Over known fields with an old friend in dream
I walked, but came sudden to a strange stream
Its dark waters were bursting out most bright
From a great mountain's heart into the light.
They ran a short course under the sun, then back
Into a pit they plunged, once more as black
As at their birth: and I stood thinking there
How white, had the day shone on them, they were,
Heaving and coiling. So by the roar and hiss
And by the mighty motion of the abyss
I was bemused, that I forgot my friend
And neither saw nor sought him till the end,
When I awoke from waters unto men
Saying: "I shall be here some day again."
ET wrote A Dream in early July 1915 a day or so before enlisting with the Artists Rifles - or as he describes it to Robert Frost "..I took the King's shilling.". In the same letter of 22nd July he writes; "A month or two (ago) I dreamt we were walking near Ledington but we lost one another in a strange place & I woke saying to myself 'somehow, some day I shall be here again' which I made the last line of some verses."
Ledington close to Dymock on Gloucestershire/Herefordshire border was very familiar to
both Frost and ET. It was where they had forged their friendship the previous year. The Frosts lived there for most of 1914 and ET visited them alone or with his family four times, including taking a house for an extended summer holidays a couple of fields away from the Frosts' house at Little Iddens. Frost and ET walked and talked continuously as described in "The sun used to shine", through this domesticated landscape. The sleepy, muddy Leadon river winds slowly between its tree bound banks through fields. In ET's days there were more orchards and pastures, nowadays much more arable. May Hill (which he visited again in June 1915 before enlisting) and the Malvern hills are discreet though always noticeable presences and would often be the outward destinations of their walks.
The strange stream that ET then encounters in his dream is in a very different landscape. As Edna Longley has pointed out there is a distinct Colridgean influence with the stream a smaller version of the river Alph in Kubla Khan. The poem's title reflects the subtitle of Kubla Khan "or a vision in a dream. A fragment" There is also a distinct Welsh feel to the changed landscape, where the poet finds himself. ET had an extensive knowledge and deep love of Welsh rivers from childhood onwards. He writes about many of them in the introductory chapter of Beautiful Wales in 1906.
One candidate for the stream is the Upper Neath. In his short prose piece Penderyn he describes a walk he did up the upper stretches of the river in 1914 on his last visit to Wales. It's in view of the southern side of the Brecknock (Brecon) Beacons (a "chair-like mountain") and he walks towards them, then crosses the young Neath and Fellte before turning south to the village of Penderyn.
In the piece he talks of the Upper Neath "the river, fresh from a waterfall, poured out into the light under ash trees" and "in one place ran underground, and in another danced down a quarter of a mile of cascades white as milk". This was his first visit to this area and it obviously made a deep impression, both in its wildness but also the signs of man encroaching whether a colliery with chimney smoking, tram lines, quarry, graveyard, pub and chapel. He concludes his piece "So that evening the name (Penderyn) was still pure music, perhaps more earthly than before, more definitely mountainous, perhaps the sweetest place name in the world."
Another candidate for the strange river is the resurgence of the River Loughor.
This occurs at the eye of the Loughor where a torrent issues into a pool from an extensive limestone cave system including a vast underground lake under the western side of the Black Mountain (to the west of the Brecons). It's nearly in sight of Carreg Cennen, one of ET's favourite ruined castles. In Beautiful Wales he describes the Loughor as a river "whose voice is bright in constant shadow". ET's outline of the original idea of the poem in field note book 70 includes "waking from dream of deep pool. Full of water revolving & plunging - dream of Frost too & walk to this". This seems to make the Loughor the more probable of the two, though, as in other poems, ET could produce composites drawing from a number of places.
The unsettling feeling the poet has in this changed landscape is heightened by the snake-like description he uses - "heaving & coiling" "hiss" giving a sense of almost something inhuman coming out of and returning to a lair.
