Ballad of the Black Domain
by Alun Rees
When you’re born in Merthyr Tydfil
you’re brought up in grief and rain.
God himself was afraid to go
alone in the Black Domain.
Recession or Depression -
our loss was someone’s gain.
Living was lean and dying hard
in the terrible Black Domain.
Where body and soul were fed to coal
so that iron and steel might reign
a stern and stubborn race evolved
to survive in the Black Domain.
They say the Viking guys were tough,
stout Swede and dreadnought Dane.
But I tell you, lads, they weren’t a patch
on the boys of the Black Domain.
Some claim the Saxons were harder than us
but their boasts are vapid and vain:
it took a whole gang to martyr Tydfil,
just one girl from the Black Domain.
Where did Keir Hardie roar his wrath
against poverty’s stench and stain?
Where did the Red Flag first fly free?
Here, in the Black Domain.
They wanted to wipe us off the map
for we bore the mark of Cain,
a furious folk and a fierce folk
prowling the Black Domain.
We were born to want and hardship,
we ate grit instead of grain,
but we were rich, yes, rich in rage,
we in the Black Domain.
Smooth talkers will tell you that such days
will never come again,
that they’ve interred and tarmac’d over
the rage of the Black Domain.
But when the valleys dream their dreams
something stalks in my brain.
A bloody something, fury-fuelled,
howls the songs of the Black Domain.
Ballad of the Black Domain is a collection of poems about the 'Black Domain', the South Wales coalfield and the revolutionary traditions of Merthyr. It’s full of verve and sensitive empathy for the oppressed, with a deep sense of history that doesn't lapse into over-indulgent nostalgia.
There is a tension in the poetry between harmony and dissonance, whereby order can soon break down like society itself, and like the Rising in Merthyr in 1831, where workers claimed the town but paid with their blood. Alun Rees describes the fatal effects of pit disasters, and other examples of the callousness of mine owners to the needs of their workers. But he also conveys character and place with equal directness and telling descriptions. Poems like 'Werngoch Pond' capture a world outside the conflict of the class-divided and dominated Welsh nation.
Rees is a poet too long marginalised within his homeland and little known outside it—and yet his voice is surely as significant as that of his hero Idris Davies. He is a true poet of the people, who has never forgotten his home town and its central place in his imagination.
Ballad of the Black Domain and other poems, by Alun Rees, ISBN 978-1-912710-22-5. 46pps., price £10 plus £3 p. and p. and will be launched on 13th April at 7pm via Zoom. The link will be posted on the Home page.