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1-09-2015, 03:32


The poet Anjela Duval (190581) spent her life on the smallholding where she was born in Traon an Dour, Ar C’houerc’had (LeVieux Marche), in northern Brittany (Breizh). Communion with nature permeates her work.

Anjela Duval turned to poetry at the age of 56: ‘My beloved parents died in turn of old age, and one day I found myself alone in my home. And alone in winter by the fire after supper, instead of singing I just pined, my heart full of grief (Kan an Douar 64).

In 1961, she received a valuable gift of books and journals containing most Breton writing since the 1920s. The corpus included creative works, dictionaries, and grammars, largely products of the Gwalarn school whose founder Roparz Hemon was exiled in Ireland. The marriage of popular idiom to the substance of the written word, fuelled by an immense need for personal expression, then resulted in a unique body of work that continues to inspire the Breton language movement.

Twin themes in Duval's poetry are the demise of Breton civilization and the rise of French hegemony. Treatment of the first transports us into a world that has vanished, and the many glimpses afforded of this world ensure the endurance of the work as a social document. Anjela Duval greets the rise of French hegemony with dismay, indignation, outrage, and desperation. The opening poem of Kan an Douar makes the point: ‘I loathe the sight of my country’s old people pining in homes for the toil they once knew, and the young mothers of my country speaking the language of the oppressor to their babies’ (Kan an Douar 17).

The imminent collapse of the Breton language casts a long shadow in Duval’s work. She writes in strident tones on the subject. French, she says, is ‘no more than a corrupt Latin spoken by the soldiers and servants of Caesar’ (Stourm a ran 61).

Anjela Duval is of unrivalled stature in Breton-language literature in the latter part of the 20th century, although ironically she wrote in an idiom obscure to Breton speakers. Her language incorporated neologisms and archaisms that put her work beyond her fellows and neighbours. It has thus remained inaccessible to ‘My brothers in toil: the small farmers’ (Stourm a ran 59).

Diarmuid Johnson