DAVIES, ANEIRIN TALFAN (1909 - 1980), poet, literary critic, broadcaster and publisher

Name: Aneirin Talfan Davies
Date of birth: 1909
Date of death: 1980
Spouse: Mary Anne Davies (née Evans)
Child: Elinor Talfan Davies
Child: Geraint Talfan Davies
Child: Owen Talfan Davies
Parent: Alys Davies (née Jones)
Parent: William Talfan Davies
Gender: Male
Occupation: poet, literary critic, broadcaster and publisher
Area of activity: Poetry; Literature and Writing; Performing Arts; Printing and Publishing
Author: Alan Llwyd

Aneirin Talfan Davies was born on 11 May 1909 in Dre-fach Felindre, Carmarthenshire, the eldest son of the Rev. William Talfan Davies (1873-1938), from Ysbyty Ystwyth, Ceredigion, and Alys (née Jones, 1878-1948). His younger brother was Alun Talfan Davies (1913-2000). In 1911, when Aneirin was two years old, the family moved to Gorseinon near Swansea, where William Talfan Davies was appointed minister of the Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Libanus.

Aneirin attended Gowerton Grammar School, but left school at the age of 14 to begin an apprenticeship as a pharmacist, initially in Gorseinon, and then at a pharmacy in Temple Street, Swansea, before moving to London to complete his apprenticeship. After spending a fortnight in the enormous International Pharmacy in King's Cross, he got a more permanent post in a pharmacy in Palmers Green, where he remained throughout his time in London, with responsibility for three of the owner's shops, in Kenton, Harrow-on-the-Hill and Watford. He was a member of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in Charing Cross, and it was in classes held at the chapel that his interest in literature and theology was stimulated. He lived for a time in Swiss Avenue, Watford, where he prepared the first issue of Heddiw, a small magazine established by Aneirin and his brother Alun, and edited by Aneirin and Dafydd Jenkins. Heddiw ran for six years, 1936-1942, and published work by some of the foremost poets of the twentieth century, such as Gwenallt, R. Williams Parry and Waldo Williams.

On 1 June 1936 he married Mary Anne Evans (1912-1971), a teacher from Barry, and they had two sons, Owen (born 1938) and Geraint (born 1943), and one daughter, Elinor (born 1946). He left London in 1937, and opened a pharmacist's shop at 9 Heathfield Road, Swansea. His name, Aneirin Davies, was prominent on the shop-front, with 'Aneirin ap Talfan' in brackets below, and the sign fferyllydd (pharmacist) in the window. His shop and home were completely destroyed by one of the German bombing raids on Swansea in 1941. Aneirin and his family then moved to Tŷ-croes in Carmarthenshire, and he joined the staff of the BBC, initially as a part-time news reader, and then as a producer of radio talks and features. He returned to London for a while to follow his new career in broadcasting, and at the end of the war he joined the staff of the BBC in Cardiff. He produced several radio talks by Dylan Thomas, providing the poet with some much-needed income. Some of those talks are included in Quite Early One Morning (1944). He was a personal friend of Dylan Thomas, and in his book Dylan: Druid of the Broken Body (1964), he maintained that Dylan was essentially a religious poet. Aneirin Talfan Davies himself was a committed Christian, and in 1944 he was received into the Church in Wales.

He was also a personal friend of the poet and artist David Jones, another contributor to his radio talk series, and he published their correspondence in the collection David Jones: Letters to a Friend (1979).

In 1951 he began commissioning long poems for radio, and one of these was the masterpiece by James Kitchener Davies, 'Sŵn y Gwynt Sy'n Chwythu'. In the same year he established another literary magazine, Llafar, with the aim of publishing radio talks, stories and poetry. Throughout his career as broadcaster and writer he sought to combine the two worlds, in the belief that the media - and radio in particular - had a key role to play in promoting the literature and culture of Wales. Another volume edited by him was Myfi Sy'n Magu'r Baban, a collection of feature programmes (1951). In 1966 he was appointed Head of Programmes at BBC Wales, and continued to support Welsh and English-language writers. Although the Welsh language was very close to his heart, he did a great deal to bridge the gap between Wales's two languages and cultures.

