Davies, Idris 1905–1953
Davies, Idris 1905–1953
PERSONAL: Born 1905, in Rhymney, Caerphilly, Wales; died of cancer, 1953. Education: Attended Loughborough College and University of Nottingham.
CAREER: Poet. Worked variously as a miner and a primary school teacher.
Tonypandy, and Other Poems, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1945.
Selected Poems, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1953.
Collected Poems of Idris Davies, edited by Islwyn Jenkins, Gomerian Press (Llandysul, Wales), 1972.
Caneuon y weriniaeth (title means "Songs of the Welsh Republic"), Welsh Socialist Party (Pontypridd, Wales), 1989.
(With others) Five Settings of Poems (includes musical score), Mansel Thomas Trust (Mangor, Wales), 1990.
Fe'm ganed i yn Rhymni (poems; title means "I Was Born in Rhymney"), Gomer (Llandysul, Wales), 1990.
Poems of Idris Davies: The Central Achievement, introduction and notes by Anthony Conran, University of Wales Press (Cardiff, Wales), 1990.
Places (poems for children), National Language Unit of Wales (Treforest, Wales), 1991.
The Angry Summer: A Poem of 1926, introduction and notes by Anthony Conran, University of Wales Press (Cardiff, Wales), 1993.
The Complete Poems of Idris Davies, edited and introduced by Dafydd Johnston, University of Wales Press (Cardiff, Wales), 1994.
SIDELIGHTS: Welsh working-class poet Idris Davies was born in 1905 in Rhymney, Wales, the son of a coal miner. Davies learned Welsh at home and English in the local elementary school. At the age of fourteen, he ended his schooling and went to work at the mine where his father served as the chief winder. It was there that a coworker introduced him to the work of nineteenth-century poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Davies devoured the poetry, soon realizing that the literary form was especially appropriate for relating political ideas and causes, particularly socialism and human dignity. In 1926 Davies lost a finger in a work accident. Shortly after his recovery, a prolonged miners' strike, followed by the closure of the mine where he had worked, forced him to look for another means of employment. He returned to school, completing his education first through correspondence courses and then at Loughborough College and the University of Nottingham. In 1932 he began teaching at a primary school in London's East End. His love of poetry led him to frequent the nearby Griff's Bookshop, where he became acquainted with a group of Welsh writers who would influence his own work.
Davies began publishing his poems in newspapers and small journals, but got his first significant exposure with the advent of Wales, a magazine run by the literary journalist, editor, and poet Keidrych Rhys. Subsequently, Davies published several volumes of poetry with themes involving the conditions of southern Wales during the Depression, the outbreak of World War II, and human suffering. His early experiences as a coal miner and growing up in a community populated by other miners had a strong influence on his writing, and despite the narrowness of his background, he managed to write broadly, in a way that many readers could identify with. As Derek Stanford remarked in Books and Bookmen, "It was no doubt natural that Idris Davies … should have been considered … as a poet of statement." Stanford further noted, "Today, as we read these poems, we stress less the moral content in them and accent instead the lyrical and aesthetic aspect. They are still 'poetic documents,' but the fact that their bearing on the world of action is now considerably smaller enables us to appreciate the more their imaginative and descriptive qualities."
Rather than limiting himself to a specific style of poetry, Davies experimented with varying rhythms and rhyming schemes. He excelled at writing in the ballad form, a skill that led to many of his poems being adopted as songs by folk and rock singers through the decades. "The Bells of Rhymney," a ballad based on a mining accident, was set to music by Pete Seger. Many artists went on to perform the song, including the Byrds, Jimmy Page, Judy Collins, Cher, and Bob Dylan.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Anglo-Welsh Review, Volume 87, 1987, John Pikoulis, "Idris Davies: Poetry and Propaganda," pp. 91-104.
Books and Bookmen, October, 1972, Derek Stanford, review of Collected Poems of Idris Davies, p. R12.
New Welsh Review, winter, 1998–99, "Idris Davies's Middle Years," pp. 22-25.
Times Literary Supplement, September 8, 1995, Valentine Cunningham, "Whistling in the Grime," review of The Complete Poems of Idris Davies, p. 27.
New Hope International Review Online, http://www.nhi.clara.net/ (September 25, 2005), "Idris Davies: A Carol for the Coalfield."
University of Wales Press Web site, http://www.uwp.co.uk/ (September 25, 2005).