Blog

During each residency, guests will publish blog entries through which the interested public will be able to track their journey through the locations included in the project.

Morgan Owen: Mljet: isolation and de-isolation / Mljet: ynysu a dad-ynysu

What I noticed that first morning, other than the silence, was the smell of pine, earthy and bright, and the scent of the roads’ dust, like maple sap, somehow – sweet and darkly rich. And of course, the smell of the sea, and the lack of city smog. The light came through the window’s slats with an unexpected suddenness; I watched the room become lighter by the second as the rim of the sun rose over Pomena. The reddish stripes on the wall didn’t last long; the new day had begun. Before I could rouse myself fully from my sleep, it dawned on me that I was abroad, alone, with time stretching ahead of me, and freedom to use it how I wished. There was nobody else at my end of the island, so I was truly apart in a way that I hadn’t been for a long time. I looked over the water towards the European mainland, and then I ventured into the trees. 

*

This was my first travel abroad not only since the pandemic but for many years, so the journey was doubly significant. As one might have expected, there was excitement mingled with a shadow of nervousness, but also an uncommon awareness of the act of travelling itself. Everything was as though it were new to me, from arriving at the airport, to flying, to being among languages other than Welsh or English, to setting foot in a country I’d never visited before. I was reminded of a dream I had at the beginning of my teenage years, which has stuck resolutely in my memory: I was walking by myself along the main street of some Central European city, which might have been in Germany, or possibly Poland, and I felt in all its exaltation the condition of the traveller, which is to be nobody. But it must be remembered that ‘nobody’ in Welsh (neb) can mean both ‘somebody’ and ‘nobody’. A useful word whose extreme ambiguity is perfect for the traveller’s purposes, who is a stranger but also an incarnation, to others, of somewhere else. It’s difficult for me to explain the feeling I had in that dream correctly, as talk of such strangeness – or stranger-ness – is bound to suggest unpleasantness, but it was wonderful. You have to feel that strangeness before you can draw near; you must experience the space between yourself and others before you can cross over to meet them truly. As I boarded the plane, and as the familiar land receded into the distance and the night, I had that feeling again, but I was not waking from the dream: I woke to it.

*

I only had a few books with me, mainly because of the lack of room in my case, but also by design, to an extent. My aim was to respond to a new place with new words, to think differently. For six months I hadn’t written as much as a single poem, feeling like I was turning in circles by responding to the same places and the same experiences in the same way. Better to say nothing than to have your words turn to stone. But on the island, as I walked through the groves and the villages, along the lakes and the shore, over the hills and the crags, I would come to a sudden stop to write down a poem – sometimes a few lines, sometimes whole pages of untidy, charged writing. I saw plenty to inspire me, and as the act writing was coterminous with the experience, there was no time to ruminate or philosophise or lapse into the past: this was synchronous creation. Direct interpretation. I filled the pages in my notebook, enough to for a whole volume, and all of it unified in time in space. It was a way for me to step out of my past, too, and not temporarily, as though I were self-isolating from it. Mljet’s newness to me was the medium of observation – true observation. Everything is always in motion, and you have to breathe, look and listen deeply at everything around you to understand that. On the heap of stones, look: a capricious map of lichen; see the lizards sunbathe, see the stones’ texture in the slant afternoon sun, see the pine needles blown by the wind, see the world’s reflection. And that’s only the stones.

*

Every day, I had a particular destination, leaving early. More often than not, the villages: Pomena, the nearest to Kulijer; Babine Kuče, over the hill and through the Aleppo pines, where I saw from the quay grey fish hunting small fry in the pellucid blue water; Pristanište, where I went to the post office to buy postcards and stamps so that I could literally send word home; Doveđari with its lemon and orange trees, and its sun-idling cats; Polače, where I wandered through the ruins of the basilica, and the old Roman palace which gives the village its name. This part of the island – the national park – was relatively empty as the tourists had not yet appeared, and so the villages were also pretty empty. Yet I’d greet the people I’d see with dobro jutro and receive and invariably warm reply: a moment of society, but enough to feel that I was partaking in an experience broader than my own wandering. Society sprung from unexpected places: here and there, the soles of walls would emerge from the forest floor, or an old olive grove gone wild, overgrown. There are remains in all directions among the trees on this the most wooded island of the Adriatic. Inhabited and uninhabited, depending on the angle of the light.

