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Idris Davies

Idris Davies

The poet Idris Davies (1905-53) was born in Rhymney, Monmouthshire. After leaving school he worked underground in the local colliery. The colliery was closed following the 1926 General Strike and Davies trained as a teacher. He began writing poetry and several of his works were published during the 1930s in a variety of journals. His first volume of poems, 'Gwalia Deserta' (1938), focused on the impact of the inter-war depression on his native south Wales. A second volume, 'The Angry Summer' (1943) composed of one long poem which documented the experiences of the South Wales industrial communities during the 1926 General Strike.

He is among the most important working-class poets to have written in English. He wrote out of the experience of the mining communities of South Wales, chronicling life in Wales during the 'depression'. He was also a drinking partner of a young Dylan Thomas.

He studied by correspondence, having in 1926 decided to leave the pits after the failure of the General Strike. He wrote from a Socialist perspective.

He became a qualified teacher through courses at Loughborough College and the University of Nottingham. He took teaching posts in London, and then Wales, returning to Rhymney in 1947. His second collection was taken by T. S. Eliot for Faber and Faber (1945).

He is now known mostly for The Bells of Rhymney, a ballad on a mining accident on the pattern of the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons that was set to music by Pete Seeger, and became a folk rock standard. Many others also covered the Bells of Rhymney, including The Byrds, Jimmy Page, Judy Collins, Dick Gaughan, Cher, Robyn Hitchcock, and The Alarm. Also by Bob Dylan live, and Robin Williamson on an album of readings.

Idris Davies' final volume, 'Selected Poems', was published shortly before his death. Davies died from cancer in 1953, aged 48.

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