Twm Siôn Cati 

A man of resource and a thief well-famed
Tregaron my home, Twm Siôn Cati my name
Your horses and cattle are all of my game
But rich and respected I’ll die, just the same

In an ironmonger’s shop in Llandovery fair
A fancy I took to a porridge pot there
Said the man “Oh, I have three of the best”
And one I admired above all of the rest

But before I ventured to lay money down
I examined the pot above and around
“Oh no, my good man, this won’t do for me:
There’s a hole in this pot as you plainly may see.”

He peeked in the pot, said “Your pardon I crave,
But no hole can I find, as I hope to be saved.”
“If you put in your head, you’ll see it quite plain…”
So he put in his head and tried once again.

But the man had such brains, his head hardly would fit
So I rammed the pot down, meaning but to assist:
The while that he struggled to free himself there
I tiptoed away with the other pair.

But as I departed, my pots in my hand,
Some advice I gave, as I left him to stand:
“Indeed, there’s a hole, for if there were not,
However could you put your head in the pot?

A story from George Borrow’s ‘Wild Wales’ about “the Welsh Robin Hood”, though Borrow didn’t seem to like him very much. Samuel Rush Meyrick tells a rather different version of the same story in ‘The History of Cardiganshire’ (1907). I wrote this at some point in the 70s, but haven’t put a tune to it so far.

(c) David Harley


  1. After The Ball

After the celebrations
We found your bed and
Tipsily but enthusiastically
Redefined our bodies
And extended our personal space

We restructured our histories
Formulating new interpretations
Of riddles older than Nostradamus
Or the Rosetta Stone

Older, perhaps
Than love


  1. Afterwards

Darkness descends upon us
A warm cloak
Of soft-woven slumber

Ghostly spinners
In Disneyland turrets
Watch the joyless minuet
Of the bobbins

To the grating polyphony
Of the wheels

Dust settles
On stone flags


  1. Valkyrié

Far into New Year’s Day
The burnt-in end of the morning
Is force-fed into my vision

I hear you bustle listlessly in the kitchen
As I huddle beneath suddenly-thin blankets
Tracing another footprint on the infinitely slippery slope
From oblivion to obliteration

From shawl to shawl to shroud

One year further from Christ
And closer to Armageddon

Later I walk back alone
To my bedsit Valhalla

O but the winds bite fiercer this year
Gnawing through muscle ever closer to the bone

O but the thermometer is falsely cheerful

The calendar quotes with cruel precision
52 weeks progress from snowfall to snowfall

I have no time to accommodate the encroachment of middle age
I need time to decide what to be when I grow up

For now, I fill the kettle
And hope against hope for your phone-call

(c) 1986 David Harley

Paradigms Lost

Since today is the Feast of Stephen, here’s a slightly different take on that walk in the snow.

Paradigms Lost

Moderately Good King Wenceslas
being a Free-Thinker
and not altogether sober
was stirred, but not shaken
at finding himself tripping
over the tangled feet of the Drunk
at his castle gates:

nor was he deaf
to the cry for pity
hanging in the frosty luminance
of a Bohemian night.

He was too humble
too weighed down
by his own sins and sensibilities
to offer his own meagre competence

So he called the Samaritans
(but the line was engaged)
so he called the police
(but they were out at a crime)
so he called the Council
and when he went out the next morning
the pavement was vacant.

Much later
with becoming humility
he breached the Gates of Eden
but was pronounced

Dead on Arrival.


Copyright David Harley 1980

Two Election Poems

In all my years – and there are a lot of them – I can’t remember an election where the lines between Us and Them were drawn so clearly. But the fault lines were always there, in my mind at least…

General Election 1992

Wearily, warily
picking paths across the polluted airwaves
our aspirant masters resquare the circle
making very clear
what they have already made perfectly clear

a last desperate loudspeaker
grates up from the street
calling the faithful to vote

Katie, aged 2 and 1/3
cuts through the evening’s recycled waffle
with the tersest political commentary of the day

“People shoutin’….”

[My daughter showed an early knack for turning exactly the right phrase. I remember her coming home from nursery, having been told there that there was a dinosaur exhibition at Alexandra Palace, and telling us “There are dinosaurs at Buckingham Palace.” Out of the mouths of babes…]

First published in Vertical Images Volume 10, 1995
Copyright David Harley 1992

Sleight of Hand

When I walk the high-wire,wobbling and wavering
as only the iron-nerved and stone-hearted can,
you giggle at my meticulous ineptitude
and gasp to my orchestration
as I threaten to fall:
but my safety-net is constructed
to rigorous specifications
and the highest standards
your money can buy.

Behind the motley
you fail to recognize
my other public faces: why should you recall the face
of the ticket-seller who allocated your seats?

If I cared,
I could place you
anywhere that suited my whim,
but seldom do such facile conjurations
distract me from my larger schemes.

Not for me, now, the commissionaire-crimson
of the Master-of-Ceremonies:
at present I prefer the red nose
and custard-pie-proof guise of the buffoon
while you gangle-dangle to any tune
I care to have you play.

Your names are of no significance:
your numbers are arbitrarily assigned
for my convenience.
Your individualities
are no concern of mine
and I deny your right to an opinion
that doesn’t conform to my programme
(which I passed among you to offer for sale
as though you had some option of non-acceptance).

I give you your reward:
I set my foot gingerly.

The wire trembles, and the breath clogs in your throats.

I stick out my tongue. You laugh,
confirming my contempt.

I scream ‘Fire!’
and you smother the flames with your bodies
while I rattle the matches in my pocket,
unheard above the martial music.

I allow you crumbs and spectacle.
You give me gold and obedience.


First published in ‘Poems for Hastings’, published 1986 by New Hope International. Copyright David Harley 1983.