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  • By Rowland Hughes

A Valley Funeral

Men, uncomfortably well dressed in funeral black,

collars frayed, starched white, old shoes

thick with polish.

A woman pours tea into best china cups,

another empties the remnants of a second bottle

of elderberry wine into gold rimmed tumblers.

Outside in the street, women, wearing aprons

and head scarves, gather in stooped conversation.

Men shake hands with men and laugh about times past.

The Minister, Mr. Jenkins, is spotted, all gossip ends.

They move aside as he walks between them

like a fox through a cornfield.

He enters the house with slow reverence,

hair, grey and wild, eyes, deep sunk fiery blue,

warning those who dare question his faith.

He sniffs the air; cigarettes are quickly stubbed out

into chipped saucer ashtrays. Sad times, he says,

embracing the grief with a practiced frown.

A child giggles as Mr. Jenkins blows a trumpet sound

from his nose into an oversized handkerchief.

An added chesty cough is his cue for a medicinal glass

of elderberry wine, another for the cold weather,

and another, raised in toast to the departed.

I knew this man, he bellows, resting his palm on the coffin.

Mourners lower their heads as he splutters words

of Heaven and Hell. He speaks kindly of the deceased,

pausing to check the name engraved on a brass plate.

Hymns are sung as the coffin is passed through the window

to the men in black. And the child wonders why his granddad

sleeps in a box while a silly man pretends to know his name.

Rowland Hughes is a Welsh writer and poet. He was born, and lived until his late teens, in the Rhondda Valley, from where he still draws most of his inspiration. He worked as a Master Decorator and studied trades in the construction industry. He later became a Local Authority Assistant Surveyor. Due to ill health, he retired in 1997. In 1998, he joined a Cardiff University Creative Writing Group. He loves to observe people, places and nature, writing in bustling cafés and the confines of his writing shed.


Dec 19, 2022

'They move aside as he walks between them

like a fox through a cornfield.'

'embracing the grief with a practiced frown.'

That sting in the tail with each verse prepares us for the sting in the tail of the whole poem. A wonderfully well-observed tranche de vie. It gives a really good impression of Welsh working-class life. And is valuable not just as an excellent poem in its own right but as a social record. Without the over-emotional rhetoric of Dylan Thomas or the coldness or R.S.Thomas or the cruelty of Ted Hughes it says everything there is to be said with a matter-of-fact objectivity that makes these other poets seem like poseurs.

Dec 19, 2022
Replying to

Thank you John, that’s very kind of you.


Dec 19, 2022

I really enjoyed reading this poem. It has all the hallmarks of a carefully condensed short story, and everything is so clear and relevant and vivid, and recorded with more than a hint of real-life (Welsh) humour. I love the way Mr. Jenkins bellows: 'I knew this man', then checks the name on the brass plate. Well done, Rowland!

Dec 19, 2022
Replying to

Thank you so much Martin.

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