybe tomorrow, possibly next week, could be next year. Particularly popular among builders, the term is still widely used. So much so that in my childhood I thought dreckly was an entirely separate word from directly, its presumed origin.

But when did it appear? It’s not in the glossary of dialect words in William Sandys’ Specimens of the Cornish Dialect, published in 1846. Furthermore, neither does it appear in the glossaries of John Tregellas, the most prolific dialect writer of the 1850s and 60s. A quick skim through some of his tales reveals no examples of the word. If anyone does have a reference from the 1800s I’d be delighted to hear of it. (For some observations on dialect literature in the 1800s see my Industrial Celts, pp.63-69).

As Patrick Laviolette has proposed, dreckly is a ‘fine example of the cultural use of irony’, indicative of a ‘different’ way of doing things, meandering and roundabout. But why did it arise?

Here’s a couple of possible theories, for what they’re worth. Dreckly grew out of the word ‘directly’ at some point between the 1870s and the 1930s. It could have been a response to the more makeshift economy that emerged after mining began to contract, one that was necessarily more flexible, where deadlines became secondary to guaranteeing a quantity of work. Or perhaps it was a result of a deliberate distancing from the mainstream English use of directly, a response to an influx of visitors and new residents? Expect we’ll know dreckly.

Henry Jenner

On this day in 1848 Henry Jenner was born at St Columb. Jenner played a key role in the Cornish ‘revival’ that began in the 1870s and has long been regarded as the patriarch of Cornish revivalism. However, he wasn’t brought up in Cornwall, having been taken with his family to Essex and then Kent at the tender age of three. He didn’t return even for a visit until he was 19. Nevertheless, the young Henry nurtured an intense emotional yearning for Cornwall. This was possibly exacerbated by his unwordly education at an Anglo-Catholic boarding school. Both the school and his clergyman father’s High Church perspective bequeathed young Henry his world-view, one that he loyally took with him to his grave in 1934.

Discovering the Cornish language as a teenager, Jenner found a romantic surrogate, a consolation for his lost homeland and one moreover that gelled with his general attachment to all things old, preferably from before the Reformation. His work as a keeper at the British Museum from 1870 to his retirement in 1909 was an appropriate base for his interests. In the mid-1870s, he published articles on the Cornish language and toured West Penwith in a largely disappointing quest to find some fragments of the traditional spoken language.

Jenner as Grand Bard in what became required regalia for any self-respecting Cornish Celt

After an interlude, Jenner was drawn back to the Cornish language at the turn of the century. He wrote his Handbook of the Cornish Language in 1904. This has been widely seen as kick-starting the re-invention of the language, while Jenner also played a vital role in getting Cornwall accepted as a Celtic nation. Returning to Cornwall on his retirement in 1909 he became a central and unmistakeable figure in the ‘revival’. Among other posts, he was President of the first Old Cornwall Society at St Ives in 1920 and inevitably the first Grand Bard of the Cornish Gorseth in 1928. He had written a draft ceremony for this body as early as 1907.

In recent years Jenner’s wider affiliations have come in for more scrutiny. For instance, for Jenner language was a less important factor in Cornish nationality than race. As Tim Saunders has shown – in his chapter in Henry and Katharine Jenner (2004) – he viewed the Celts (and the Anglo-Saxons come to that) as superior to the ‘aboriginal’ inhabitants of Britain, who he thought made up the bulk of the English working class. Politically Jenner was no Cornish nationalist; instead he was a unionist with views that were pretty far off the scale. While ‘opposing every radical cause from Italian unity onward’ he also looked forward to the restoration of legitimist monarchies, whether Stuarts in Britain or Carlists in Spain. In fact, any monarch at all was preferable to democracy, which he described as ‘hateful’. This wasn’t just an academic affectation. Sharon Lowenna (in Cornish Studies Twelve) showed how Jenner was involved in preparing secret codes for the Firefly plot in 1899. This was a plan cooked up to smuggle firearms to Carlists in Spain. It was eventually scuppered by the Spanish navy.

