Idris Davies: Welshman, miner, and remarkable poet

Collections - Posted 03-04-2023

April 6th, 2023 marks 70 years since the death of Welsh poet Idris Davies in 1953. He became a poet of great knowledge and skill, and his work is known for its unflinching honesty of a period of hardship and change in Rhymney, South Wales in the 1920s and between two World Wars. Though this is the theme that he is mostly known for, Davies also gained repute in discussing war, politics, and faith in his works, with Dylan Thomas and T.S. Eliot among his admirers.

Born on 6th January 1905 in Rhymney, Davies was the son of a Welsh-speaking colliery winderman, Evan, and his wife Elizabeth Ann. Like countless other young boys at this time, Davies left school at 14 to work as a miner in the Abertysswg and Rhymney Mardy Pits, like his father. The claustrophobic and stifling conditions of the pits are brought to life in Davies’ notes and memoirs, including describing how he lost part of his middle finger in an accident in an almost detached, matter-of-fact manner.



NLW MS 10811D, poetry by Idris Davies (1920s-?1953)


The danger the men faced every day down in the mines was something that Davies began to get grimly accustomed to, and yet more hardship was to come. The General Strike of 1926 and a long period of unemployment for Davies and his fellow miners fuelled his deep-rooted anger due to the grossly unfair and iron-fisted treatment of the miners, and is felt throughout his poetry. It was this anger and contempt that was to become one of Davies’ main qualities in his work.

Yet throughout this unflinching poetic representation of South Wales life in the early 20th century also came through a stoic sense of pride in ‘his’ Rhymney, and indeed of Wales as his homeland. He used poems such as Gwalia Deserta (NLW MS 22399C) as an ode to the gwerin to not only highlight the betrayals suffered by the people of South Wales but also their hopes, with great effect.



NLW MS 10811D, poetry by Idris Davies (1920s-?1953)


Idris Davies’ work continues to stand as a testament to yet another of Wales’s great poets, although it is fair to say he has not always received the praise he deserved, especially during his lifetime. The National Library of Wales is fortunate to hold many of his notes, diaries, and works; his notes and diaries (NLW MS 22402B, NLW MS 22414C) give a special insight into the mind of Davies from a different perspective and portray a deeply thoughtful and sometimes sensitive approach to life. His years and suffering as a miner shaped his love and appreciation for simplicity itself, such as fresh air and sunlight. This is felt most keenly in his gentle reflection on death in Request:

‘Scatter my dust on the moorland

Where I dreamed my boyhood’s dreams,

Where the reeds are, and the curlews,

And the quiet springs and streams.’


Idris Davies items held at the National Library of Wales can be browsed here in our Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue.



Jenkins, Islwyn (1986), Idris Davies of Rhymney: a personal memoir / by Islwyn Jenkins. Llandysul: Gomer.

Jenkins, I. & Black, C. (1990) Idris Davies: Bardd Cwm Rhymni = Idris Davies : Rhymney valley poet. Cardiff: HTV Cymru Wales Community Education Department.

Islwyn Jenkins, 2001,  DAVIES, IDRIS (1905 – 1953), miner, schoolmaster and poet.


Ceri Evans

Trainee Archivist


This blog is also available in Welsh.

Comments are closed.




About this blog

A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

About the blog