Poem introduction

This poem is based roughly on how I learned to speak English with my father. It’s not entirely true, there are fictional parts in the poem, but it’s also based on the French Princess in Henry VI by Shakespeare, learning to speak English.

Welsh was the Mother Tongue



Welsh was the mother tongue, English was his.

He taught her the body by fetishist quiz,

father and daughter on the bottom stair;

‘Dy benelin yw elbow, dy wallt di yw hair,


chin yw dy en di, head yw dy ben.’

She promptly forgot, made him do it again.

Then he folded her dwrn and, calling it fist,

held it to show her knuckles and wrist.


‘Let’s keep it from Mam, as a special surprise.

Lips are gwefusau, llygaid are eyes.’

Each part he touched in their secret game

thrilled as she whispered its English name.


The mother was livid when she was told.

‘We agreed, no English till four years old!’

She listened upstairs, her head in a whirl.

Was it such a bad thing to be Daddy’s girl?

from Chaotic Angels: poems in English (Bloodaxe, 2005), © Gwyneth Lewis, 2005, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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Gwyneth Lewis

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