Harri Webb – The poet, prolific journalist, public speaker and Republican, who focused his articulate attention on the glories, particularities and plight of his nation
He began his career with The Republicans, a small group who enlivened the Welsh political scene of the 1950s by the burning of Union Flags in the towns of South Wales. After the movement’s demise in 1959, Webb was for a while a member of the Labour Party, but then – appalled by its attitude on the question of self-government for Wales – he joined Plaid Cymru. He edited the party’s newspaper and stood as its candidate at Pontypool in the general election of 1970.
He was a vivid platform speaker, reserving his most scathing invective for his erstwhile comrades in the Welsh Labour Party, though capable of being equally trenchant about Plaid Cymru when he thought it was failing to give a lead as a movement of national liberation, as at the time of the drowning of the Tryweryn Valley after the building of a reservoir by Liverpool Corporation.
Born into a working-class home in the docklands of Swansea in 1920, Harri Webb was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read medieval and modern languages, specialising in French and Spanish. In 1941 he joined the Navy and served as an interpreter with the Free French in the Mediterranean, and also saw action in the North Atlantic, an experience which was to affect his nervous make-up.
Few poets in recent times have achieved the popularity of Harri Webb. Shortly after the opening of the Severn Bridge in 1966, Webb’s “ode” to the new edifice was to be heard quoted widely throughout South Wales: Two lands at last connected Across the waters wide, And all the tolls collected On the English side.
While living in Merthyr Tydfil he was associated with Meic Stephens in the launching of Poetry Wales and they shared an interest in the writing of topical songs and patriotic ballads.
Webb wrote mostly in English, but another of his poems, in Welsh, “Colli Iaith” (“Losing a Language”), exquisitely rendered by the folk singer Heather Jones, became that rare thing – a song by a living poet that was generally thought to be traditional. .
Among his books were an account of the Merthyr Rising of 1831, published in 1956, a volume of stories for children based on the Mabinogion tales (1984), and a number of television scripts, including “How Green Was My Father” (1976). He also translated Pablo Neruda’s epic poem “Alturas de Machu Picchu” into elegantly flowing Welsh, achieving that “sonorous utterance” that was also his aim as both poet and public speaker. The social condition of Wales was the “one theme, one preoccupation” of all his writing, though he set it in a broad frame of cultural allusion and contemporary significance.
Harri Webb, poet: born Swansea 7 September 1920; died Swansea 31 December 1994.
Taken from MEIC STEPHENS’ obituary of Harri Webb, Tuesday, 3 January 1995
Harri Webb’s biography and a fantastic poster of the Anglomaniacs Anthem are available from Y Lolfa Publishers.
The following are a two brief tastes of Harri Webbs early political writing for Welsh Republican Newspaper
Tory War on Wales
As England’s Empire staggers to its doom, the Tory Government unleashes war on Wales. The flashy façade of post-war prosperity is cracking under hammer blows. Young Welshmen are conscripted, not for the defense of Wales, which would be acceptable band indeed desirable, but to spend their lives in propping up a disappearing Empire, which is intolerable.
Slaughter abroad and starvation at home – the Tories have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. But the people of Wales have not forgotten either, and have learnt plenty.
All those evils befall a nation which has not got control over its own affairs. There is no government elected by the people of Wales. Those in the Labour Movement who have set their faces against Welsh Self-Government have a heavy load pressing on their consciences. The time is ripe for a great surge forward of progressive opinion, such as Wales has seen so many times in the past, and we are confident that under the new pressure of circumstances, the people of Wales will at last take the right road and decisive step.
There is only one solution for the predicament into which we have been delivered by bad leadership and bad faith: the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Wales.
Harri Webb, The Welsh Republican, 1955
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The English Monarchy – Symbol of Welsh Subjection
Why are Welsh Republicans so Republican? What have they got against teh English crown so much? All true patriots will know the answer. Those who can remember the days (not long ago) when news reels showing English royalty were booed off the screen up and down the Valleys will know too. But a lot of filth has poured from the sewers of Fleet Street since then, and arguments in favour of this alien monarchy have found favour with some in Wales.
First their is the political argument: the Crown as the symdol of “Empire Unity”. In other words, the symbol of exploitation of defenseless races, military heroism of the Imaili band, and, underlying all the financial ramifications of the City of London. Wales can have no part in this “Unity” of flies in a cobweb. A clean break must be made.
Then there is the Social Argument: the Crown as the symbol of ‘National Stability’. First question: Whose Nation? And wouldn’t it be truer to say that the Crown i the fount of all flunkeyism, snobbery, debutantism, ‘honours’ , and all other such highly coloured sauces as disguise the sinking fish of England’s social decadence? What has Wales, the People’s Nation to do with all this mummery?
Most recently there has been the psychological argument. We are asked to swallow the political and social implications of of the Crown for ist ‘deeper’ values in these days of ‘insecurity’ and so forth. The newest argument is at least relevant to all to Wales, quite apart from the way Royalist mysticism sometimes verges on the blasphemous. Wales has no need of reassurance from a set of jeweled baubles and newsreel puppets. She stands firm on the rock of national popular accomplishment. We are not servile Cockneys who blazon ‘poor but loyal’ across their slums for a royal occasion. Wales was a proud nation before the Saxon and his kings had shambled up from the slime of their swamps. And the Republic that is to come will stand secure on the achievements of the Welsh People when history has swept the tinsel trappings of English Monarchy into the Gutter.
Harri Webb, The Welsh Republican, 1952
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