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On the rocks beyond Gwbert... | by Giles Watson's poetry and prose
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On the rocks beyond Gwbert...

An old song lyric (part of a series of songs which we wrote under the inspiration of Eirwen Jones's marvellous little book, Folk Tales of Wales) with new images of the place itself.


Hywel and the Mermaid

Words by Giles Watson. Music by Kathryn Wheeler.


On the rocks beyond Gwbert where white seagulls fly,

With nothing before him but grey sea and sky,

Sat Hywel the fisherman, whistling a tune,

Whiling away a quiet afternoon.


He cast his blue eyes o’er the deep, swelling sea,

And watched the birds wheel, unfettered and free.

He looked down the shoreline, and she caught his eye:

A soft-singing mermaid, sitting nearby.


Her voice was like waves lapping pools in the sand,

Her tresses were long, with a comb in her hand,

And shellfish and sea-stars clung to her hair.

“I’ll take her home with me,” cried Hywel, “I swear!”


He carried her bodily back to his shack,

And Modlen the mermaid wept, “Sir, take me back!”

But he took her inside and he bolted the door;

She wept and she sobbed on the fisherman’s floor.


But Hywel’s friend Maredudd frowned when he heard,

Dark was his countenance; stern was his word:

“When a man takes a mermaid to be his fair bride

The end’s always tragedy - let her go at high tide


She’ll cast a spell on you; you must let her go!”

But he kept her his captive ‘til rain turned to snow,

And she pleaded, “Dear Hywel, take me back to the sea,

And I’ll warn of all danger, and watch over thee.”


In the surf then he waded, Modlen in his arms;

The shells in her hair like trinkets and charms.

Her hand trailed in water; her tail threshed the foam;

She slipped from his arms and swam back to her home.


One day Hywel’s fishing, he’s wiping his brow,

When Modlen appears at the end of the prow;

Crabs scuttle about as they fall from her hair;

The look in her eyes tells him, “Hywel, beware!”


“Hywel, Hywel!

Draw in your net!

Hywel, Hywel!”

Her hair’s lank and wet!

“Hywel, Hywel!”

Her eyes stare with fear

“Hywel! Hywel!

For danger is near!”


“Hywel, Hywel!”

Yet calm is the sea.

“Hywel! Hywel!

O hearken to me!

Hywel! Hywel!

The winds may be calm,

Hywel! Hywel!

Yet you’ll come to harm!”


“Hywel! Hywel!”

He hauls on the ropes,

“Hywel! Hywel!”

And for the oars gropes.

“Hywel! Hywel!”

For the shore does he steer.

“Hywel! Hywel!”

Other fishermen jeer.


“Hywel! Hywel!”

She touches his hand.

“Hywel! Hywel!”

As his boat reaches land.

“Hywel! Hywel!”

The mighty clouds form.

“Hywel! Hywel!”

The oncoming storm.


Bewildered then Hywel stood on the shore,

Beholding the lightning with wonder and awe:

Capsized the boats and their owners all drowned,

And gone the sweet woman with sea-creatures crowned.


“To Modlen the mermaid, whom I took for wife,

Do I owe my repentance, my love and my life.”

He turned for his home, weatherbeaten and cold,

Now no one will ever his mermaid behold.


Source: Welsh folk-tale, from Eirwen Jones, Folk Tales of Wales, London, 1947, pp. 94-97.



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Taken on April 8, 2013