Sunday, March 31, 2013

Day 31: George Herbert's Easter Wings

Happy Easter!  We finish this month of Welsh and Irish poetry (mostly Welsh) with the 17th century Welsh poet, George Herbert's, Easter Wings.  Herbert was Welsh-born (Montgomeryshire), educated at Cambridge, represented Montgomeryshire in Parliament, and then took up residence as an Anglican minister in Wiltshire, where he died in 1633 from tuberculosis, at the age of 39.  All of his poems were religious in theme; a few, like Easter Wings, also were "pattern poems" in which the format of the lines also formed a pattern related to the theme.  If you rotate the poem to the right, the two stanzas appear to be wings of  a bird in upward flight.  I've included an image of the poem as originally printed below (thanks to Wikipedia).


Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
    Though foolishly he lost the flame,
       Decaying more and more,
         Till   he   became
            Most poore:
            With     thee
         O   let   me  rise
       As  larks, harmoniously,
    And sing this  day  thy victories:
Then  shall  the  fall  further  the  flight  in me.

My   tender  age   in   sorrow  did   beginne
     And still with sicknesses and shame
       Thou didst so punish sinne,
          That      I     became
             Most thinne.
            With   thee
          Let    me     combine,
       And feel this day thy victorie:
     For,  if  I  imp  my  wing  on  thine,
Affliction   shall   advance  the  flight   in  me.   

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Day 30: Englynion-- Welsh Short Poems

When most of us think of short poems with rules governing form and number of syllables, we likely think of haiku.  Welsh poetry has its own short form in the englyn (plural englynion).  There are eight types of englynion, which you can read about here.  The most commonly used is the englyn unodl union-- the straight, one-rhyme englyn.  This consists of four lines of ten, six, seven, and seven syllables, respectively.  the seventh, eighth, or ninth syllable of the first line introduces the rhyme, which then appears at the end of each successive line.

Like haiku, englynion sometimes offer a seemingly simple image, from which the reader can derive deeper meanings (or not).  The following englyn by Walter Davies (Gwallter Mechain, 1761-1849) offers one example:


Y nos dywell yn distewi,-- caddug
          Yn cuddio Eryri,
     Yr Haul yng ngwely'r heli,
     A'r lloer yn ariannu'r lli.

Silence brought by the dark night:  Eryryi's
          Mountains veiled by mist:
     The sun in the bed of brine,
     The moon silvering the water.

Howell Elvet Lewis' Gobaith Dibrofiad (Life's Morning) is more direct in its feeling and meaning.  Lewis also makes use of internal rhymes-- the "ai" in the second and third lines-- and the near "mirror image" sounds in "blodau" (Welsh for "flower") and "bladur" ("blade") in the fourth line.


Bore oes--O! mor brysur--y gwibia
          Gobaith ar ei antur:
     Canai lai pe gwelai gur
     Y blodau dan y bladur

Life's morning--O, how quickly-- fleets
          Hope on its adventure:
     It would sing less if it saw the pain
     Of the flowers beneath the scythe.

(Welsh originals from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse; English translations from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English).

Day 29 (belated): Fern Hill

Yesterday, I posted one of my son Dylan’s favorite poems by Dylan Thomas. Now for one of mine. Fern Hill was inspired by childhood trips to his aunt and uncle’s farm in rural Carmarthenshire. The poem captures the magical quality that the farm must have had for a boy from the city, and reminds us of how, when we were children, simple, everyday things took on new and special meaning in our imaginations.


Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
     The night above the dingle starry,
          Time let me hail and climb
     Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
          Trail with daisies and barley
     Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
     In the sun that is young once only,
          Time let me play and be
     Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
          And the sabbath rang slowly
     In the pebbles of the holy stream.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
     And playing, lovely and watery
          And fire green as grass.
     And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
     Flying with the ricks, and the horses
          Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
     Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
          The sky gathered again
     And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
     Out of the whinnying green stable
          On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
     In the sun born over and over,
          I ran my heedless ways,
     My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
     Before the children green and golden
          Follow him out of grace,
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
     In the moon that is always rising,
          Nor that riding to sleep
     I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
          Time held me green and dying
     Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

At the Center of the US Population

My poem "At the Center of the US Population" was posted on Orion Magazine's blog site on March 29.  Orion published an article on the 2010 center of population written by Jeremy Miller in this month's issue.  Jeremy, a free-lance writer, accompanied the small group of us geodesists, surveyors, and geographers in March 2011 as we journeyed to Plato, Missouri to identify a good location to place the center of population marker.  It was great to see Jeremy's article finally published.  By coincidence, I had just written my poem only a few weeks before.  I shared it with him, and he forwarded it on to Orion's editors. 

The blog post is here.  Jeremy Miller's article is here.

Here's our group, standing next to the "Center Tree;" from left to right:  Derick Moore (Census Bureau), Mike Ratcliffe (Census Bureau), Darrell Pratte (Missouri Land Survey Program), Dave Doyle (National Geodetic Survey), Brian Ward (NOAA).

Day 28: Time for Dylan

No survey of Welsh poets would be complete without poems by Dylan Thomas.  No intro or background about him is needed, but if you do want to read more, you can do so on the website devoted to his life and work. 

