Roland Mathias: Life and Work

Roland Mathias
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Roland Mathias was born in Breconshire in 1915. The son of an army chaplain, he moved frequently during the early years of his life and did not live in Wales, the country that would come to have great meaning for him as an adult.

He went to Jesus College, Oxford, in 1933, where he read history and wrote poems that would later appear in his first collection, Days Enduring (1942). At Oxford, he earned a first class honors in history. His interest in history has endured throughout his life and has provided the inspiration for many of his poems. In September, 1938, he was engaged as a teacher at Cowley Boys' Grammar School in Lancaster and thus embarked on a career in education.

In June 1940 Roland Mathias appeared before a tribunal for conscientious objectors and was registered for non-combatant duty in support of the war effort. He refused, however, to comply with the decision of the tribunal and, when his appeal was denied and he failed to report for duty, he was eventually imprisoned for three months at hard labor. In the same year he published his first collection of poems, Days Enduring, and in 1944 he married Mary (Molly) Hawes, an Englishwoman from Oxfordshire.

In 1946 his second volume of poems, Break in Harvest, was published by Routledge, and in 1948 he became headmaster of Pembroke Dock Grammar School. The following year, along with Raymond Garlick, he founded Dock Leaves (subsequently The Anglo-Welsh Review. In 1961, he succeeded Garlick as editor of The Anglo-Welsh Review, a position he held until 1976.

In 1952 a third volume of poems appeared, The Roses of Tretower, and in 1956, The Eleven Men of Eppynt, a collection of short stories, which have also been published recently (with several additional stories) in a scholarly edition by the University of Wales Press.

In 1960, The Flooded Valley was published by Putnam, and in 1964, Roland Mathias moved to his last post, the King Edward VI Five Ways School in Birmingham. His career in education ended on 31 August 1969 when he resigned as headmaster and moved to Brecon, where he lives today. 'I returned to live in Wales,' he said, 'because there is nowhere else that a Welshman for whom the history and traditions of Wales mean a great deal can live. My whole life had been pointing in that direction. I felt I could best serve Wales by living there.'

In the years that have followed his return to Brecon, Roland Mathias has sought through his editorial and critical work to make known and preserve the distinct culture and heritage of Wales. His work on The Anglo-Welsh Review, his book on Vernon Watkins (in the Writers of Wales Series), his edition (with Raymond Garlick) of Anglo-Welsh Poetry 1480-1980, his prodigious contributions to The Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales, for example, speak of the enduring service he has given over the years to the Anglo-Welsh literary tradition. During this time, he published two new collections of poems, Absalom in the Tree (1971) and Snipe's Castle (1979) as well as Burning Brambles: Selected Poems 1944-1979 (1983). In May, 1985, he was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Roland Mathias's life took what seemed at the time a tragic turn when he suffered a stroke in May 1986. But he proved both courageous and tenacious in the face of debilitating illness: although the process of recovery was long and arduous, new poems began to appear in 1993, and, in 1996, a new collection, his seventh, A Field at Vallorcines, was published by Gwasg Gomer. The final poem in the Collected Poems, 'Peter Has Been Digging', an elegy for Molly Mathias who died suddenly in November 1996, was written in 2000.

(The above notes on the life and work of Roland Mathias are taken from writing by Professor Michael Collins, Georgetown University, Florence Italy.)

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