‘Nebach’ – Menna Elfyn

Llywydd PEN Cymru, Menna Elfyn, yn darllen ei cherdd, ‘Nebach’, ar gyfer Diwrnod Rhyngwladol Mamiaith 2021.

Wales PEN Cymru’s president, Menna Elfyn, reads her poem, ‘Nebach’, for International Mother Language Day 2021. See English translation below.


“So many of us have stood up for the marginalized, but never expected to be here ourselves” – Barbara Kingsolver

What I learned early on : bach = small is  small, smaller, smallest;

but who is the smallest of us all?

We thought it was us, the Welsh

‘appendage’, some relic or other

of England – sometimes  quipped  as Great Britain,

although miniscule on any map.


Welsh is the only language you learn

to be able to  talk  to fewer people,

said one spin doctor or the  journalist:

‘this useless language’, though she could not sound

even a  syllable from her small world.

Bigger, bigger, bigger is the curse that we hear.


These days, the small and smaller

are afoot, and we are with them

the smallest ones, dregs

whose hiraeth for hearth

wants a roof, eaves even, and blessings;

who crave, though they be small,

a feast, a dwelling, a plenitude ;

and we, like them, shy away

from those who sense the leaves on our lips.


After all, we Welsh were called strangers

once by our next door neighbours,

so we understand those on the move,

mumbling without the warmth of their mother tongue;

glasswort  on a faraway beach

every shard hitting rock

before it falls in the cauldron of tides.


Until the great power reconfigure their dictionaries:

as the diminiutive people:

small, small, the smallest nebbish:


a nobody, nebach—no lineage,

smaller than small

poor thing, say some as  they bid  adieu

to the  whisper of the tiniest  tribes and nations.


Before slipping  back to their huge world,

larger than ever,ever, ever.


  • Nebbish—Yiddish for poor thing; in Welsh neb- means nobody and ‘ach’ lineage or ‘relation’.
  • Bach in Welsh is also used as a term  for ‘ dear’.
  • The ‘ Welsh’ is a name bestowed on us by the English and derived from the Anglo –Saxon wilisc and morphed into Welsh—meaning foreigner / stranger.

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