I'll devote the next few blogs to his work, starting with a poem that is a favorite of my son, Dylan (who, like Dylan Thomas, is named after Dylan Eil Ton, a character in the Mabinogion).

From The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas, New Directions, 1971


The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.

The mighty hand leads to a sloping shoulder,
The finger joints are cramped with chalk;
A goose's quill has put an end to murder
That put an end to talk.

The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
And famine grew, and locusts came;
Great is the hand that holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.

The five kings count the dead but do not soften
The crusted wound nor stroke the brow;
A hand rules pity as a hand rules heaven;
Hands have no tears to flow.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Day 27: Another by Idris Davies

Another poem by Idris Davies for today.  From the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English, Gwyn Jones, editor. 


Consider famous men, Dai bach, consider famous men,
All their slogans, all their deeds,
And follow the funerals to the grave.
Consider the charlatans, the shepherds of the sheep!
Consider the grease upon the tongue, the hunger of the purse!
Consider the fury of the easy words,
The vulgarity behind the brass,
The dirty hands that shook the air, that stained the sky!
Yet some there were who lived for you,
Who lay to die remembering you.

Mabon was your champion once upon a time
And his portrait’s on the milk-jug yet.
The world has bred no champions for a long time now,
Except the boxing, tennis, golf, and Fascist kind,
And the kind that democracy breeds and feeds for Harringay,
And perhaps the world has grown too bitter or too wise
To breed a prophet or a poet ever again.

This and other poems by Idris Davies have been collected on-line by another blogger, and are available at

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Day 26: Idris Davies and the South Wales Coalfield

It was probably sometime in the early 1990s when I heard “The Bells of Rhymney” by Robyn Hitchcock and the New Egyptians. I liked the song for its tune, and because I was familiar with all of the places mentioned in the song from my trips to the valleys of South Wales while in grad school at Oxford, and the words tugged at my socialist heart. I mention this because, while researching the life and poetry of Idris Davies, I learned that the words to the song are from his poem, originally published in 1938 in his book Gwalia Deserta, and put to music by Pete Seeger.

Idris Davies was the son of a collier, and a poet of the South Wales coalfields. North Wales, with its steep, alpine mountains, maintains its place as the heartland of the Welsh-speaking Wales and the historical home of the Welsh Princes who defied England. Mid and West Wales has small fishing villages (the kind that inspired Llareggub in Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood) and a rural countryside of green hills dotted with sheep. South Wales was the industrial heartland, its valleys lined with iron mills and coal mines. And, South Wales was the heartland of radical politics in Wales; the home of Chartists, trades unions, Labour, socialists, and communists. Idris Davies, writing in both Welsh and English, was their poetic voice from the 1920s until his death in 1953. You can read more about Idris Davies in the Welsh Biography Online and also here .

The first poem for today, “Do you remember 1926?” recalls the nine-day General Strike called throughout the UK by the Trades Union Congress in a failed attempt to stop wage reductions and to halt worsening working conditions for miners. An interesting animation of Davies reciting the poem is available here. The second, “Mrs. Evans fach, you want butter again” provides an commentary on the strike from a small shopowner’s point of view. Both poems are from The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English, Gwyn Jones, editor.


Do you remember 1926? That summer of soups and speeches,
The sunlight on the idle wheels and deserted crossing,
And the laughter and the cursing in the moonlit streets?
Do you remember 1926? The slogans and the penny concerts,
The jazz-bands and the moorland picnics,
And the slanderous tongues of famous cities?
Do you remember 1926? The great dream and the swift disaster,
The fanatic and the traitor, and more than all,
The bravery of the simple, faithful folk?
‘Ay, ay, we remember 1926,’ said Dai and Shinkin,
As they stood on the kerb in Charing Cross Road,
‘And we shall remember 1926 until our blood is dry.’


Mrs. Evans fach, you want butter again.
How will you pay for it now, little woman
With your husband out on strike, and full
Of the fiery language? Ay, I know him,
His head is full of fire and brimstone
And a lot of palaver about communism,
And me, little Dan the Grocer
Depending so much on private enterprise.

What, depending on the miners and their
Money too? O yes, in a way, Mrs. Evans,
Yes, in a way I do, mind you.
Come tomorrow, little woman, and I’ll tell you then
What I have decided overnight.
Go home now and tell that rash red husband of yours
That your grocer cannot afford to go on strike
Or what would happen to the butter from Carmarthen?
Good day for now, Mrs. Evans fach.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Day 25: Is There Peace?

There’s definitely been a nationalistic theme to most of the poems chosen for posting this month, even if somewhat understated or even more cultural than political. Today’s poem, “Caernarfon, 2 July 1969” by Welsh-language poet, T. Glynne Davies, continues the theme. The title references the date when Prince Charles was invested as Prince of Wales, the title that has been bestowed upon the eldest son of the King or Queen of England since Edward I did so after his conquest of Wales following the death of Llywelyn, Prince of Gwynedd in 1282 in battle against the English. Llywelyn has been known since as “Llywelyn the Last”—the last rightful Prince of Wales, that is.  The first English prince of Wales was given the title as a child at Caernarfon Castle.  That castle, along with the other castles built by Edward in North Wales, is a symbol of England’s conquest of Wales.