*

A February that was summer to me – that’s time shattered. My departure for Dubrovnik had come, and I’d lost my grip on time altogether. I hadn’t realised that my last full day on the island had arrived, and the sun was already drawing in my last night in Kulijer. Although the mainland was visible and relatively close, it felt very far away, an other place. I could easily understand how the myth that Odysseus had spent seven years on this island in his confusion. Time moves differently here, softly and with dignity, like a retired emissary from some old and venerable civilisation. It arrives from elsewhere, or that is how it felt to me.

*

I’m not sure why exactly, but the plane between Zagreb and Dubrovnik has caught my imagination, and I find myself on it still in my daydreams. It’s a turboprop; that is, a plane with propellers, one on each wing. To be specific, it is a De Havilland Dash 8 400q. This is a relatively small plane, compared to the more familiar jets, and it’s different. The jet, for example, feels as though it climbs slowly, almost – or at least in a gradual, considered way. It takes longer to reach its the point at which it feels like it's really moving. On the other hand, the propellers on the Dash generate their maximum thrust almost straight away, so the ascent is much more vigorous and direct. It advances rapidly and nimbly along the runway almost from standing. You’ll be pushed back into your seat, feeling a charge of excitement. But before that, you’ll have noticed the propellers starting up, and what a sound they make! A deep drone that doesn’t sound altogether mechanical. From your seat you’ll think to yourself that this is how a plane should sound. From Zagreb to Dubrovnik and back, the flight was smooth and tranquil, but always to the accompaniment of that noise: it’s easier to connect such a noise with motion, even though turboprops are slower than jets. And that, maybe, is the fascination of that plane to me: it makes motion and distance concrete, and everything that comes in the wake of travelling. And it looks nice too.

*

Along the tracks and the roads, two flowers captured my attention in particular, and I was taken aback to see them after leaving a bare and sullen Wales. I first noticed them on the verges, and from then on they were faithful companions. Vrtna šumarica – broad-leaved anemone. In the shady areas, I saw the washed purple of their petals, closed and quiet in the morning. Their colour didn’t shout especially loudly in my early morning wanderings: between the remains of the dawn and the remains of the darkness, everything took on a heathery hue. By midday, they were more likely to have opened, bright and light. They were to be seen in abundance around the shell of the basilica and the damp vegetable gardens of Polače. Tenderness in hard places. And then razgranjena presličica – grape hyacinth. There was something familiar about of the sight of them, as they’re popular decorative flowers back home, but here on the island of Mljet they grow wild. Dark blue flowers, like little bunches of grapes, as its name will tell you. They keep close to the ground, demure despite their beauty, and they like the rough, rocky land. Past Babine Kuče, on the shore of Veliko Jezero, the path itself was full of these flowers, and behind me were empty boats. Few people had ventured along this particular path since the summer. I was reminded of little beads, or shards of pottery, their blue patterns faded.

*

Every day I’d go to watch the sea, think, smell, and simply be aware of all that was around me. Despite the warmth and the sunshine, I could see from this spot the white-tipped mountains of Bosnia in the distance. By sunset, I’d return to my room, wait and watch the sky change colour. The sunset is always fraught with expectation, and there’s not much you can do except watch it. The sense of time’s purpose and passing will only return, temporarily, when the colours have settled, when the night is a solid presence. Or that is how the sunset feels when you’re alone. Stillness of mind sharpens the senses, though there is never true silence. The island’s restless birds, the waves, the breezes in the pines were a reminder that the world is moving, always. That is when Wales sometimes intruded upon my mind, a different country from afar. I saw her without me, and so I saw myself clearer, without her. 

*

These are only a handful of impressions of the island of Mljet. If I were to gather all of those impressions, I could write until the end of time, because what I did, essentially, was experience. To experience something as it is you must see that it has no tidy end or obvious beginning, and that it’s bound up tightly with everything else, though it speaks with its own voice, all the same. I was in a certain solitude, in the literal sense, but I wasn’t lonely. By the sea and among the pines, I awoke; I felt communion. I left with a load of poems and a head full of this beguiling place’s beauty. There’s still some Mljet dust in the folds of my jacket and between the treads of my boots.