Jenner’s commitment was to faith (in the Anglo-Catholic church), throne (as long as Stuarts sat on it), and fatherland (both Cornwall and Empire). This dreamworld ideology was unlikely to appeal readily to the practical, down-to-earth and dour Methodist modernism of the average Cornish person of the Edwardian period. It was also a context for a view that learning Cornish was essentially a sacramental act, a personal commitment to land and ancestry. Nonetheless, his Handbook was based on the living Cornish of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Paradoxically, it was his less ethereal successors who took it further back in time, grounding it in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and making it even more ‘classical’ and sacramental in the process.

Love it or hate it? Attitudes towards the revived Cornish language

A research article by Siarl Ferdinand published online last year provides some intriguing results of a survey into attitudes towards the revived Cornish language. The good news for the revivalists is that there was a broadly positive view of Cornish, with a majority of respondents declaring it was either ‘interesting’ or not being bothered either way. Meanwhile, a sizeable minority – around one in four – of non-learners expressed an interest in learning some Cornish.

The bad news is that a considerable minority – between a third and a half of the respondents – thought that supporting Cornish is a waste of resources. This group does not want it to be supported by the authorities or to appear on street signs (other than in placenames).

Welcome sign in traditional Cornish and revived medieval Cornish

The survey also found that only one in five of the Cornish ‘speakers’ who completed the survey defined themselves as ‘fluent’. As many as 60% of the learners admitted that they couldn’t even hold a simple conversation in Cornish. With approximately 50 fluent speakers in Cornwall, there’s a fairly long way to go to achieve the Cornish Language Strategy’s rather ambitious aim of making Cornish a ‘community language’.

Interestingly, though perhaps not unexpectedly, the research also discovered quite a stark contrast in attitudes between those non-learners who identified as Cornish and those who did not. The latter group was much more hostile to official support for the language or its introduction into schools and expressed far less desire to learn it. Given the current high level of population growth and in-migration being encouraged by local and central government, the attitudes of in-migrants is set to be the key for the future of the Cornish language.

For an extended critical review of this article see here.

The 1549 rising: the revised chronology

Early June is usually taken to be the anniversary of the time in 1549 when the Prayer Book rising began. According to the Government indictment of its leaders, a thousand men gathered on June 6th at Bodmin to protest against the new English Prayer Book to be used in church services. This predated the rising in Devon, which occurred on June 10th. This narrative, first put forward in 1913, has been uncritically repeated by virtually every account since. However, in 2014 Mark Stoyle revisited and convincingly revised the chronology of the rising. This has not received the attention it deserves, perhaps because it is hidden behind an academic paywall. But here’s a short summary. (See also my review of the state of Cornish Studies in From a Cornish Study, p.91.)

Mark picked up on a suggestion made as early as 1910 that the date of June 6th given in the indictment was a transcription error for July 6th and backed this up with previously unpublished contemporary evidence from Penzance, Falmouth and Plymouth. He says ‘we know almost nothing at all about how the Cornish rebellion of 1549 began’. Nor do we have any details as to how and when the Cornish joined the Devonian insurgents. Meanwhile, the accounts of the rising all come from the loyalist side, while nothing has survived giving the insurgents’ perspective.

The revised chronology proposed by Stoyle runs like this. The rising did not begin in Cornwall but at Sampford Courteney in mid-Devon. It arrived there from the east, not the west, as similar protests about the religious changes rippled out from south-east England. Dissidents flocked to the banner before moving on to Crediton and then laying siege to Exeter on July 2nd. While all this was happening, there was no contemporary reference to any disturbances in Cornwall until late June.

