In Tenby, the ‘little fort of the fish’, once upon a past time,
During the hay harvest, carnival revelries, combined with hard toil,
Took place each day, in the form of co-operative horse-play.
All who entered the fields were pounced on by the haymakers,
Be they woman or man,
And rolled in the hay,
Tossed about on the haycocks,
And bound with hay bands,
Till a form of blackmail had been levied.
Female victims were given ‘a green gown’,
While male victims had their backs stretched.
‘An hour on the hay’: a ritual ceremony,
To celebrate the coming together of work and play,
Of man and woman, of flesh and spirit,
Of sacred and profane.
A natural, cyclic harmony,
Blessed by Gaia, Mother Earth Herself.
After the last of the hay gathering, an evening of casual chatter,
Scurrilous gossip, vulgar laughter, and dancing –
Specially the country ‘hay’, with its circular figure,
And the dancers weaving in and out.
The entire event lubricated by locally produced beer and wine,
With water taken from the local rivers –
That most precious of natural resources –
Without which all would crumble into dust.
Then, finally, exhausted but elated, the celebrants departed for bed,
Ready to hit the hay, and to sleep deep,
Secure in the knowledge of a vital task well done.
Thus it was, and so it seemed to be.
Written on the inner page of a prayer book, discovered in the tower of St Mary’s Church, Tenby, dated 1650:
“A long, hot summer we’ve had of it, with the crops failed. Our beasts are dying, we’re dying. The recent wars hit the town hard, but the drought has hit harder. No water to drink, to clean, to cook – and as if we’re not suffering enough, black plague has struck. Bodies piled up, with the rich running to their secret sanctuaries. Not that it’ll help ‘em, since the bone-white bastard with his scythe travels faster than they can…
“The river’s sunk so low, some sad wit’s scrawled our plight on the revealed rocks and stones. Messages of pain, of despair, of hopelessness…
“Is it all our own fault? Something we’ve done – a terrible thing, to make all this so? Are we being punished for our crimes by Almighty God, who sees all, knows all, even what’s in our hearts and minds? Christ help us, ‘cause no-one else can.”
In recent times, the water levels of several European rivers
Have sunk so low that ancient stones have been revealed;
Stones which carry a dire warning,
In the shape of roughly hewed words:
“If you can read this, weep”.
Originally engraved as far back as the fifteenth century,
During years of extreme drought,
The message of these Hunger Stones resonates now,
Since, according to the UN,
A twelve-year window is all that remains for our species
To address the next great extinction event: our own.
If such stones appear in the rivers in and around Tenby,
Will they be treated as tourist attractions,
As amusing reminders of a dark age,
Or will it finally sink in our time is almost done?
Another inscription reads:
“Perhaps, with your tears, the rivers will flow again” –
But how many tears will it take to fill all the rivers of the Earth?
Adrift on this b’cindered globe,
We will simply spiral away towards hot nothingness.
And sweet Tenby –
With its ruined fort and half-stocked market fish-stall,
Its quaint streets, and its ogling, shopping tourists,
Its empty hay fields, bed-dry rivers,
And its Caldy Island conscience lost at sea –
Will vanish, as if never been.
The dance has nigh been danced,
Earth’s song has nigh been sung;
And the water clock is leeching,
As Gaia’s heartbeat slows.*
*The Earth pulses with a special kind of resonant wave. The Schumann Resonance has long been dubbed ‘the Earth’s heartbeat,’ and it has only been spotted from below. Recently, though, satellites have found signs of this electromagnetic heartbeat leaking up into space.
Dafydd ap pedr