In 1940, together with his brother Alun, who later became a successful barrister, Aneirin Talfan Davies began publishing a series of small booklets called Llyfrau'r Dryw, of which a total of 44 were published between 1940 and 1952. This venture was the foundation of Llyfrau'r Dryw, one of Wales's most important publishers in the second half of the twentieth century, although its output - by then known as the Christopher Davies Press - lessened from 1980 onwards, and it now no longer exists. Llyfrau'r Dryw was responsible for the successful 'Crwydro Cymru' series of travel books, to which Aneirin himself contributed three excellent volumes, Crwydro Sir Gâr (1955) and Crwydro Bro Morgannwg in two volumes (1972 and 1976). In 1962 the two brothers established a new Welsh magazine, Barn. Aneirin was its editor for a while, and contributed a regular column, 'Ar Ymyl y Ddalen' ('In the Margin'). His last column was published in the July/August 1980 issue of Barn, shortly after his death.

Aneirin Talfan Davies was a multitalented writer with wide-ranging interests and tastes, and he was also an original and astute critic. He published a number of studies on major authors of the twentieth century, and the most complex of modernists. Amongst these are Yr Alltud (1944), an introduction to the work of James Joyce, Y Tir Diffaith (1946), a study of T. S. Eliot, and Eliot is discussed further in Eliot, Pwshcin, Poe (1948). He came to realize that Wales has a rich literary and Christian heritage, which he called 'yr etifeddiaeth dda' ('the good inheritance'), in a chapter in his book Munudau gyda'r beirdd (1954) and in a complete volume, Yr Etifeddiaeth Dda (1967). His Welsh prose style was notable for its refined elegance.

Aneirin Talfan Davies was also a skilful poet. In 1937 he published a volume of poems jointly with another poet, W. H. Reese (1908-1997) from Blaenau Ffestiniog. William Griffiths, head of the Welsh section of Foyle's bookshop in London, proposed to him that he should publish a collection of his poems, and when Aneirin said he did not have enough to make up a volume Griffiths suggested that he invite W. H. Reese to join him. At the National Eisteddfod in Caernarfon in 1935 a poem by Aneirin was awarded the second prize in the vers libre competition, with W. H. Reese third, and first prize going to Gwilym R. Jones (1903-1993). The vers libre was an unfamiliar metrical form in Wales at that time, and the collection in Y Ddau Lais ('The Two Voices') seemed foreign to readers in terms of form and content, consisting mainly of challenging poems which sought to interpret the complexities of modern industrial and urban existence. In 1975 he published a volume of his own poems, Diannerch Erchwyn a Cherddi Eraill. This is a personal and intensely meditative collection, in contrast to the earlier socio-political themes, and includes a number of religious poems. He also translated Christina Rossetti's long poem, Goblin Market, into Welsh under the title Marchnad y Corachod (1947).

Owen Talfan Davies was killed in a car accident in Scotland on 24 October 1963, and T. Glynne Davies (1926-1988) composed a radio poem, 'Yr Hedydd yn yr Haul' ('The Skylark in the Sun'), in his memory. Aneirin Talfan Davies also wrote two poems in memory of his son, which are in his collection Diannerch Erchwyn a Cherddi Eraill, 'Nadolig 1970' and the second part of the short poem, 'Hen ac Ifanc', where Owen is described as 'Hoywlanc lluniaidd a llawen' ('a handsome, joyous and spritely lad').

To celebrate and preserve the 'good inheritance' he edited and wrote numerous volumes, such as Gwŷr Llên (1948), a collection of critical essays on the works of a range of prominent authors of the first half of the twentieth century by various critics, and collections of essays on poets and prose writers, and on theology, such as Sylwadau (1951), Astudio Byd (1967) and Gyda Gwawr y Bore (1970). He was interested in cynghanedd and the traditional metres as well, and edited two anthologies of strict-metre poetry, Blodeugerdd o Englynion (1950) and Englynion a Chywyddau (1958).

He was awarded the degree of MA by the University of Wales in 1958, and in 1970 he received an OBE.

Aneirin Talfan Davies died of a stroke on 14 July 1980 in Priory Hospital, Carmarthen, and he was buried in the cemetery of Llandaff Cathedral.

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Published date: 2019-06-04

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