This Month in Celtic History
by Stephen Paul DeVillo

April 2005


3 April 1905:   Anjela Duval, Breton poet, born.

One of the best-known Breton poets of the 20th century, Anjela Duval was born at her family's farm Traon an Dour (Down by the Water) at Vieux Marche near Lannion in north Brittany. Even though her poetry would be translated into other languages and became known around the world, Anjela would spend her entire life on what was literally a one-horse farm, which she continued to work single-handedly to the end of her life. A solitary soul, after a broken engagement early in her life she never married.

Like many rural girls of her generation, her formal schooling didn't continue beyond grade school, but she continued her education through correspondence courses. She had shown an early interest in poetry as a schoolgirl, but it wasn't until 1960, when she was 55 years old, that a visitor persuaded her to try writing for Breton language journals.

Deeply rooted in her land, her environmental and nationalist consciousness was spurred in the later 1960s by some high-handed actions by the Paris government. An ill-advised program dubbed “Remembrement Rural” (Rural Regrouping) sought to reorganize the old Celtic field system in Brittany through the wholesale destruction of hedgerows and the uprooting of ancient boundary markers. Anjela’s poetry mourned the destruction of the “paradise of old bocages” and reflected the anger of the protests that flared throughout Brittany as well as the disorientation and ecological destruction of the bulldozed landscape. While her poetry didn't halt the bulldozers, it did inspire a new generation of Breton activists.

Hard on the heels of the Remembrement Rural came holiday homes and the suburban development, that “spreading fungus” as she called it, that reached Brittany from what Anjela referred to as “Paris-Sodom.” In such poems as “Carmel Point” she decried “this beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban homes.”

Ironically it was an interview on French national television on 28 December 1971 that boosted Anjela’s fame outside the borders of Brittany. Gathering material for a documentary on countryside storytellers, producer Andre Voisin was directed to Anjela’s door, and her appearance on the resulting program brought her widespread attention.

Fame hardly changed Anjela nor did it lure her away from her hardscrabble farm. A countrywoman born and bred, she had no time or patience for visiting sophisticates who made wisecracks about her “brother peasants” and she wouldn’t hesitate to order such people out of her house. She also had little patience for apathetic or lukewarm Bretons. Outspoken in her sympathy for the Breton nationalist cause, she once complained that “my compatriots are asleep/and our country is drowning.” She also remained a deeply devout Catholic all her life, and an abiding sense of Catholic spirituality informs and suffuses much of her poetry.

The author of some 600 poems, her work was gathered in four collections: Barzhonegou All (Other Poems, 1973); Hiboud al Leger (Sigh of the River Leger, 1973); Barzhonegou Nevez (New Poems, 1974); and the posthumous collection Traˇn an Dour (Down by the Water, 1982). A selection from the first three volumes was also published in Kan an Douar (Song of the Earth, 1973), perhaps her best-known book. Many of her poems have been translated into English and French and may be found in various anthologies.

Anjela Duval died on 7 November 1981.

The quotes from Anjela’s poetry are from translations by Lenora A. Timm, author of the book A Modern Breton Poet: Anjela Duval (Edwin Millen Press, Lewiston, New York, 1990.) Anjela’s poems in Breton, French and English have been made accessible by Mignoned Anjela at Mignoned Anjela is an association whose goal is to gather, protect and diffuse information about Anjela and her works. They are also open to proposals for translations of Anjela’s works into other Celtic languages.

For more information on Brittany, see the Breton Nation Page.

The stories featured in This Month in Celtic History are drawn from the over 1000 anniversaries of people and events from the histories of the six Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Mann in the 2005 Celtic Calendar, now available from the Celtic League American Branch.

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