Davies makes a number of references to people, words, and events that have meaning to the Welsh. “Is there peace?” is the question asked three times at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, to which the crowd has always answered “yes”—the “peace” being between Wales and England. Caernarfon was the hometown of David Lloyd George, the first Welsh-born Prime Minister. Owain Glyndŵr (Owen Glendower) was a Welsh nobleman who led a rebellion that established an independent Wales from 1400-1415, before England conquered again. “Castle to castle” recalls the travels that English monarchs and princes would have made from one stronghold to another within North Wales after the conquest. In the poem, Davies asks “Is there peace?” only twice, leaving the question unasked a third time, and of course, unanswered.

From the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English, Gwyn Jones, editor. Translated by Joseph P. Clancy


Castle to castle—
Is there peace?

Those who came for a song
In Lloyd George’s parlour
And for a hooray on the field have gone.

The cheer and the boo have gone,
And the proper hats of all the Prince’s aunts,
Everyone who said ‘lovely,’ ‘love,’ and ‘thanks.’
The velvet cushions have gone:
Five guineas’ worth of memories.

The policemen have gone,
And Scotland Yard’s fill of suspicious names
And pictures and fingerprints.
The cameras and the microphones have gone,
And the cavalry and battalion of dragons
And the clamour about American tourists
And the cost of the plainclothesman’s Bed and Breakfast
And all the rush for the special stamps

On the quay, the soldier has gone
In a fiery chariot like some chapter from the Old Testament,
And the cry of Llywelyn has gone
And of Owain Glyndwr and status and 1282.

The sober dignified benches
Have become a hundred thousand planks,
What they were before yesterday and long days before.

Another Prince has started on his journey:

Castle to castle:
Is there peace?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day 24: Easter 1916

Yesterday’s post focused on P.H. Pearse, poet, teacher, a leader of the Easter Rising, and martyr in the quest for Irish independence. Following on that post, and with St. Patrick’s Day a week past, and Easter a week away, it seems fitting that today’s post should be W.B. Yeats’ poem Easter 1916. I’ll provide no more introduction—the poem says it all.

From The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, Richard J. Finneran (ed.), Collier Books, 1989.


I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She road to harriers?
This man kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Day 23: P.H. Pearse and Irish Independence

Yesterday's post was the poem, "The Pine," by Saunders Lewis, poet, educator, and co-founder of Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party.  Today takes us back to Ireland, and a poem by another nationalist, Patrick Henry Pearse.  A schoolteacher, poet, and barrister, Pearse also was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which organized the Easter Rising in  April 1916.  Pearse led the Irish Volunteers in taking control of key government buildings in Dublin; it was Pearse who proclaimed establishment of a republic during the Rising.  After six days of heavy fighting with English troops, Pearse ordered a surrender.  Pearse and fourteen other leaders of the Rising were executed by firing squad.  Although the Rising didn't have much support among the general population, Britain's heavy handed response and the executions of leaders helped build popular support for Irish independence, which led to armed rebellion and then establishment first of the Irish Free State, and eventually to a fully independent republic.

Pearse is one of the four individuals named in W.B. Yeats' poem, Easter 1916, which captured the impact of the Rising and England's response in the line "A terrible beauty is born."

Today's poem is Renunciation, translated from the Irish by the author; and included in the New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, Thomas Kinsella, editor.  It is as if Pearse foresaw his death in the fight for Irish independence.


Naked I saw thee,
O beauty of beauty,
And I blinded my eyes
For fear I should fail.

I heard thy music,
O melody of melody,
And I closed my ears
For fear I should falter.

I tasted thy mouth,
O sweetness of sweetness,
And I hardened my heart
For fear of my slaying.

I turned my back
On the vision I had shaped,
And to this road before me
I turned my face.

I have turned my face
To this road before me,
To the deed that I see
And the death I shall die.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Day 22: Saunders Lewis

Today's poem is by Saunders Lewis, poet, dramatist, Nobel prize nominee, academic, and political nationalist.  Lewis was a co-founder of the Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru.  He was a champion of the Welsh language and saw restoration of the language to primary status as critical to Wales' future.  You can read more about Lewis on his Wikipedia page at


Llonydd yw llyn y nos yn y cwm,
Yn ei gafn di-wynt;
Cwsg Oriön a’r Ddraig ar ei wyneb plwm,
Araf y cyfyd y llower a nofio'n gyntunus i’w hynt.

Wele’n awr awr ei dyrchafael.
Chwipyn pelydri dithau o’i blaen a phicell dy lam
O fôn i frig dan ei thrafael
Yn ymsaethu i galon y gwyll fel Cannwyll y Pasg dan ei fflam:
Ust, saif y nos o’th gylch yn y gangell glaear
Ac afrlladen nef yn croesi â’i bendith y ddaear.

The lake of night is still in the valley,
In its windless trough;
Orion and the Dragon sleep on its leaden face,
The moon rises slowly and swims drowsily on her way.

