Idris Davies (January 6, 1905 – April 6, 1953), was a Welsh poet, originally writing in Welsh, but later writing exclusively in English.
Coal Miner & Poet
He was one of the only poets to cover significant events in the early 20th century in the South Wales Valleys and the South Wales coalfield and literally from a perspective at the coalface.
He is now known mostly for The Bells of Rhymney, a ballad on the failure of the 1926 UK General Strike and the Great Depression in the United Kingdom and their effects on the South Wales coal mining valleys, set to the pattern of the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons that was set to music by Pete Seeger, and became a folk rock standard.
A diary entry of his reads ; ‘I am a socialist. That is why I want as much beauty as possible in our everyday lives and so I am an enemy of pseudo-poetry and pseudo-art of all kinds. Too many “poets of the Left”, as they call themselves, are badly in need of instruction as to the difference between poetry and propaganda. These people should read William Blake on Imagination until they show signs of understanding him. Then the air will be clear again, and the land be, if not full of, fit for song.’
He qualified as a teacher through courses at Loughborough College and the University of Nottingham. As a conscientious objector, he was permitted to take teaching posts in London during the Second World War, and then Wales, returning to the Rhymney Valley in 1947. His second collection of poems was taken by T. S. Eliot for Faber and Faber (1945).
The Bells of Rhymney was set to music by by Pete Seeger; and later by many others, including The Byrds, Jimmy Page, Judy Collins, Dick Gaughan, Cher, Robyn Hitchcock, Oysterband, Weddings Parties Anything, and The Alarm. Also by Bob Dylan live, and Robin Williamson on an album of readings. John Denver covered this while with the Mitchell Trio, and also performed it live by himself. Most performers follow Pete Seeger in mispronouncing the name. Max Boyce set stanzas from Gwalia Deserta to music as “When we walked to Merthyr Tydfil in the moonlight long ago”
Idris Davies died from abdominal cancer in 1953, aged 48.
- Gwalia Deserta (1938)
- The Angry Summer: A Poem of 1926 (1943) Faber and Faber
- Tonypandy and other poems (1945) Faber and Faber
- Selected Poems (1953)
- Collected Poems (1972) Gomerian Press
- Complete Poems (1994) edited by Dafydd Johnston
- A Carol for the Coalfield (2002)