Instead, the gathering at Bodmin that triggered the Cornish rising occurred sometime between 26th June and 6th July. From there it spread outwards, pulling in support. Some time was lost in pursuing gentry loyal to the Government. They had taken refuge on St Michael’s Mount, as well as at Pendennis and at Trematon Castle in the east. At the Mount and at Trematon the loyalists were taken captive although Pendennis held out through the rising. Plymouth was under siege by 22nd July at the latest.

The same date provided the first written evidence of a conjunction between the Cornish insurgents and the Devonian rebels in a letter from Exeter sent to Lord Russell, who was tasked by the Government to quash the rising. At some point in mid-July, the Cornish had completed their trek from Bodmin and joined those besieging Exeter. Mark Stoyle suggests that the Cornish force advanced into Devon after the siege of Exeter began, rather than before, emboldened by the news of that action.

The course of the rising after the Cornish arrived is well known. In late July, perhaps encouraged by the more aggressive Cornishmen, a force moved east towards Honiton. This was met and driven back at Fenny Bridges. The (loyalist) account of this specifically referred to 800 Cornish reinforcements, again suggesting a recent arrival. A series of battles followed on 3rd-5th August when ‘hundreds of rebels were slain’ by Russell and his mercenaries and Exeter relieved.

The besiegers broke camp on 5th August. Most moved back towards the west while an estimated 1,000 fled north into Somerset, hoping to make a stand there. Eventually this force, including many Cornishmen, was cut down by cavalry near Langport. This was the location that was supposed to have witnessed the death of the Cornish King Gerent in 710. The past was echoing eerily down through the centuries, although it’s a moot point how many, if any, of those at Langport in 1549 were aware of this.

A modernist interpretation of the rising

It was claimed that around 7,000 or more men regrouped near Samford Courtenay in mid-August. They were attacked by Russell on 16th August and after a hard fight many – it was claimed 2,000 – were slain. Humphrey Arundell, the leader of the Cornish force, was captured in the streets of Launceston on 20th August. The rising was over. Four days later the Government had reasserted its control, to the point where it could safely hang two clergymen on the Lizard.

A loyalist account boasted that it had been ‘such a scouring that the memorial will not be lightly forgotten’. He was right. Carew wrote two generations later that the ‘western people’ fostered ‘a fresh memory of their expulsion long ago by the English’. The ‘scouring’ may have had unforeseen long-term consequences.

(Mark Stoyle’s article is ‘ “Fullye bente to fighte oute the matter”: Reconsidering Cornwall’s Role in the Western Rebellion of 1549’, English Historical Review 129 (538), 2014, pp.549-577.)

Observations on the Cornish dialect in 1836

In 1836 the Penny Magazine published a long article on Cornwall, its occupations, housing and diet. Here’s an extract which includes some comments on the local dialect.

It is still usual to call elderly persons ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’, and the ‘good night’ is commonly given in passing. The use of nicknames is very prevalent. These are not only personal but hereditary, and many families are distinguished by them.

Many French words, as well as terms from the extinct Cornish language, are in common use; the latter especially in terms of art among the miners. A sort of recitative or sing-song pronunciation is characteristic and amuses the stranger much. Agriculturists, miners and fishermen pronounce very differently from each other in some districts; and within ten miles all these varieties of sound may be sometimes met with. The people generally are much inclined to use the points of the compass, and the eastward, the westward, the south country, etc. are frequently heard.

Helston’s Furry Day and Hal-an-Tow

Another iconic Cornish festival day. Another sad silence. Although traditional furry dances were held in several places across Cornwall within living memory – I remember participating at Liskeard – Helston is now regarded as the home of the furry.

The event shares some aspects with Padstow’s ‘Obby ‘Oss – the celebration of spring, traditional songs, decorating the town with greenery and spring flowers. However, Helston’s Furry Day seems more divided by social class than Padstow’s May Day. In the nineteenth century, newspaper accounts recorded the formal midday dance and a ball in the evening to which the ‘beauty and fashion of the surrounding towns and neighbourhood’ flocked. At the same time there were country dances elsewhere for ‘tradespeople’, while in the morning more boisterous and unruly elements indulged in the hal-an-tow.

