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A Decade of Transition

A Collection of the Poems of David F Williams, 2004-2014

A Decade of Transition by David F Williams


A Decade of Transition | A Collection of the Poems of David F Williams, 2004–2014

Published in South Africa, A Morgan & Masterson Publication

After many years of working as a scientist, writing papers and books, editing journals and thinking and living as a scientist, I am used to articulating my thoughts and conclusions, although not my feelings, in a rigorous and dignified way; indeed in what some might describe as a turgid, impersonal way. In most scientific arenas there is no room for sentiment, unproven facts and personal bias.

That had to change, as I wanted to express myself in a different way, without affecting my professional style or, indeed, my reputation. How could I do this? I am Welsh, but my Celtic heritage had, until quite recently, been only a nascent influence on my life. So there was the answer, perhaps; the poetry of the bards, the lyrical sentences of the Celtic style, had no pretentions to scientific formality – it was just uninhibited expression of thought.

When I read Dylan Thomas, Seamus Heaney, William Butler Yeats and other masters of Welsh and Irish verse, I am full of awe (even if not complete understanding) of what they write and how they write. I am profoundly aware that I could never hope to emulate any, even minute, aspect of their genius, but they do provide me with inspiration. Around 2004, therefore, I started to compose some poems, initially solely for my own benefit.

Many of the poems I have written in the succeeding decade have arisen during journeys that I and my wife Peggy (who also has a Celtic background) have made throughout the world. Most trips had a professional basis but we used them to visit wonderful, sometimes exotic and nearly always captivating places. During the decade, however, we noted changes taking place around us that seemed to call out for some commentary, or perhaps just some passing observation. It is these changes that I have endeavoured to capture in my poems.

Towards the end of 2014, I decided to compile the poems into a volume, which I have entitled A Decade of Transition. Although there are some recurring themes, and indeed some recurring locations, the poems are set out chronologically, perhaps with an eye to my own changing perceptions. During this time, our geographical base changed, involving transitions from Northern Europe (Cheshire and Brussels) to the USA (North Carolina) and to South Africa (Franschhoek, Western Cape). I appreciate that it is not normal in a collection of poems to give explanations of what each poem is about, but I thought a few sentences would be helpful to put them into the context of Peggy and my travels and observations.

- David F  Williams

Explore the Collection of Poems

A Decade of Transition by David F Williams, 2004-2014

Maldivian Hope

Not long before the powerful tsunami wreaked havoc in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, we visited the Maldives, a very long archipelago to the south west of India. Discussions of climate change and global warming were taking place around the world, of course, but little was being done. Staying on an island whose highest point was only just above the waterline emphasized the fragile nature of the land-sea interface.

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Unchained Tethers

Several years before what became known as the Arab Spring we paid our second visit to Morocco. Even within the few years since the last time we were there, it was possible to sense a change in the people; there was a new, welcomed, monarch, but tension was in the air. They were scared and excited, arrogant and frightened, all at the same time.

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Ward C

Hospitals are rarely bright and beautiful places, as worried patients, families and friends mix with earnest professionals doing their best for those in their care. I have a genetic condition that is not at all troublesome, as long as I have five or six phlebotomies every year, where a volume of blood, and the excess iron it contains, is removed from my body and thrown away. My condition thus requires me to attend a hospital, wherever in the world we are, for this procedure, which is usually done in the cancer ward – since that is where haematologists largely work and where the nurses have the skills to painlessly get into the veins. So I am treated in a ward surrounded by patients with the most serious of conditions.

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An Indian Summer

Taking time off from a lecture tour of India, we visit Rajasthan, from the Taj Mahal to the Pink City of Jaipur. The contrasts of poverty and splendour are profound; so too are the expectations of life.

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Chattra Sagar

On that same journey in India, we find a remarkable village, with a tented hotel on the shores of a reservoir, and centuries-old images.

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Mending the Broken Heart

On our first extensive visit to South Africa, where our work brings us into contact with the world famous Groote Schuur hospital of Cape Town, we had some time to contemplate the juxtaposition of poetry and medicine. The complexity but fragility of the heart would become my focus of attention for the next decade.

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Quantum Dot

Medical technology is increasingly becoming reliant on nanotechnology, with all the uncertainties that it brings.

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Liverpool Street Blues

The heads of state of those countries bidding for the Summer Olympics of 2012 met in Singapore to hear the committee’s decision. Among them was the Prime Minister of the UK, intent on pressing the London case. No sooner had he returned to that city, than terrorists’ actions shattered euphoria and many lives. With grateful acknowledgement to the Beatles for some of their lines, which I have adapted.

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The Marshes of Pudong

Our first experience of China came in 2005: Shanghai, a city of old European concessions, now alive with power and money, especially on the Pudong side of the Huangpu River.

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A Minor Rearrangement

We had been in Phuket, Thailand for a vacation some years previously. A year after the Asian tsunami, which brought so much damage to this part of the world, we returned.