 


 

Yr hyn y sylwais arno y bore cyntaf hwnnw, heblaw am y tawelwch, oedd arogl pinwydd, yn briddlyd ac yn llachar, ac arogl llwch y ffordd, fel nodd masarn rywsut, yn felys ac yn dywyll-gyfoethog. Ac wrth gwrs, arogl yr heli a diffyg mwrllwch dinas. Daeth yr heulwen trwy estyll y ffenest yn rhyfeddol o sydyn; gwyliais y stafell yn goleuo fesul eiliad wrth i rimyn yr haul godi dros y bryncyn uwchben Pomena. Nid oedd y stribynnau orengoch i’w gweld yn hir ar y wal wen blaen, ac yna roedd hi’n ddydd newydd arnaf. Cyn i mi allu ymysgwyd yn llawn o fy nghwsg, gwawriodd arnaf fy mod i dramor, ar fy mhen fy hunan, gydag amser yn estyn yn agored o’m blaen a rhyddid i’w ddefnyddio fel y mynnwn. Nid oedd neb arall ym mhen hwn yr ynys, ac felly roeddwn gwir ar wahân fel nad oeddwn wedi bod ers amser maith. Bwriais olwg dros y dŵr at dir mawr Ewrop, ac wedyn fentro i’r coed. 

*

Dyma oedd y tro cyntaf i mi deithio dramor nid yn unig ers dechrau’r pandemig ond ers blynyddoedd lawer, felly roedd arwyddocâd deublyg i’r daith. Fel y gellid disgwyl, roedd yna gyffro’n gymysg â chysgod nerfusrwydd, ond hefyd ymwybyddiaeth anghyffredin o’r weithred o deithio ei hunan. Roedd popeth fel petai’n gwbl newydd i mi, o gyrraedd y maes awyr, i hedfan, i fod ymhlith ieithoedd eraill heblaw’r Gymraeg a’r Saesneg, i droedio gwlad nad oeddwn wedi ymweld â hi o’r blaen. Cefais fy atgoffa o freuddwyd a gefais yn nechrau fy arddegau sydd wedi glynu yn y cof: roeddwn yn cerdded ar fy mhen fy hunan hyd stryd fawr rhyw ddinas yng nghanol Ewrop, dinas a allai fod yn yr Almaen, neu o bosib Wlad Pwyl, a theimlais yn ei holl ogoniant gyflwr y teithiwr, sef bod yn neb. A rhaid cofio bod ‘neb’ yn y Gymraeg yn gallu golygu somebody a nobody fel ei gilydd. Gair defnyddiol, ac mae ei amwysedd eithafol yn berffaith at ddibenion y teithiwr, sy’n ddieithryn ond hefyd yn ymgorfforiad o ryw le arall. Anodd gennyf egluro’r teimlad a gefais yn y freuddwyd honno yn iawn, gan fod sôn am ddieithrwch o’r fath yn rhwym o awgrymu annifyrrwch, ond hyfrydwch oedd i mi. Rhaid teimlo’r dieithrwch hwnnw cyn gallu closio; rhaid ymdeimlo â’r gofod rhyngot ti ag eraill er mwyn gallu croesi at yr ochr draw. Wrth fyrddio’r awyren, ac wrth weld y tir cyfarwydd yn cilio i’r pellter ac i’r nos, cefais y teimlad hwnnw eto, ond nid deffro o freuddwyd oeddwn; deffrois i’r freuddwyd.

*

Nid oedd gennyf ond dyrnaid o lyfrau, yn bennaf oherwydd diffyg lle yn fy nghês, ond hefyd o fwriad, i raddau. Fy nod oedd ymateb i le newydd â geiriau newydd, a meddwl yn wahanol. Ers chwe mis, nid oeddwn wedi ysgrifennu’r un gerdd gan i mi deimlo fy mod yn troi mewn cylchoedd wrth ymateb i’r un llefydd a’r un profiadau yn yr un ffordd, gartref. Gwell distewi nag ymgaregu. Ond ar yr ynys, wrth i mi gerdded trwy’r llwyni a’r pentrefi, ar hyd y llynnoedd a’r arfordir, dros y bryniau a’r creigiau, byddwn yn dod i stop yn ddisymwth er mwyn cofnodi cerdd – weithiau’n gwpwl o linellau, weithiau’n dudalennau cyfan o ysgrifen flêr, gynhyrfus. Gwelais hen ddigon i’m hysgogi, a chan fy mod yn ysgrifennu ar yr un pryd â phrofi, nid oedd amser i gnoi cil nac athronyddu nac ymlithro i’r gorffennol: creu cyfamserol oedd hwn. Dehongli uniongyrchol. Llenwais dudalennau lawer yn fy nodlyfr, digon yn wir i lenwi cyfrol, a’r oll yn unedig o ran gofod ac amser. Roedd yn fodd i mi gamu o’m gorffennol i yn ogystal, ac nid dros dro, fel pe bawn yn hunanynysu rhagddo. Roedd newydd-deb Mljet i mi yn gyfrwng sylwi – gwir sylwi. Nid oes y fath beth â pheidio â symud, ond rhaid anadlu’n ddwfn ac edrych a gwrando ar yr hyn o’th amgylch i ddeall hyn. Ar y pentwr cerrig, wele gen yn fap oriog, wele fadfallod yn torheulo, wele gwead y graig yn heulwen letraws y prynhawn, wele nodwydd pinwydd a chwythwyd gan y gwynt, wele adlewyrchiad y byd. A dim ond y cerrig yw hynny.

