OBITUARY: Lynette Roberts

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The Independent Online
Lynette Roberts made her reputation in the 1940s when, as the wife of the literary impresario Keidrych Rhys, she was among those writers associated with his combative magazine Wales. Having married in 1939, they made their home at Llanybri, a village in south Carmarthenshire not far, across the Taf estuary, from Laugharne. This was Dylan Thomas country and Rhys published and promoted his neighbour's early poems and stories. But Lynette and Keidrych were divorced in 1948 and, a few years later, on becoming a Jehovah's Witness, she gave up writing and retired from the Welsh literary scene. Her last years were spent in a nursing- home at Ferryside, which looks across the Towy to Llanybri.

Very little is known about her background, except that she was born in Buenos Aires, to parents whose origins were partly Welsh, but who had emigrated to Argentina from Australia. Educated in the country of her birth and in England, Lynette Roberts was a rara avis among the writers of Wales, but immersed herself in the literature of her husband's country, drawing on Welsh myth and landscape, and on the social life of the district where they had settled. Several of the poems in Rhys's booklet The Van Pool (1942) speak of the hardship of their life. In one of her most poignant poems written at this time, "Lamentation", she wrote:

O the cold loss of cattle

With their lovely big eyes,

The emptiness of sheds,

The rick stacked high.

The breast of the hills

Will soon turn grey

As the dogs that grieve

And I that fetched them in:

For the good gates are closed

In the yard down our way.

The poetry she had begun writing during the late 1930s attracted the attention of T. S. Eliot who published, under the Faber imprint, two volumes of her work, Poems (1944) and Gods with Stainless Ears (1951), the second of which is a long heroic poem of some complexity and erudition in the manner of David Jones. She also published, at her husband's Druid Press, a collection of monologues inspired by life at Llanybri, Village Dialect (1944), and The Endeavour (1954), a reconstruction of Captain Cook's first voyage to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia, in 1769-71.

Her poems, many of which are modishly experimental in style and recondite in subject-matter, appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals during the 1940s, in both Britain and the Americas, and she was a frequent contributor to the BBC's Third Programme. After her religious conversion, she put aside a great deal of her writing, including a third collection of poems, a volume of short stories, two verse-plays, a historical novel, and number of essays on rural themes.

Lynette Roberts received very little critical attention during her lifetime. But one critic, Dr John Pikoulis, of Cardiff University, who kept in touch with her during her latter years, is preparing for the University of Wales Press an edition of her poems, together with a selection of her letters and an autobiography, with which he hopes her literary reputation will at last be rescued from the oblivion into which it seems to have fallen.

Lynette Roberts, poet: born Buenos Aires 1909; married 1939 Keidrych Rhys (died 1987; one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1948); died Ferryside, Dyfed 26 September 1995.