Saturday, November 19, 2011

Overland and Underground by D. G. Thomas

I entered the Welsh section with some skepticism as to the feasibility of this project, since I can't read Welsh. Luckily, I found a handful of books about Welsh things or by Welsh people written in English on the shelf. In a battle between "Pilgrim's Progress" and this volume of mining poetry, this won because, hey, it's mining poetry.
The miner-poet in question, D.G. Thomas

Before I get into what exactly what poetic Welsh miners talk about, I want to talk about the physical aspects of this book. First, the cover was slightly sticky (!) Other than that, there's the history of this book. It was donated by George Bundy to BYU, but before that it evidently belonged to one Gomarian:

To Gomarian
In appreciation of your writings and with my sincere compliments–
David G. Thomas
I love seeing the author's handwriting, and to think that this inscription is circa early 1900's (No publication date is listed, but Thomas does mention mining accidents in 1903.) A note from one of the owners of the book says that D. G. Thomas's full name was David Griffiths Thomas. Almost as cool as Clive Staples Lewis, but not quite.

Someone has also stamped things into the pages, which were only faintly noticeable as outlines, unless you shine light through them. I have to admit I felt a little National Treasure-esque when I noticed this:

This one said "Old Downshi". in other places I've found "Old Down (page break) shire". Google offered me no conclusive findings as to what Old Downshire is. It could possibly be a quality brand of paper from the early 1900's.  I should try using a hairdryer and lemon juice to see if the book will yield more secrets.

Now, finally, what we have all been waiting for: the text itself. Thomas was a Welshman who moved to Wyoming and supported a family mining. What do Welsh miners in America talk about? It turns out:
  • Nature and how pretty things are when he gets to be aboveground
  • His buddies, their cabins, their lives, and their deaths
  • Missing Wales and going back to visit
  • Fishing
  • Mining
  • Mining accidents, explosions, and deaths
  • Townsfolk
  • Noble Indian chiefs
  • Women's rights

That's right. D.G. Thomas spent a lengthy poem extolling women's suffrage. Wyoming territory was actually the first to allow women to vote. 

The most prevalent theme is death; apparently living in Rock Springs, Wyoming, didn't give you the greatest life expectancy. I suspect all the breathing coal dust and frequent accidents didn't help. One of the poems in the book Thomas wrote to his eleven-year-old daughter to console her on the death of her friend. All saccharine aspects of the poem aside, it really is quite sad.

My favorite might be the poem he wrote of his journey to visit Wales again. Here's a sample verse:

The ship as we went over in,
The biggest we had seen,
Wor loaded with nice things to eat
An' every thing was clean,
But still we could na' eat it,
Nor taste on it nor smell
Wi'out unloadin' all we had
Inside on us as well.
 Who knew there was poetry about vomiting written by Welsh miners? I sure didn't! 

I'm no judge of poetry, but none of it seems to be of extremely high literary quality. Some of it is written in the Welsh-accented English dialect of the vomitous poem, while others are written in a solemn, high-flown, standard-English style.

It was a good read nonetheless, and I enjoyed the poem for Simple Joe. The miner Joe had his head "mashed" by falling rock in an accident. It addled his wits, and he lost his job. The town provided for him. One day after the accident he was at the mine when he spoke for the first and last time after the accident to warn everyone of a fire in the mine. The advance warning helped everyone rescue the miners before they became trapped by the fire. Thomas presents the tale of Simple Joe as fact and not allegory; it makes me think he actually existed. I hope he did.

1 comment:

  1. I certainly can say that I did not know about welsh vomit poetry until I read your blog.

    You are very enlightening.