*

Bob dydd, roedd gyda fi gyrchfan benodol, a gadawn fy llety’n gynnar. Y pentrefi oedd y rhain, yn bennaf: Pomena, yr agosaf at Kulijer; Babine Kuče, dros y bryn a thrwy’r pinwydd Aleppo, lle gwelais o’r lanfa bysgod llwyd yn erlid silod yn y dŵr  glasloyw; Pristanište, lle’r euthum i’r swyddfa post i brynu cardiau post a stampiau fel er mwyn anfon gair adref yn llythrennol, yn gofrodd fach; Doveđari a’i choed lemonau ac orenau, a’i chathod swrth; Polače, lle crwydrais trwy adfeilion basilica, a’r hen balas Rhufeinig sy’n rhoi i’r pentref ei enw. Cymharol wag oedd y rhan hon o’r ynys – y parc cenedlaethol – gan nad oedd y twristiaid wedi ymbresenoli, a chymharol wag felly oedd y pentrefi. Ond eto cyfarchwn y bobl y welais â dobro jutro a chael yn ddieithriad ymateb llawen: ennyd o gymdeithas, ond digon i deimlo fel fy mod cyfranogi o brofiad mwy na dim ond fy nghrwydro. Brigodd cymdeithas mewn llefydd annisgwyl: yma a thraw, byddai gwadnau muriau yn dod i’r amlwg, neu hen lwyn olewydd wedi mynd yn wyllt. Olion ar bob tu, yn gymysg â’r coed ar hon, yr ynys fwyaf coediog yn Môr Adria. Cyfannedd ac anghyfannedd, gan ddibynnu ar ongl y goleuni.

*

Chwefror oedd yn haf i mi. Dyna ddryllio amser. Erbyn i ddiwrnod fy ngadael am Dubrovnik agosáu, roeddwn wedi colli gafael ar amser yn llwyr. Nid oeddwn wedi sylwi bod fy niwrnod olaf wedi cyrraedd, ac roedd yr haul eisoes yn ildio i’m noson olaf yn Kulijer. Er bod y tir mawr i’w weld yn weddol agos, roedd yn teimlo’n bell iawn i ffwrdd, yn lle arall. Hawdd deall y chwedl bod Odýsëws wedi tario ar yr ynys hon yn ei ddrysni saith mlynedd. Mae amser yn symud mewn ffordd wahanol yma, yn feddal ac yn urddasol, fel cennad rhyw wareiddiad hen a hybarch wedi ymddeol. Cyrraedd o rywle arall a wnaiff, neu dyna fel roedd hi’n teimlo i mi.

*

Wn i ddim pam yn union, ond mae’r awyren rhwng Zagreb a Dubrovnik wedi dal fy nychymyg, a chaf fy hunan arni o hyd yn fy mreuddwydion liw dydd. Turboprop yw hi, sef awyren gyda ‘llafnau gwthio’ (propellers): un ar bob adain. A bod yn fanwl gywir, De Havilland Dash 8 400q yw hi. Dyma awyren weddol fach o gymharu â’r awyrennau jet mwy cyfarwydd, ac mae hi’n wahanol. Mae’r jet, er enghraifft, yn teimlo fel ei bod yn dringo’n araf, bron, i’r awyr – neu o leiaf mewn modd pwyllog, graddol. Mae’n cymryd mwy o amser i gyrraedd ei uchafbwynt. Ar y llaw arall, mae’r propellers ar y Dash yn cynhyrchu eu gwthiant uchaf bron yn syth bin, felly mae’r esgynfa’n fwy egnïol ac uniongyrchol o lawer. Hyrddia’n osgeiddig ar hyd y rhedfa o’i sefyll, bron iawn heb gyflymu. Cei di dy wthio’n nôl i’r sedd, a theimli wefr go iawn. Ond cyn hynny, byddi di wedi sylwi ar y propellers yn cychwyn, a dyna sŵn yw hwnnw! Grŵn dwfn nad yw’n swnio’n gwbl fecanyddol, chwaith. O’th sedd byddi di’n meddwl taw dyma fel y dylai awyren swnio. O Zagreb i Dubrovnik ac yn ôl, tawel ac esmwyth oedd yr hediad, ond wastad i gyfeiliant y sŵn hwnnw: haws yw cysylltu symudiant â sŵn o’r fath, er bod turboprops yn arafach na jets. A dyna, falle, swyn yr awyren honno i mi: mae’n diriaethu symudiant a phellter a’r oll sy’n dod yn sgil teithio. Ac mae golwg hardd arni hefyd.