Behold now the hour of her ascension.
Immediately you shine before her with the lance of your leap
From root to tip under her journey
Shooting to the heart of darkness like the Easter Candle under its flame:
Hush, the night stands about you in the cool chancel
And the bread of heaven crosses the earth with its blessing.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Day 21: The Flight of the Earls

The early 17th century witnessed increased rise in English hegemony over Ireland and the defeat of the Gaelic nobility, culminating in the “Flight of the Earls,” in which leading members among the Irish nobility left Ireland to settle in Spain and France. The period also witnessed the decline of the professional bard as a household poet. A number of poems from this era lament the flight of the Gaelic nobility, the decline of the poet’s role in society, and the decline of the poetic tradition and profession.

Today’s poem is by Mathghamhain O Hifearnain. From the New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, Thomas Kinsella, editor and translator.

I ask, who will buy a poem?
It holds right thoughts of scholars.
Who needs it? Will anyone take it?
A fine poem to make him immortal.

A poem of close-knit skill,
I have walked all Munster with it
from market cross to cross
for a year, and I’m no better off.

Not a man or a woman would give me
down-payment, no tiniest groat.
And no one would tell me why
—ignored by Gael and stranger.

What use is a craft like this,
a shame though it has to die?
Making combs would earn more honour.
Why would anyone take to verse.

Corc of Cashel is dead, and Cian,
who horded no cattle or cash,
men happy to pay their poets.
So goodbye to the seed of Éibhear.

They kept the palm for giving
until Cobhthach was lost, and Tál.
Many I leave unmentioned
that I might have made poems for still.

I’m a ship with a ruined cargo
now the famous Fitzgeralds are gone.
No answer. A terrible case.
It is all in vain that I ask.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Day 20: Spring!

It doesn't feel much like it (at least not here in Central Maryland), but today is the first day of Spring.  So, for today, a poem by R.S. Thomas.


Do not say, referring to the sun,
‘Its journey northward has begun,’
As though it were a bird, annually migrating,
That now returns to build in the rich trees
Its nest of golden grass. Do not belie
Its lusty health with words such as imply
A pallid invalid recuperating.
The age demands the facts, therefore be brief—
Others will sense the simile—and say:
‘We are turning towards the sun’s indifferent ray.’

From R.S. Thomas, Everyman’s Poetry.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Day 19: A Defense of Poetry

We move from Donatus, who was both priest and poet, to Giolla Brighde Mac Con Midhe and his poem in defense of poetry, written to a priest claiming to bring a message from Rome condemning the Irish bards. In the poem, Giolla first demands to see written proof of the condemnation, then points out that Ireland’s two greatest saints—Patrick and Colum Cille (Columba, founder of the famed monastic community on the isle of Iona)—did not ban poetry. He then notes that without poets and poetry, knowledge of and lessons from the past would be lost, resulting in loss of respect and leading to foolish acts. It is a long poem—32 stanzas—of which I’ve included only portions here.

From the New Oxford Book of Irish Poetry, edited and translated by Thomas Kinsella


Messenger from Rome,
laying down instructions,
show where it is written
—the script, not just the seal…

It was never found in book
fine verse should earn us nothing.
An ugly alien teaching
would banish Ireland’s poets…

Why did devoutest Patrick
not banish all the poets
when he came from the land of Rome
to the soft-grassed isle of Ireland?

Or what caused Colum Cille,
who uttered only truth,
each Thursday, rapt toward Heaven,
to leave out pay for a poem?

The poets of grassy Fódla
were driven out once before.
It was Colum, and at once,
who brought about their restoration…

To praise man is to praise
the One who created him,
and man’s earthly possessions
add to God’s mighty praise.

All metre and mystery
touch on the Lord at last.
The tide thunders ashore
in praise of the High King...

If poetry went, my people,
with its lore and ancient lays
man’s knowledge would reach back
no further than his father…

Noble people would not have
access to their past, or rights.
Let them have these put in a poem
or farewell to the ancient things!...

If the men of Ireland suffer
their poetry to be banished
the Gael will lose respect
and freemen turn to clowns.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Day 18: A Land Flowing With Milk and Honey

Today’s poem is by Donatus (the Latin version of Donat or Donagh), a 9th century Irish teacher, poet, and cleric. Donatus was born into a noble Irish family and educated at the well-known monastery on Inis Cealtra. He eventually became bishop of Fiesole in Italy. The title of the poem references a Roman name for Ireland and reminds us that the people known as the Scoti (or Scotii) originally came from Ireland.

From the New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, translated from the Latin by Thomas Kinsella.


It is said that that western land is of Earth the best,
that land called by name ‘Scotia’ in the ancient books:
an island rich in goods, jewels, cloth, and gold,
benign to the body, mellow in soil and air.
The plains of lovely Ireland flow with honey and milk.
There are clothes and fruit and arms and art in plenty;
no bears in ferocity there, nor any lions,
for the land of Ireland never bore their seed.
No poisons pain, no snakes slide in the grass,
nor does the chattering frog groan on the the lake.

And a people dwell in that land who deserve their home,
a people renowned in war and peace and faith.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Day 17: St. Patrick's Day and the Wearin' o' the Green

Happy St. Patrick's Day.  Erin go bragh!

A simple ballad for today (from the New Oxford Book of Irish Verse), and some Luck of the Irish (from John Lennon and Yoko Ono)


Oh, Paddy dear! and did ye hear the news that’s goin’ round?
The shamrock is forbid by law to grow on Irish ground!
No more St Patrick’s day we’ll keep; his colour can’t be seen,
For there’s a cruel law ag’in the Wearin’ o’ the Green!

