Jones, Richard Lewis [Dic] (19342009), farmer and Welsh-language poet, was born on 30 March 1934, the younger son of Alban (Abba) Lewis Jones and his wife, Frances Louisa, née Isaac, at Penygraig, Tre'r-ddôl, Cardiganshire. He was raised on his parents' farm at Tanyreglwys, Blaen-porth, Cardiganshire, along with his brother, Goronwy, and younger sisters, Rhiannon, Margaret, and Mary, all of whom inherited their father's love of music and performing.
Dic Jones (as he was always known) attended Blaen-porth primary school and Cardigan grammar school, neither of which left any lasting impression on him, no more, by his own wry admission, than he left on them. More influential was the local Young Farmers' Club where he discovered that banter delivered in metre and rhyme could often occasion laughter and applause, and he would, throughout his life, thrive on the kind of public approbation that poetry enjoys in Wales. The other great early influence was Aelwyd Aber-porth, the local branch of Urdd Gobaith Cymru (Wales League of Youth), especially the Aelwyd's preparations for eisteddfodau, those festivals where literature, music, and dance are as much social cohesives as they are cultural pursuits. Instrumental in the Aelwyd's successes were the Revd and Mrs Tegryn Davies, and it was to Tegryn Davies that Jones showed his earliest poetic efforts, four-line verses which mimicked the stanza forms he had discovered in the poetry column of the local newspaper, the Cardigan and Tivy-side Advertiser.
Among the column's regular contributors was Alun Jeremiah Jones of Cilie, the farm above Cwmtydu, which seemed to produce poets and crops in equally bountiful measure. Alun Cilie would eventually become Dic's mentor and introduce him to the local beirdd gwlad (country poets), for whom poetry was a means of entertainment and useful service, as they recorded the comings and goings of everyday rural life in well-crafted, popular verses. Unofficial biographers of their communities, they were of the people and revered by the people. It became apparent to this circle, which included the celebrated national author T. Llew Jones, that Dic Jones was more than just a casual inheritor of this tradition. Indeed he too would soon rise to national prominence by winning the bardic chair (the premier poetry prize) at the Urdd National Eisteddfod in 1954, a feat he would repeat on no fewer than four occasions. In 1956 he began to till the soil of Yr Hendre, the farm in Blaenannerch, near Aber-porth, with which he became synonymous. Three years later he sealed his other great life partnership when on 31 January 1959 he married a fellow Aelwyd member, Sylvia Jean (Siân) Jones (b. 1938), at Aber-porth Calvinistic Methodist Chapel. She was the daughter of David John Jones, farmer.
In 1960 Jones's first collection of poems, Agor Grwn (Ploughing a furrow), showcased the subjects and verse forms that would become his poetic trademarks for almost half a century. As well as sonnets and lyrics there were the poems in cynghanedd, that uniquely Welsh verse form which uses corresponding patterns of alliteration and rhyme to embody and reinforce meaning. Literally meaning harmony, it is a technically demanding form, but few have mastered its complexities, have understood its music, and have made it sound quite as unforced and idiomatic as Dic Jones. His poems were also accessible in terms of style and subject matter, celebrating the people and way of life of his rural community and the cycle of the agricultural seasons he knew so well.
In 1966 Jones was awarded the highest accolade that a cynghanedd poet can aspire to, namely the chair at the National Eisteddfod proper, with his winning poem Cynhaeaf (Harvest) being hailed unanimously as one of the greatest Welsh-language poems of the twentieth century. He was also the first farmer ever to win this award and was subsequently elevated to the status of folk hero, a celebrity in demand nationwide on radio and television and in the flesh, his rugged charm and ready wit making him a charismatic public presence.
Ten years later, in August 1976, the National Eisteddfod came to Cardigan, and Jones had his sights set on another chair. It was not to be, however. He did submit a poem for the competition, and it was adjudged the bestbut he was not chaired. It transpired that, as he was a member of the local literature committee, he had not actually been eligible to enter. An almighty media furore ensued. Little wonder that his 1978 collection of poems (his first for a decade) was entitled Storom Awst (August storm). It was not long, however, before that storm was put into perspective. It was at home at Yr Hendre, after all, that Jones was happiest, in the company of Siân and the children, Delyth, Rhian, Dafydd, and Brychan. In October 1980 Siân gave birth to twins, Tristan and Esyllt. But the family's initial joy turned to despair just over three months later when Esyllt, suffering from Down's syndrome, died. Jones would later admit that he was found wanting in his response to his baby daughter's condition and to her subsequent death, but these tragic events did eventually inspire some of the most poignantly philosophical elegies ever written in the Welsh language, notably Galarnad (Lament) and Miserere, both published in Sgubo'r Storws (Sweeping the storehouse) in 1988.
Also in 1988 Jones, ever the diversifier, accepted an invitation to contribute a column to the current affairs magazine Golwg (View), a column whose idiosyncratic (yet ultimately common sense) wit and wisdom was widely regarded as the publication's weekly highlight. Many of these essays were subsequently published alongside a selection of his latest poems in Golwg Arall (Another view) in 2001, a volume rich in paradox, satire, and playful cynicism, but still resonant with Jones's essential and authoritative poetic voice, that of the lyrical epigrammatist. This was also apparent in his last two poetry collections, Golwg ar Gân (View of song) in 2002 and Cadw Golwg (Keeping an eye) in 2005, both of which reprised the column's poetic responses to the news of the day.
Ultimately Dic Jones's poetry was a celebration of the rituals and rigours of rural life, and of the ties that bind man to both his environment and his fellow man. Never sentimental or self-indulgently nostalgic, his poems were suffused with an uncomplicated and uplifting stoicism, born of an old-world wisdom complemented by a keen interest in all things contemporary. Although a bardd gwlad, he was no parochial poet. Such was his incisiveness and humanity that his poems transcended the occasion of their writing in a refreshingly modest and unselfconscious way. They were the work of a man who understood, and was comfortable with, his place in the order of things.
Such was the esteem in which he was held in Wales, as both a poet and a public figure, that in 2008 Jones was elected archdruid of Wales, the ceremonial figurehead of the National Eisteddfod's Gorsedd of Bards, again being the first farmer to be accorded this honour. Sadly he would only serve one year of his term because, after a long illness, he died of cancer of the pancreas at his home, Yr Hendre, on 18 August 2009. He was survived by Siân and five of their children. He was buried at Blaenannerch chapel four days later and a memorial service was held in his honour at a packed Tabernacle Chapel in Cardigan on 5 September 2009, during which the Blaen-porth Male Voice Choir, a choir which Jones's father had founded in 1947, and of which Jones himself had been a lifelong member, sang his translation of The Last Words of David.
Ceri Wyn Jones
D. Jones, Os hoffech wybod (1989) · South Wales Evening Post (19 Aug 2009); (26 Aug 2009) · The Independent (21 Aug 2009) · Daily Telegraph (1 Sept 2009) · The Guardian (3 Sept 2009) · Carmarthen Journal (23 Sept 2009); (15 Sept 2010) · D. Jones, Cerddi Dic yr Hendre, ed. C. W. Jones (2010) · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.
BL NSA, interview recording
BL NSA, performance recordings
Wealth at death
£498,241: probate, 25 Nov 2009, CGPLA Eng. & Wales