Saunders Lewis

Saunders Lewis

Poet, novelist, dramatist, critic, politician and one of the founders of Plaid [Genedlaethol] Cymru, Saunders Lewis is one of Wales' leading literary and political icons, and can be considered a nationalist hero.

He was born John Saunders Lewis, into a Welsh-speaking family in Wallasey in 1893, and grew up among the Welsh community in Merseyside.

Lewis studied English and French at Liverpool University until the breakout of World War One, after which he served in the South Wales Borderers. After the end of the war Lewis returned to university and graduated in English.

In 1922 Lewis joined the University of Wales, Swansea as a lecturer in Welsh. Lewis' nationalism was heightened by his wartime experiences, and fighting with Irish soldiers in particular seemed to shape his ideas on the importance of Welsh identity.

In 1925 he joined other nationalists at a 1925 National Eisteddfod meeting with an aim to establishing a national party for Wales. Plaid [Genedlaethol] Cymru was established, of which Lewis was President from 1926 to 1939.

In 1936 in protest to a bombing school being established at Penyberth on the Llŷn Peninsula, Lewis along with DJ Williams and Lewis Valentine set the school alight, and claimed responsibility for the act of arson.

Lewis was dismissed from his post at Swansea University following the crime. The Penyberth Three were jailed for nine months at Wormwood Scrubs for the act, and afterwards Lewis worked as a journalist, teacher and school inspector. He returned to lecturing in 1952 at Cardiff and remained there until his retirement five years later.

Lewis' literary output was considerably varied. Whilst at his post at Swansea he published literary criticism such as A School of Welsh Augustans, Williams Pantycelyn, and Braslun o Hanes Llenyddiaeth Gymraeg (An Outline History of Welsh Literature), released in 1924, 1927 and 1932 respectively.

Lewis also wrote numerous articles and essays which were published in various magazines, newspapers and journals, and also published two novels: Monica (1930) and Merch Gwern Hywel (The daughter of Gwern Hywel) in 1964.

However, due the amount of plays he produced, Lewis was above all a dramatist. Of note are; The Eve of St John (1924), Blodeuwedd (The Woman of Flowers) (1923-25, revised 1948), Siwan (1956), Brad (Treachery) (1958), and Cymru Fydd (Tomorrow's Wales) (1967). In 1970, Lewis was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In 1962 Lewis gave a lecture on BBC radio entitled Tynged Yr Iaith (The Fate of the Language). In this speech Lewis predicted the extinction of the Welsh language and declared that the language would die unless revolutionary methods were used to defend it. A result of the lecture led to the foundation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society).

Saunders Lewis died in September 1985 at the age of 91.

Selected bibliography

  • Blodeuwedd (The Woman of Flowers) (1923-25, revised 1948)
  • Monica (1930)
  • Brad (Treachery) (1958)
  • Merch Gwern Hywel (The Daughter of Gwern Hywel) (1964)
  • Cymru Fydd (Tomorrow's Wales) (1967)

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