I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand,
And he said, ‘How’s poor ould Ireland, and how does she stand?’
‘She’s the most distressful country that ever yet was seen,
For they’re hanging men and women for the Wearin’ o’ the Green.’

An’ if the colour we must wear is England’s cruel red,
Let it remind us of the blood that Ireland has shed;
Then pull the shamrock from your hat, and throw it on the sod,
An’ never fear, ’twill take root there, though under foot ’tis trod.

When law can stop the blades of grass from growin’ as they grow,
An’ when the leaves in summer time their colour dare not show,
Then I will change the colour, too, I wear in my caubeen;
But till that day, plaise God, I’ll stick to the Wearin’ o’ the Green.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Day 16: Here Come Ol' Adzed Head, he come chanting religion

We're halfway through our month of featuring Welsh and Irish poetry.  With St. Patrick's Day just around the corner, it's time to turn to the Irish.  Today's poem takes us back again to the 4th and 5th centuries, to the early days of Christianity in Ireland, when Catholic missionaries were making their way to the island.  This is the era of the Celtic Saints when men and women (St. Brigid, for example) were spreading the Christian religion and establishing religious communities along the coasts of Western Europe, including Ireland-- when, as the Welsh geographer, E.G. Bowen, noted, the western seaways were the primary route for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between the Continent and the British Isles. 

Today's poem reminds us that there was a time when Christianity was new to Ireland and was the strange religion, an interloper into the traditional, Druid-led religious world of the Irish Celts.  That story had already played out amongst the Celts of Britain and Gaul during the preceding centuries under Roman rule. The Welsh poems featured at the beginning of March from this same general era viewed the Britons as Christian protectors of a Romano-British society against the pagan Saxons.  Because of the animosity felt by the Britons toward the Saxons, conversion of the latter to Christianity would largely be left to the Irish, at least in the North of England (Augustine and other missionaries from the Continent worked in the south).

Today's poem is from the The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, Thomas Kinsella editor; the original, of course, would have been in Gaelic.  The term "Adzed-Head" refers to the style of tonsure of the missionary, with the hair cut straight across the head as if shaped by an adze.

He is coming, Adzed-Head,
on the wild-headed sea
with cloak hollow-headed
and curve-headed staff.

He will chant false religion
at a bench facing East
and his people will answer
'Amen, amen.'

Friday, March 15, 2013

Day 15: Another Poem by Hedd Wyn

Another poem by Hedd Wyn.  The Welsh text is from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse.  The English is my translation.  The word "blotyn" in Welsh means "blot" as in an ink blot or a spot.  The title of this poem has been translated by others as "The Black Dot."  I've opted to keep it as "blot," realizing that that word can also bring to mind a stain.

Nid oes gennym hawl ar y sêr,
Na’r lleuad hiraethus chwaith,
Na’r cwmwl o aur a ymylch
Yng nghanol y glesni maith.

Nid oes gennym hawl ar ddim byd
Ond ar yr hen ddaear wyw;
A honno sy’n anhrefn i gyd
Yng nghanol gogoniant Duw.

We have no claim on the stars
Nor longing for the moon either,
Nor a gold-edged cloud
In the center of long blueness.

We have no claim on any world
But the old withered earth;
And that is all chaos
In the center of God’s glory.

(translation by Michael Ratcliffe)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Day 14: Hedd Wyn ("Blessed Peace") and War

Ellis Evans, known by his bardic name, Hedd Wyn, is our featured poet today. Hedd Wyn (Welsh for “Blessed Peace”) was a highly accomplished poet whose career was cut short by World War I. He was killed in action in 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele. Six weeks after his death, he was posthumously awarded the Chair of the Bard—the highest honor at the National Eisteddfod of Wales—winning with his poem Yr Arwr (The Hero), which he had written while on leave from the front earlier that year. Most of his poetry was inspired by Romantic poetry, but he is also known for his several war poems. Hedd Wyn was a reluctant soldier, having joined the army to spare his family any embarrassment about not doing their part. His poem, Rhyfel (War) clearly conveys his feelings and the reality of war.  The last two lines of the poem stand out in stark contrast to the romantic image of harps hung willow branches.

The Welsh text is from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse. The English is my translation.


Gwae fi fy myw mewn oes mor ddreng
A Duw ar drai ar orwel pell;
O'i ol mae dyn, yn deyrn a gwreng,
Yn codi ei awdurdod hell.

Pan deimlodd fyned ymaith Dduw
Cyfododd gledd i ladd ei frawd;
Mae swn yr ymladd ar ein clyw,
A'i gysgod ar fythynnod tlawd.

Mae'r hen delynau genid gynt
Ynghrog ar gangau'r helg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
A'u gwaed yn gymysg efo'r glaw.

Woe that I live in such a morose age
God is ebbing on the far horizon;
After Him, Man, both king and commoner,
Is raising his ugly authority.

When he felt God going away,
He raised a sword to kill his brother,
The sound of battle is in our ears,
And its shadow on poor cottages.