From an early point the day pulled in onlookers from a wide area. ‘The town was crowded with strangers’ in 1825. In 1832 a constant succession of arrivals from Truro, Falmouth, Penzance, Penryn and Redruth was noted, the town being ‘filled with visitors’ by 1 pm, while the beds at all the inns had been booked solid for two weeks prior to the day in 1843.

As at Padstow the day also attracted some criticism from evangelical reformers. In 1837 this surfaced in a letter condemning ‘this heathenish festival’ which ‘every reflecting and serious-minded person must unhesitatingly condemn’. Although by 1882 it was felt that ’there are some symptoms of the ancient institution being on the wane’, the hopes of this correspondent that ‘the increasing influence of the Christian principle and feeling, will cause the entire abandonment ‘ of the festival were to be dashed.

As usual it was the more plebeian and unruly custom of the hal-an-tow that was almost stamped out, before being resuscitated in a bowdlerised version by the Old Cornwall Society in the 1930s. In its original form, this involved an early morning excursion into the countryside, a mobile mummers’ play, demands for cash, plus lots of noise and drinking. References in the first line of the hal-an-tow song to Robin Hood and Little John reinforced the inversion and opposition to authority that it symbolised. In 1857 for example the procession of a mock mayor ‘caused much amusement’, while being frowned on by the real mayor.

The post-modern Cornishised version of the Hal-an-tow

We are told that the hal-an-tow fell into disrepute and decay around 1865 but the accounts in the West Briton paint a more complex and drawn-out picture of its decline. We must also allow for that paper’s somewhat condescending and occasionally condemnatory tone in its reports of this aspect of Furry Day.

At first the hal-an-tow was ignored, although in 1850 it was reported that there was no 5 am party ‘as heretofore to go into the country a-maying’. In 1855 the paper noted with some satisfaction that there had been no hal-an-tow, which ‘time out of mind has been continued, but from the manner in which it has lately been conducted it was little other than a prescriptive nuisance’. The same thing was said a year later in 1856. ‘The greater number of the old men who formed the ‘Hal-an-tow’ are dead, and for the first time within the memory of man, this curious part of the morning’s proceedings were dispensed with; it was certainly no ornament to the innocent amusements of the latter part of the day’.

Yet attempts to revive it were reported in 1861 and 1865 and in 1870 it was mentioned without comment. By 1872 the paper was noting ‘the usual hal-an-tow party’. The condemnation of the 1850s had not apparently led to its demise but It was clearly on life support. In 1874 it was stated that it had fallen ‘into great disrepute and had been discontinued almost entirely’. Note the ‘almost’ however. Four years later, while the day in general ‘has latterly been losing much of its ancient glories and showing signs of the effects of the advanced civilisation of the times … 40 boys, three men and a caparisoned pony formed the hal-an-tow and proceeded through the town in the usual fashion’.

Despite the competing attractions by this time of a bazaar and a dog and poultry show the hal-an-tow was refusing to die gracefully, periodically and stubbornly emerging out of the grave to which it was regularly consigned by ‘respectable’ society.

Let us all unite: May Day at Padstow

Unite and unite and let us all unite 
For summer is acome unto day

The words of the ‘Obby ‘Oss songs will not be heard this year. The ‘osses will remain in their stables and Padstow will be eerily quiet as this iconic Cornish festival comes to a temporary halt, brought low by a virus. Cheer up though! We can still remember May Day virtually, by viewing the scores of video clips and old newsreel footage available on Youtube going back to the 1930s.

The first newsreel with sound

As with similar events, it’s comforting to think that the origins of this festival lie in pagan fertility rituals lost in the mists of time, although in reality the ‘Obby ‘Oss is only securely documented from the early 1800s. However, there are strong continuities from that time – the familiar prancing ‘oss, the teasers, the parades through the town, the trance-like hypnotic rhythm of the songs. All these seem to echo through the centuries.

