Welsh Well Key to Poetic Riddle

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 6, 2003 | Go to article overview

Welsh Well Key to Poetic Riddle


Byline: Sarah Cade

THE mystery surrounding an obscure TS Eliot poem has eventually been solved after the object of his verse - a disused white well - was discovered in a small picturesque Welsh village.

The baffling poem, entitled Usk, was written in 1935 while the famous American poet was touring Wales.

But literary professors have struggled to understand the eleven lines of poetry which referred to a 'white hart' behind a 'white well'.

The line reads, 'Do not suddenly break the branch, or Hope to find the white hart behind the white well'.

Following research by a retired professor - and a sequence of coincidences - it is now believed that the white well is a disused holy well hidden in a hedge in the small rural village of Llangybi, in Monmouthshire.

Professor Philip Edwards, a former King Alfred Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool, sparked the hunt for the well while he was researching a book on pilgrimages in south Wales.

He said, 'We went to Usk to see if we could find the well and bumped into a man who later wrote to us saying a small broken-down old stone well had been found in Llangybi.

'We rushed down to see it and realised that it had once been whitewashed and was behind a pub called the White Hart Inn.'

Professor Edwards described the well which inspired Eliot as about four feet high, beehive shaped and made of stone.

He added this would once have been a place of pilgrimage as well as a local source of water.

Professor Edwards said the discovery threw light on the meaning of the 'short but baffling' poem.

'The poem is telling people not to look for miracles or believe in medieval tales, as real pilgrims and God himself can be found in the open air,' he said.

Village blacksmith Bob Morgan, 71, helped to solve the mystery and showed the professor the well.

He said, 'It was the village well but when the water supply came, it became disused. It has always been there.'

Debbie Lawrenson, the landlady of White Hart Inn, was shocked that the 'few old stones' 100 yards down the lane had any significance. …

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