The old harps formerly borne,
Are hung on yon willow branches,
And the screams of boys fill the wind
And their blood mixes with the rain.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Day 13: Ieuan Fardd and Welsh Romanticism

Evan Evans (bardic name, Ieuan Fardd—Evan the Bard; also known as Ieuan Brydydd Hir—Evan the Tall Poet) was one of the greatest Welsh scholars and poets of the latter half of the 18th century. Evans, who wrote in Welsh, English, and Latin, authored a pioneering study of the history of Welsh poetry, Some Specimens of the Poetry of Antient Welsh Bards (1764), offering some of the first translations of early Welsh poets into English. The poem featured here today, Llys Ifor Hael (The Hall of Ifor Hael), draws upon the elegiac style of early Welsh poets, while also reflecting the late-18th century Romantics’ interest in the past. Ifor Hael (Ifor the Generous) was the 14th century lord of Basaleg, Gwent (Monmouthshire), South Wales. He was well known as a patron of poets; Dafydd ap Gwilym addressed several poems to Ifor.

The Welsh text is from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse; the English translation (by Gwyn Williams) is from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English. The Welsh folk music group, Ffynnon, have set the poem to music, which you can find here.


Llys Ifor Hael, gwael yw’r gwedd—yn garnau
Mewn gwerni mae’n gorwedd;
Drain ac ysgall mall a’i medd,
Mieri lle bu mawredd.

Yno nid oes awenydd—na beirddion,
Na byrddau llawenydd,
Nac aur yn ei magwyrydd,
Na mael, na gŵr hael a’i rhydd.

I Ddafydd gelfydd ei gân—oer ofid
Roi Ifor mewn graean;
Mwy echrys fod ei lys lân
Yn lleoedd i’r dylluan.

Er bri arglwyddi byr glod—eu mawredd
A’u muriau sy’n darfod;
Lle rhyfedd I fachedd fod
Yw teiau ar y tywod.

Ifor Hael’s hall, poorly it looks,
A cairn it lies in the meadow;
Thorns and the blight of thistles own it,
Briars where once was greatness.
There’s no more genius there,
No bards or boards of joy;
No gold within its walls,
No mail, no generous giver.

Cold grief for Dafydd, skilled in song,
The putting of Ifor in earth;
The paths where once was singing
Are now the owl’s places.

Despite the brief glory of lords,
Grandeur and walls must end;
Strange place for pride to be
Is houses in the gravel.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Day 12: Iolo Morganwg: Forging Welsh Poetry and Identity

Today's post highlights Edward Williams, better known by his bardic name, Iolo Morganwg. Iolo is one of the quirkiest figures in Welsh literary history, but also one whose impact on Welsh poetry and tradition has been lasting. A gifted poet in his own right, Iolo also channeled his energies into creating various works of supposedly ancient origin, primarily to provide an "historical" record bolstering his goal of preserving and restoring Welsh traditions, culture, and heritage. Iolo was a prodigious and respectable scholar of Welsh history and literature, but unfortunately he sometimes let his dreams and goals get the better of him, and created sources where and when they didn’t exist. Even when compiling the works of poets for publication, Iolo would augment the collection with poems that he wrote, but attributed to the other. More often than not, these were stylistically accurate and so well-written that readers could not tell the difference. Iolo’s poem Mawl i Forfudd (Praise to Morfudd) appeared in his compilation of Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poems; it wasn’t until much later that scholars realized Dafydd was not the author.

In addition to a body of poetry published under his own name, and of course his forgeries, Iolo’s other contribution to Welsh poetry was his creation of the Gorsedd, the assembly of bards, who preside over the National Eisteddfod of Wales (poetry, literary, and music competition) and Crowning of the Bard (the winner of the free verse competition) and the Chairing of the Bard (winner of the Awdl competition—poems written in the Welsh strict meter form known as cynghanedd)
You can read more about Iolo Morganwg at here and at the University of Wales’ site.

Today’s poem is from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English, Gwyn Thomas, editor.  Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson translated the poem from the Welsh; line breaks are mine.


Gloomy am I, oppressed and sad;
love is not for me while winter lasts,
until May comes to make the hedges green
with its green veil over every lovely greenwood.
There I have got a merry dwelling-place,
a green pride of green leaves,
a bright joy to the heart,
in the glade of dark green thick-grown pathways,
well-rounded and trim, a pleasant paling.
Odious men do not come there
and make their dwellings,
nor any but my deft gracious gentle-hearted love.
Delightful in its aspect, snug when the leaves come,
the green house on the lawn under its pure mantle.
It has a fine porch of soft bushes;
and on the ground green field clover.
There the skilled cuckoo, amorous, entrancing,
sings his pure song full of love-longing;
and the young thrush in its clear mellow language
sings glorious and bright, the gay poet of summer;
the merry woodland nightingale
plies incessantly in the green leaves
its songs of love-making;
and with the daybreak the lark’s glad singing
makes sweet verses in swift out-pouring.
We shall have every joy of the sweet long day
if I can bring you there for a while, my Gwenno.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Day 11: Ann Griffiths

Today's features Welsh  poet continues us in the vein of Williams Pantycelyn.  Ann Griffiths (1776-1805) was one of Wales' leading female poets and hymn writer. 