But look and listen closely to the video clips and you’ll notice that even Padstow’s ‘Obby ‘Oss festival has changed over time. The words of the songs, the times they are sung, the clothing, masks and paraphernalia of the participants, the flags flown, the flowers picked, have all undergone subtle change.

Nonetheless, the core festivity is intact. Moreover, it survived the attentions of nineteenth century moralists and reformers committed to ‘rational recreation’. In 1844 Thomas Trevaskis, a temperance leader and Bible Christian in the district, described May Day in Padstow as ‘a scene of riot, debauchery and general licentiousness – a perfect nuisance to all the respectable inhabitants of the place’. He decided to buy off the roistering inhabitants by offering a fat bullock to be roasted annually if only they gave up their foolish ways.

The response was not exactly what Trevaskis had hoped. ‘He himself drove the bullock, the best beast in his possession, but the people refused the offer and drove him out of the town, bullock and all, while certain of them pelted him with divers missiles into the bargain!’

Concerns about the ‘unusual amount of drunkenness’ re-surfaced late in the century. At that time, some locals began a temperance ‘oss (the blue ‘oss) as a rival to the old ‘oss (or red ‘oss). Transformed after World War One into a ‘peace ‘oss’, this joined its older mate to become an accepted part of the festivities.

The crowds have also changed over time, from comprising mainly Padstonians who own the ceremony to massive hordes of gaping sightseers. Among them stroll scores of sociologists and anthropologists eager to ‘explain’ the festival. Alan Kent, in the best extended account of Cornwall’s festival culture, remarks that the ‘Obby ‘Oss is a ‘reaction to modernity’. But it was more significant as a survival of pre-modernity. As the rough and ready festivities of pre-industrial times succumbed to the reformers and religious evangelicals in the 1800s, Padstow’s ‘Obby ‘Oss was one of the few survivors.

Its survival is due to Padstonians’ fierce commitment to their local culture in the face of condemnation from outsiders. This was helped by the town’s location on the margins of Cornwall’s industrialisation. Here, the pressures of change were less keenly felt. By the twentieth century the place of Padstow’s May Day in wider Cornish culture meant that it had become ‘too big to fail’.

Since the 1960s however, there has been a more recognisably reactive aspect. For, remarkably, Padstow is now at the cutting edge of change, of modernity, or post-modernity, in Cornwall. Some of the highest levels of second homes in Cornwall are found in the immediate vicinity, while gentrification picked up pace when it became the first centre of up-market gastro-tourism in Cornwall. In that sense, the ‘Obby ‘Oss is all about ownership, identity and belonging. It serves as a powerful remembrance of former times and a former Cornwall, reassuring us of our place in the two Cornwalls we nowadays see around us.

Cornish studies resources – an update

You are not alone. With more time on their hands than they know what to do with, people are inevitably seeking out new thrills on the internet. This phenomenon has even reached this website, with the number of visitors increasing by 40% over the past month.

Who is now accessing Cornish studies resources and what are they clicking on? First, the location of visitors mirrors the Cornish diaspora. While the majority (56%) are in the UK, 20% are from the States and 9% from Australia.

What are they reading? Unsurprisingly, the most looked at pages are related to surnames, their origin and history, with the highest number of views this year garnered by ‘18th century surnames by parish‘ and ‘What makes a surname Cornish?’. The scores of comments and queries on the last are possibly as interesting as the piece itself. The two other pages getting the most hits are ‘Cornwall’s population history before 1750’ and ‘Fact and fiction in The Last Kingdom’. People are oddly drawn to this last, a slightly tongue in cheek discussion of the historical accuracy and the treatment of Cornwall and the Cornish in the TV series based on Bernard Cornwell’s books. Maybe the title suggests something more spectacular. Sorry to disappoint.

