There are times that are good for thinking, and early morning is one of them. My walks are becoming less and less like early morning, with the sun strengthening each day, and although I go out at the same time I do not see the same scene now as I did two weeks ago. It is still, however, empty enough to think, and to let myself wonder about things as I would not if I were inside my room. There is a time and place to concern myself with the practical and immediate.
A few days ago, there was a storm. It should not be so frightening, to have a storm with no thunder, lightning, threat of funnel clouds — yet the wind, on its own, was enough to chase the people from the streets, and nearly enough to keep me indoors. Even then, the sound of it never ceased, and the force of it shook the walls. All across the bicycle path there were stones and seaweed, heaved up from the beach by the force of the wind. With the wind at my back I could barely see for flying hair, but with it straight into my face, I was blinded by rain and the effort to move against it. It has calmed now, but for two days, it was nearly impossible to walk down the street.
Walking in the morning also makes me consider the things that I would like to do in a day, regardless of whether I plan to, or whether, even if I did, I could find the time to make those plans happen. I have been lax, lately, on my Welsh lessons. I have been thinking of that, without the pressing need to do them immediately. But they have had the chance to flit into my mind, during these walks, when I’m mulling over conversations had. I keep coming across people, primarily English, who wonder why on Earth I would choose to do Welsh. The word ‘useless’ is not excluded from their assessment. So, why do I do them?
There is the simple answer: no knowledge is completely useless. However, I would not class Welsh with trivia or party tricks, which are limited in their interest and useful only in certain moments. Welsh is a living, if not a commonly spoken, language, and that alone is reason enough to learn it. To my understanding it shows respect for a culture, any culture, to learn to speak their language, and it opens new possibilities in literature, which go beyond translation (I haven’t reached this or anywhere close to it, but in principle, it is a good argument). It would, in the limited sense of the word ‘useful,’ allow me to work in translation or interpretation between English and Welsh.
When I read Tolkien’s essay ‘English and Welsh’ last year, and came across the real reason, it was incredible. His first and most prominent suggestion for why English people ought to learn Welsh was simply ‘because Welsh is beautiful.’ There was more after that, of course, but that was the phrase that stood out. Would you believe it was a revelation to me? I knew that I had been learning because it was beautiful, but it had seemed an embarrassingly sentimental reason. Yet reading that essay, I think I saw the sense in it because it was not only me who thought that reason enough — it only makes no sense if one looks at language purely as a utility, something to communicate, whereas anyone who has seen ‘Dead Poets Society’ knows that it exists to woo women! (Or, presumably, men.) I started thinking about music, about painting, about everything that people do for reasons other than their daily work, and enjoy as more than tools. Why is it stranger to learn Welsh than to learn to play the harpsichord? The harpsichord can make fine notes, and Welsh can make fine words. I find it a beautiful language — and, by and large, we study what we find beautiful.