David Whitwell

Being Alone


I got weary of the sheep

outside the house all day,

pulling on the grass

and in the night, coughing.

Always so sheep-like,

backing away from me, as though, I don’t know,

as though I’m the intruder.

In the end I told him to put his sheep

somewhere else.

Up on the mountain, I don’t care.

I prefer to be alone.


There’s a feeling I once took for boredom,

an emptiness, a lack of urgency.

I am reduced to chopping wood for the fire,

cleaning the kitchen,

looking to the sky to see which way the clouds are going.

In the silence my thoughts become so loud,

conversations with the people I no longer see.

Rambling, one-sided.

I don’t expect a reply

or that I will see them again,

but I can’t escape the feeling

that they like to know what I’m doing.


I know that for many people, particularly this year, being alone is an affliction, a curse.

So my poem may be badly timed,  a bit insensitive. Over many years I have enjoyed getting away, to be on my own in the wild Welsh countryside. It has been my antidote to urban life.


For a long time I was under the spell of R.S.Thomas. I loved everything about his work - so spare, honest, bleak and yet with his unique humour. His great doorstop - Collected Poems 1945-1990 - was my guide. Nothing for him came easily - his religion, his Welshness, his love of the countryside. The only thing he was sure about was his poetry. Some of his poems are a bit over the top and quite offensive to the modern sensitive ear. He upset many in Wales. But also he has  poems which are quieter and more spiritual such as - The Bright Field, or Swifts, two of my favourites.


He tends to be quite rude about sheep, which I think is a Welsh thing, so I am enjoying  having a slight go at them in my poem.


I have written a number of these Welsh mountain poems, Being Alone is the most recent one. Rereading them I can see that solitude is a theme. Here is another  - Deep in the Country*, from my collection The Ruins of Summer.


Another thing that has inspired me is  Chinese Poems translated by Arthur Waley. Lots more mountains and solitude.



It was pointed out that having sheep ‘around’ the house would be quite inconvenient, even in a Welsh cottage, so I changed it to ‘outside’ the house.

I think there may have been a feeling that I was laying it on a bit thick. This was something RST was accused of, so I don’t mind that.

Deep in the Country