A walk to the source of the Loughor
A Dream can be used as a starting point for several walks around Ledington in Gloucestershire and in Wales. The Penderyn walk is still much as ET would have experienced it and it will appear on another blog. For A Dream I have chosen a walk to find the source of the Loughor.
I came to it after mistakenly following a lead to the source of the Loughor which had led me via an unsigned footpath into a boggy morass under the hills just to the west of Dre-fach.
The footpath had been blocked, diverted and then disappeared and, determined not to retrace my steps I had ploughed on detecting various oozing puddles as the possible source of the Loughor. Struggling out of the bog I completed the round trespassing down a stream through rolling pastures opposite the quarries of Carreg dwfn.
The actual source is much clearer and you can reach it in a couple of ways. Either you can start from the ruined castle Carreg Cennen and following the footpath that runs southwards down to the stream of the Nant Llygad Llwchwr back up to the "eye of the Loughor". Or you can start on the moorland road about two miles from the village of Trapp in Carmarthenshire which was the route I ended up doing.
Starting on the moorland road, a clear path goes over the moorland past a very deep shake hole with ash, sycamore and oak growing in and round it. The stream can be heard below as
the path proceeds steeply down. Where it reaches the stream there's a fence with signposts warning of danger and official hand-washing for anyone attempting caving. Climbing over the fence, the path beyond is muddy, slippery and somewhat precarious, but it's worth the effort as you arrive at the turbulent pool under a limestone cliff from which a torrent issues. The pool is shadowed by alders, willow and ash, and gushes through a gap in the rock, splitting almost immediately into three streams. Two come back together as they head north towards Carreg Cennen in the form of the Nant Llygad Llwchwr. The third splits permanently becoming the Loughor, a very rare geographic phenomenon known as a divergence. The Nant Lygad Llwchwr joins the Cennen, a couple of miles downstream at the old castle, which then flows into the Towy, which goes down to Carmarthen and the sea. The Loughor goes on a shorter journey to the sea, through Ammanford and Pontardulais, two towns ET knew well from childhood onwards where he had stayed for many summer holidays with relatives.
Turning back to the source of these two rivers, the water that comes out of "the Eye of the Loughor" has been traced from as far away as four miles at Herbert's quarry on the A4069, high on the Black Mountain. The water in this huge catchment area then passes through the extensive limestone cave system, which has four magnificent river caves which can be entered from above. Other more remote parts can be only reached by diving. ET never entered the caves, as far as we know, but he would probably have known of their existence - the first recorded exploration had occurred in 1841 by Thomas Jenkins. Assuming he had known of these "caverns measureless to man", then the source of inspiration for A Dream becomes even clearer.
Returning to the stream if you follow the right hand smaller one along a path through rocky sheep pasture and woodland it meets the middle one again that has undulated through a marshy bog. Ash, alders and oak predominate. The combined stream, the Nant Llygad Llwchwr, now quite a torrent, crosses a field and then heads down through woodland towards the ruin of Carreg Cennen. Crossing at a ford, you can see the castle ruin perched precariously on its ridge - in mist it looks only a little more substantial than a cloud castle, a phenomenon which ET was always quick to observe and jot down in his FNBs.
Retracing one's steps back past the flocks
of sheep in the rough green pastures beneath the moor, one can feel the light touch of the pastoralist on the wild landscape, which enhances its beauty. This beauty, combined with the resurgence, the multiple streams and the fairy-tale ruin, creates a magical place which seems to have endured long in ET's memory and subconscious.
Here are grid references and maps for walks to the source of the Loughor and Carreg Cennen:
Starting point on moorland road OS SN 671 177
The eye of the Loughor Grid 66900 17820
Carreg Cennen castle OS SN668 191
OS Explorers OL12, 178, 186 (yes annoyingly the walk is on the intersection of 3 OS maps!)
A good alternative is to download the map and excellent guide from the Discover Carmarthenshire website:
Other Black Mountain and Carmarthenshire walk will appear in later blogs.