The blog posts that have been most popular are perhaps more predictable. Those with most views – ‘Cholera in Cornwall‘ and ‘The Black Death in Cornwall‘ – have a certain contemporary resonance, although they may help to put things in perspective. Next come two of my series of blogs on Cornwall’s rarer indigenous surnames – ‘Local Cornish surnames. But which locality?’  and ‘Some Cornish surnames with single points of origin’. Finally, there are two posts that might appeal to Cornish revivalists – ‘Cornish past and present, placenames and polemics’ is a review and summary of Ken Mackinnon’s papers on the Cornish language, now available online, and Rod Lyon’s book Colloquial doesn’t mean Corrupt. Meanwhile, ‘The myth of Dumnonia‘ seeks to undermine a cherished historical belief.

Whether you agree with my scribblings or not, thanks for coming back to this site. I hope you find something here of interest or value. If you have any suggestions for topics either to blog about or to provide slightly more extended treatment on a page of their own, do let me know.

A poem in the Cornish language

And now for something completely different. In the current circumstances a small dose of poetry might lift our spirits a bit and remind us of another reality. But not just any old poetry; let’s sample something written in the Cornish language.

Tim Saunders is the most accomplished poet writing in Cornish. Tim’s most recent publication is Virgil’s Fountain/Fenten Feryl, published by Francis Boutle and described as ‘a poem of love and loss in which myth strives to give shape to unbearable memory’. To give a flavour of Tim’s poetry here’s one from his collection The High Tide: Collected Poems in Cornish 1974-1999. It first appears in Tim’s spelling, then with his literal translation and finally in the traditional, colloquial Cornish spelling that I use.


Monez yn-kerdh pan dheu gworthewer,
meyn ow’kwska yn fosow isel,
edreg ow’chwystra’n-kosel, kosel,
avowa kÿvrin dhown dhÿ’nn gewer.

Kerdhez war fordh a-hyz ann morreb,
meyn ow’kwska dhÿ woelez avon,
lanwez gov ow’puthi peub bystyon,
gwovynn heb gwaityanz kavoz gwortheb.
Gwortos ha’ miraz worth ann mordan,
meyn ow’kwska yn mysk ann tyweuz,
gevyanz nowneug ow’c’hwilaz pec’heuz,
gwolsowez worth ann nos polz byc’han.
Kilya a’nn traeth, a’nn tir, a’nn Noarvyz,
meyn ow’kwska yn kylc’how’nn ebrenn,
kov ow’fellyl, kÿvrenn ha kÿvrenn,
c’hwilaz korfow’nn lavarow kÿllyz.


Setting out when evening comes, stones sleeping in low walls, regret whispering quietly, quietly, admitting a deep secret to the weather.

Walking on a road along by the sea, stones sleeping at the bottom of a river, memory’s tide swamping all dirty water, asking without hoping to get an answer.

Waiting and looking at the fluorescence on the sea, stones sleeping amongst the sand, hungry forgiveness looking for sin, listening to the night for a little moment.

Retreating from the beach, from the land, from the earth, stones sleeping in the circles of the sky, memory failing, link by link, looking for the bodies of the lost words.


Moaz e-ker pa thea gothewar,  
mein a cuska en fozow ezal,  
edrak a whistra’n cuzal, cuzal,  
avowa kevrin down tha’n gewar. 
Kerraz war vor a-hez an morreb, 
mein a cuska tha wolez awan, 
lanez cov a perthi pub bistian, 
goofen heb gwaitianz cavaz gorreb. 
Gurtaz ha miraz ort an mordan, 
mein a cuska amesk an tewez, 
gevianz naoneg a whilaz pehez, 
gasowaz ort an nôz pols bian. 
Kilia a’n treath, a’n tîr, a’n Nôarvez, 
mein a cuska en kelghow’n ebarn, 
cov a fillal, kevran ha kevran, 
whilaz corfow’n lavarow kellez.