The Language of Heaven

Welsh, as we know, is the Language of Heaven.

The idea of being closer to Heaven has long preoccupied man’s thoughts, and without getting into any ideology about where exactly Heaven is, it’s generally regarded as being ‘up there’, and thus it plays its part in the Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) story.

In the past, services have on occasion been held at the summit, and hymns sung. And even today I feel sure that many a prayer is silently said. On a nice day, to some the summit is Heaven.

When Hafod Eryri, the building at on Yr Wyddfa’s summit, was completed in 2009, replacing the earlier building, it had words carved on it by the entrance (the Welsh comes first, naturally).

Copa’r Wyddfa:                               The summit of Snowdon:
Yr ydych chi, yma,                           Here, you are
Yn nes at y nefoedd.                       nearer to heaven

Thomas’ words engraved in granite by the entrance to Hafod Eryri

Gwyn Thomas, the Gwynedd-born National Poet of Wales at the time, was commissioned for £500 to write a poem for the new building, and the words above come from the first stanza. The whole poem, entitled Cerddi’r Wyddfa (‘Odes to Snowdon’), originally had 8 stanzas, but only the first five were used, and these are etched on the large west-facing ‘whispering windows’ of Hafod Eryri, in both Welsh and English.

The initial sentiment is not entirely original; several accounts of ascending Snowdon, published in the 1830s and 1840s, contain the quote “Yn nes i’r nen, ac uwch ben byd” (“Nearer to heaven, and above the world”) though the original writer remains anonymous.

With the closure of Hafod Eryri for three seasons (initially due to Covid, then its knock-on effect on track maintenance near the summit) the words of the full poem have not been seen for years. Many see the metal shutters over the windows and aren’t aware that Thomas’ words are there; many who have been inside will have forgotten that his words are there.

Here are the 5 stanzas which are etched on the windows (the English is not a fully literal translation):

Copa’r Wyddfa:                                The summit of Snowdon:
Yr ydych chwi, yma,                        Here, you are
Yn nes at y nefoedd.                       nearer to Heaven.

Y mae aeonau o greu                     The rocks record
Yn y creigiau hyn.                             the aeons of creation

Ein tasg ni ydi                                       It’s our duty
Gwarchod y gogoniant hwn.       to guard this glory.

Edrychwch a gwelwch                    Here you will see
Ryferthwy a heddwch                     tempests and tranquility

O’n cwmpas ni y mae                      All around us
Camp a gwae                                       are the grandeur and the anguish
Hen, hen genedl.                               of an old, old nation

When commisssioned, it was not known where inside the finished building the poem would go, but with 10 windows, the first 5 stanzas were selected to be displayed twice. (The 3 final stanzas were dropped but were, it must be said, a little unnecessarily nationalistic). It will be great to see Thomas’ words back for general viewing when Hafod Eryri reopens in 2023.

This is not the only Welsh at the summit, though. On the ground on the east (summit) side of Hafod Eryri is an easily-missed, faded small bilingual plaque, recording its opening in 2009 by First Minister Rhodri Morgan. The Gwenllian plaque by the summit is also bilingual, as is the brass toposcope on the summit pillar itself; aside from place names, it also states that it was built in 2000, and that the toposcope itself was designed by the University of Bangor.

By the way, the Welsh language at the summit is not without precedent. A slate plaque in the former (1930s) building carried the following couplet: Grwydryn, aros ennyd; ystyra ryfeddol waith Duw a’th daith fer ar y ddaear hon. – (‘Wanderer, wait a moment; consider God’s wondrous work and your short journey on this earth.’)  I’m not sure that I don’t prefer that. I wonder what happened to that plaque?

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