*

Ar hyd y llwybrau a’r hewlanau, aeth dau flodyn â’m bryd yn benodol, a minnau wedi synnu ganddynt ar ôl gadael Cymru lom a moel. Sylwais arnynt yn ymylon y ffyrdd a’r llwybrau, ac oddi ar hynny daethant yn gyd-fforddolion ffyddlon. Vrtna šumarica – blodyn y gwynt dail llydan. Yn y mannau cysgodol, fe welais y petalau porfforwyn hyn, wedi cau yn dawel yn y bore. Ond nid oedd eu lliw yn gweiddi’n arbennig o groch ym moreau fy nghrwydro: rhwng olion y machlud ac olion y tywyllwch, dygai pob un peth ryw arlliwiau grugaidd. Erbyn canol dydd, byddent yn fwy tebygol o fod ar eu hagor, yn llachar ac yn ysgafn. Roeddent i’w gweld yn doreithiog o amgylch cragen y basilica ac wrth ymylon y lluarthau yn Polače. Meddalwch yn y llefydd caled. Yna razgranjena presličica – clychau dulas cryno. Roedd golwg cyfarwydd ar y rhain, ac mae’n debyg eu bod nhw’n boblogaidd fel blodyn addurniadol gartref, ond gwyllt ydynt ar ynys Mljet. Lliw glas tywyll sydd i’r blodau, a hwythau fel sypynnau bach o rawnwin. Cadwant yn isel at y llawr, yn wylaidd er eu prydferthwch, ac maent yn hoff o’r tir creigiog, garw. Heibio Babine Kuče, ar lan Veliko Jezero, llawn oedd y llwybr ei hunan o’r blodau hyn, a gwag oedd y cychod i’m hôl. Ychydig a fentrodd y ffordd honno ers yr haf, mae’n rhaid. Cefais fy atgoffau o leiniau bach, neu hen falurion crochenwaith a’u glas wedi pylu.

*

Bob dydd awn i’r pentir bach i wylio’r môr, i feddwl, i arogli, i fod yn ymwybodol o’r oll o’m hamgylch. Er gwaethaf y gwres a’r heulwen, gallwn weld o’r fan honno fynyddoedd brigwyn Bosnia yn y pellter. Erbyn iddi fachlud, dychwelwn i’r llety, oedi a gwylio’r awyr yn newid lliw. Mae’r machlud wastad yn llawn disgwylgarwch, fel nad oes modd gwneud rhyw lawer ond ei wylio. Bydd yr ymdeimlad o symud amser a’i bwrpas ond yn dychwelyd, dros dro, pan fydd y lliwiau wedi llonyddu, pan fo’r nos yn bresenoldeb sicr. Neu dyna fel mae’r machlud yn teimlo pan fyddi di ar dy ben dy hunan. Bydd tawelwch meddwl yn meinhau’r synhwyrau, er nad oes byth gwir dawelwch. Roedd adar aflonydd yr ynys, y tonnau, a’r awelon yn y pinwydd yn atgoffâd bod y byd wastad yn symud. Dyna pryd byddai Cymru weithiau’n ymwthio i’m meddyliau, a gwlad wahanol iawn oedd hi o bell. Gwelais hi hebof, ac felly gwelais fy hunan yn gliriach, hebddi hi. 

*

Dim ond ychydig argraffiadau yw’r rhain o ynys Mljet. Pe bawn yn crynhoi’r holl argraffiadau hynny, gallwn ysgrifennu hyd ddiwedd amser, oherwydd yr hyn a wnes i, yn y bôn, oedd profi. Er mwyn profi rhywbeth fel y bo, rhaid gweld nad oes pen draw twt na dechreuad amlwg iddo, a’i fod wedi ei blethu’n dynn â phob un peth, ond eto’n llefaru â’i lais ei hunan. Bûm mewn unigedd o ryw fath, yn yr ystyr llythrennol, ond nid oeddwn yn unig. Wrth y môr ac ymysg y pinwydd, dihunais; teimlais gymundeb. Gadewais â llwyth o gerddi a phen llawn ceinder y lle rhyfeddol hwn. Mae dal i fod peth o lwch Mljet ym mhlygion fy siaced ac ar wadnau fy mŵts.


IMPRESSUM

 

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