Obituary: Pennar Davies
Stephens, Mele, The Independent (London, England)
Pennar Davies was among the most scholarly, religious, and passionate men to have written in the Welsh language during the 20th century. A prolific writer, he combined in his poetry and prose a polymathic command of language, theology, and psychology with a personal tenderness rooted in his Christian faith, which was by turns mystical and practical in its concern for human frailty and the world's suffering.
Whether in his delicately wrought love-poems or in his more contemplative novels and spiritual journals, he laid great emphasis on both eros and agape, endeavouring always to balance them in a richly complex whole by means of myth, symbol, and a sometimes labyrinthine erudition which few of his readers were able to penetrate without difficulty. There is much self-analysis in his prose works, often of an uncompromising kind and usually illuminative of the cultivated Christian mind under pressure from the barbarities of the modern world but ultimately finding equilibrium in the affirmation of traditional certainties.
William Thomas Davies was born, a miner's son, at Mountain Ash in the Cynon Valley in the old county of Glamorgan, in 1911. He took the name Pennar from Aberpennar, by which the town is known in Welsh, as a sign of his identification with the native culture of Wales. Using the pseudonym Davies Aberpennar, he wrote poems in both Welsh and English up to about 1948 but thereafter he chose Welsh, which he had learnt as a young man, as the medium for almost all his literary work. He was deeply committed to the Welsh language and it, together with his religious convictions, was the bedrock of his nationalism. During the 1970s, together with two other academics, Ned Thomas and Meredydd Evans, he cut off the power at Pencarreg television transmitter in a campaign for an improved Welsh-language service which led to the establishment in 1982 of S4C, the fourth channel which now broadcasts programmes in Welsh. Left-wing and pacifist in politics, he stood as Plaid Cymru candidate in the steel town of Llanelli at the General Elections of 1964 and 1966. He was an effective public speaker, though not averse to the loftier manner which his audiences and congregations came to expect of him as a leader of Welsh religious and political life. His winning of the Llanelli seat would have raised the intellectual debate in Wales by several notches above what it was during the 1960s, but it was not to be: he attracted only the more radical sections of the chapel vote and made little dent in the Labour majority. After a brilliant career at University College, Cardiff, where he graduated in Latin in 1932 and in English the year following, he went on to Balliol and Mansfield Colleges, Oxford, and then to Yale University, where he took his doctorate in 1943. In that year he married Rosemarie Woolff, a refugee from Nazi Germany, who promptly learnt Welsh and made it the language of their home. During the 1940s he was a member of the Cadwgan Group, a small circle of intellectuals who used to meet at the Rhondda home of J. …