Today's poem is Lo, between the myrtles standing, from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English.  You can read more about Ann Griffiths' life, as well as her poetry, at


Lo, between the myrtles standing,
     One who merits well my love,
Though His worth I guess but dimly,
     High all earthly things above;
        Happy morning
When at last I see him clear!

Rose of Sharon, so men name Him;
     White and red His cheeks adorn;
Store untold of earthly treasure
     Will His merit put to scorn;
        Friend of sinners,
He their pilot o'er the deep.

What can weigh with me henceforward
     All the idols of the earth?
One and all I here proclaim them,
     Matched with Jesus, nothing worth;
        O to rest me
All my lifetime in His love!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Day 10: Bread of Heaven: William Williams Pantycelyn

After four days of love, nature, and more love, climaxing in the poetry of Gwerful Mechain, perhaps it’s time for a little repentance—time to get some religion. Today’s poet is William Williams Pantycelyn (the latter was his birthplace—in a country with few surnames, people often distinguish themselves by appending an additional descriptor). Williams Pantycelyn (1717-1791) was a Calvinistic Methodist minister, poet, and Wales’ greatest hymnist. If you’ve attended any Protestant or Restorationist denomination’s services, there’s a good chance you’ve sung a hymn by William Williams.

The Welsh are a nation of singers, and their chapel choirs are world renowned. Little wonder then, that Welsh soccer and rugby matches are accompanied by fans singing hymns in harmony in the stands. We started this month-long series with the Welsh national anthem. I think (and many would probably agree) the real national anthem is Cwm Rhondda (pronounced Coom Ronthuh), with Williams Pantycelyn’s poem, Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, set to John Hughes’ music. A version sung by the Newcastle Male Voice Choir can be found here. I’ve chosen this version solely because the choir is from the area of Pembrokeshire from which my Welsh ancestors came. And, for the stadium version (with Tom Jones). If you aren’t moved, you must be English.

Our poems for today are Cariad at Dduw/I Gaze Across the Distant Hills and (you guessed it) Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah. The first is our antidote to the past few days of Hywel, Dafydd, and Gwerful. The second is for us all to rise and sing in exultation. The Welsh texts of Cariad at Dduw and Guide Me… (first verses only) are from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse for the former and for the latter. The English translations are from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English. Williams Pantycelyn often translated his own works from Welsh to English.

CARIAD AT DDUW (Love for God; titled in English as I Gaze Across the Distant Hills)

Rwy’n edrych dros y bryniau pell
Amdanat bob yr awr;
Tyrd, fy Anwylyd, mae’n hwyrhau
A’m haul bron mynd i lawr.

I gaze across the distant hills,
Thy coming to espy;
Beloved, haste, the day grows late,
The sun sinks down the sky.

All the old loves I followed once
Are now unfaithful found;
But a sweet sickness holds me yet
Of love that has no bound!

Love that the sensual heart ne’er knows,
Such power, such grace it brings,
Which sucks desire and thought away
From all created things.

O make me faithful while I live,
Attuned but to thy praise,
And may no pleasure born of earth
Entice to devious ways.

All my affections now withdraw
From objects false, impure,
To the one object which unchanged
Shall to the last endure.

There is no station under heaven
Where I have lust to live;
Only the mansions of God’s house
Can perfect pleasure give.

Regard is dead and lust is dead
For the world’s gilded toys;
Her ways are nought but barrenness,
And vain are all her joys.


Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch,
Fi, bererin gwael ei wedd,
Nad oes ynof nerth na bywyd
Fel yn gorwedd yn y bedd:
Hollalluog, Hollalluog,
Ydyw’r Un a’m cwyd i’r lan,
Ydyw’r Un a’m cwyd i’r lan,

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art might,
Hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer,
Be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side:
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to thee.

Musing on my habitation,
Musing on my heavenly home,
Fills my soul with holy longing:
Come, my Jesus, quickly come;
Vanity is all I see;
Lord, I long to be with thee!


She probably was not there
when the officials came through
to warn that the dam's gates would be opened.

She probably did not see the notice
in the local paper since it is not
delivered under the bridge where she lived.

They found her body in the woods
downstream from the bridge.
She was on the news that night.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Day 9: Gwerful Mechain: A Female Voice in Medieval Welsh Poetry

Friday was International Women’s Day. Today’s post offers a belated tie-in with that day. The poems for today are by Gwerful Mechain, a rare female voice among Medieval Welsh poets. Little is known of her life, other than that she was from Mechain in Powys (eastern Wales) and lived in the latter half of the 15th century. As Kate Gramich notes in her essay Orality and Morality: Early Welsh Women’s Poetry, Gwerful, like other female poets, did not feel as bound to Welsh poetic tradition and strict adherence to meter and form as her male counterparts. As Gramich states, “when she wanted to write conventionally and correctly, she was perfectly able to do so, and when she didn’t want, she enthusiastically broke the rules.” And break them she did! Her poem, I’r Cedor/To The Vagina, takes to task all the male poets who wrote about various aspects of the female body—hair, eyes, arms, breasts—but ignored the most feminine part, which she goes on to praise. In I’w Gwr Am Ei Churo/To Her Husband for Beating Her, she issues a strongly worded curse, while adhering to standard englyn meter and form.  We'll start, though, with a more benign poem, The Snowfall, highlighting her range of topics.  This is from The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English, Gwyn Thomas, editor.