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The Tiananmen Shroud

Back to China and the contrast that Beijing, with its historical and political power, has to offer, compared to Shanghai, with its financial prowess.

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The Cold Heat of Nanoscience

Back to some science, and nanotechnology again, where there is a great deal of confusion and debate about the promise and dangers of man’s exploitation of the nanoscale. One of the world’s epicentres of nanotechnology is in China.

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Revenge for Invictus

There is only one sport that is worthy of attention and that is rugby union. The power of the game facilitated the end of apartheid in South Africa, demonstratedin the film ‘Invictus’. The rugby world cup took place in New Zealand in 2011.

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Please Do Go Gently

Dylan Thomas famously wrote about his father’s decline and suggested that he should not become milder as he faded away. Some may differ when they witness such fading.

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Ode to Graylyn

A brief story about a visiting cat, never seen by us before, who chose our house as his last resting place. We called the cat ‘Graylyn’.

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Kazakhstan Crossroads

A short visit to Kazakhstan, to give some lectures, just before the long, hard winter set in, revealed just how far this former Soviet country, in the Steppes of Asia, has come since independence, but raised questions about contrasts between old habits and oil-fuelled progress.

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Lost Memories at the Table

Table Mountain in Cape Town is a wonderful sight, especially on a beautiful spring evening, sitting on the Waterfront; but the whispery clouds that form on the table summon some other ideas.

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Darkness and Lightness from the Past: De la Belgique a l’Afrique du Sud

I wrote a few poems for our premier Café Poétique, held in Franshhoek, South Africa in 2014. I have hosted a few Café Scientifiques around the world, including one in Franschhoek a few years earlier in which we described our work with children suffering from rheumatic heart disease. We decided that it was appropriate now to turn our attention to poetry; the event was called ‘The Heart of Lightness’.

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Darkness and Lightness from the Present: Musique a Stellenbosch

I wrote a few poems for our premier Café Poétique, held in Franshhoek,
South Africa in 2014. I have hosted a few Café Scientifiques around the world, including one in Franschhoek a few years earlier in which we described our work with children suffering from rheumatic heart disease. We decided that it was appropriate now to turn our attention to.

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Child’s Play

I find it difficult to write poetically about science; it is possible to write some good lines but to retain meaning is not easy. This poem is about stem cells, describing them in terms and objects that should be familiar, especially to those who live in our area.

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Millennia of Stealth

Still with biology and medicine, and a further emphasis on nanoscience, where it is possible to combine nanoparticles and drugs so the body’s normal defence mechanisms are fooled and the drug gets to its target more easily.

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There are elections in many parts of the world; we see on a regular basis just how problematic these can be.

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Those Who Think for Themselves

Still with education, there is a tendency, when you get a little older, to believe that standards are slipping and that outcomes, that is the intelligence and abilities of educated people, are not the same as they were. This temptation is very strong sometimes.

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The 70th anniversary of D-Day needs no introduction. The pattern of war has changed, and this type of action is unlikely to be seen again, but these momentous events in history should never be forgotten.

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Promises in the Wind

On a brief visit to Hong Kong to advise government on research strategy, the tension with the mainland is palpable; soon to lead to unrest and student occupations.

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Trying to do something different later in life is not trivial. In my case, ignoring long-held traditional views and habits in scientific methodology and thinking and adopting a new form of communication and writing style was a challenge. As with everything I have done over many years, this would not have been possible without the encouragement, support and practical help of my wife Peggy. She has always been a close partner in all of our professional activities, and her influence on my scientific writing, editing and speaking has been profound. She immediately recognized that the writing of poetry had to be my work and my work alone, so she patiently waited while I spent hours in the evenings, often sitting outside our house or hotel with a glass of wine, and slowly put together or reshaped the words and lines that form this compilation. I am tremendously grateful to Peggy for this. But more than support and patience, my interest in poetry needed practical encouragement, and Peggy arranged several poetry readings in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as well as the inaugural Café Poétique in Franschhoek, South Africa. She was also fully involved in the publishing of this book, undertaken by ourselves and the wonderful design team of Design for Development (D4D) in Cape Town. As the title states, this project has taken a decade; it has been both different and exciting and I record here my appreciation for everything Peggy has contributed.

David F Williams
Franschhoek, South Africa, March 2016

A Morgan & Masterson Publication

Published in South Africa

Morgan & Masterson LLC, One Sheffield Place, Winston-Salem, NC 27104 USA


A Decade of Transition
ISBN 978-0-620-70686-5

Copyright © David Franklyn Williams

David F Williams, Sala Kahli Lodge, La Ferme Chantelle, Franschhoek, South Africa

First edition: 2016
Copy edited and proofread by Liz Sparg
Cover design and cover artwork by Design for Development
Author image by Peggy O’Donnell
Other images by David F Williams