Now then, I’ll say no more, and simply yield to Gwerful.


White flour, earth-flesh, a cold fleece on the mountain,
Small snow of the chill black day;
Snow like a platter, bitter cold plumage,
A softness sent to entrammel me.

White snow on the cold hill above
Has blinded me and soaked my clothes.
By the Blessed God!
I had no hope I should ever get to my house.


[from Kate Gramich, Orality and Morality: Early Welsh Women’s Poetry]

Dager drwy goler dy galon—ar osgo
I asgwrn dy ddwyfron;
Dy lina dyr, dy law’n don,
A’th gleddau i’th goluddion.

A dagger through your heart’s ire—on a slant
To reach your breast bone
May your knee break, your hand wither
And your weapons go to your enemies.


Pob rhyw brydydd, dydd dioed,
mul frwysg, wladaidd rwysg erioed,
noethi moliant, nis gwrantwyf,
anfeidrol reiol yr wyf,
am gerdd merched y gwledydd
a wnaethant heb ffyniant ffydd
yn anghwbl iawn, ddawn ddiwad,
ar hyd y dydd, rho Duw Dad:
moli gwallt, cwnsallt ceinserch,
a phob cyfryw sy fyw o ferch,
ac obry moli heb wg
yr aeliau uwchlaw'r olwg;
moli hefyd, hyfryd dwf,
foelder dwyfron feddaldwf,
a breichiau gwen, len loywlun,
dylai barch, a dwylaw bun.

The complete text in Welsh can be found here

The following English translation by Dafydd Johnston appeared in his edited volume Canu Maswedd yr Oesoedd Canol / Medieval Welsh Erotic Poetry (Tafol, 1991), and is available on-line:

Every foolish drunken poet,
boorish vanity without ceasing,
(never may I warrant it,
I of great noble stock,)
has always declaimed fruitless praise
in song of the girls of the lands
all day long, certain gift,
most incompletely, by God the Father:
praising the hair, gown of fine love,
and every such living girl,
and lower down praising merrily
the brows above the eyes;
praising also, lovely shape,
the smoothness of the soft breasts,
and the beauty's arms, bright drape,
she deserved honour, and the girl's hands.
Then with his finest wizardry
before night he did sing,
he pays homage to God's greatness,
fruitless eulogy with his tongue:
leaving the middle without praise
and the place where children are conceived,
and the warm quim, clear excellence,
tender and fat, bright fervent broken circle,
where I loved, in perfect health,
the quim below the smock.
You are a body of boundless strength,
a faultless court of fat's plumage.
I declare, the quim is fair,
circle of broad-edged lips,
it is a valley longer than a spoon or a hand,
a ditch to hold a penis two hands long;
cunt there by the swelling arse,
song's table with its double in red.
And the bright saints, men of the church,
when they get the chance, perfect gift,
don't fail, highest blessing,
by Beuno, to give it a good feel.
For this reason, thorough rebuke,
all you proud poets,
let songs to the quim circulate
without fail to gain reward.
Sultan of an ode, it is silk,
little seam, curtain on a fine bright cunt,
flaps in a place of greeting,
the sour grove, it is full of love,
very proud forest, faultless gift,
tender frieze, fur of a fine pair of testicles,
a girl's thick grove, circle of precious greeting,
lovely bush, God save it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Day 8: More Dafydd ap Gwilym

What better way to end the week than with a couple more poems from Dafydd ap Gwilym?  We start with excerpts from “Morfudd’s Arms,” which provides a good example of the various poems he wrote to Morfudd. In “A Mendicant Friar’s Advice” he confronts a theme that will feature strongly among the Welsh in later centuries when the Baptist and Calvinistic Methodist preachers ruled from the pulpit—religion and sin. I don’t think Dafydd would have been at home in the Wales of the 18th and 19th centuries. Despite Dafydd’s sinful, wanton lifestyle, the Welsh literati of the 19th century recognized his genius. That said, they did draw the line at including his poem Y Gal in the anthologies. I’ll let you find that one (and the English translation) at


Twf y dyn tyfiad Enid,
Â’r tefyll aur, a’m tyf llid;
Tâl moeledd, talm o alaw,
Teyrnasaidd lariaidd law,
Dyn ŵyl dda ei dyniolaeth
A’i modd, gwell no neb ei maeth.
Ddwylaw mwnwgl dan ddeiloed
Ydd aeth i anghengaeth hoed,
Peth nid oeddwn gynefin,
A chael ymafael â’i min.
Gwanfardd addfwyndwf gwinfaeth
Oeddwn gynt iddi yn gaeth….

The girl’s shapely form like that of Enid,
with the golden locks, stirs passion in me;
bare forehead, an expanse of lily,
gentle, regal hand,
a modest girl, good-natured
and well-mannered, of breeding second to none.
She put her arms around my neck
in a woodland tryst causing overwhelming longing,
something I was not familiar with,
and being allowed to touch her lips.
A weak shapely wine-bred poet,
I was held captive by her once.

Unbelievable thought, there is now
(it was a gift, God is my witness)
a sort of love knot, though I may conceal it,
between us, indeed, I am bound.
Mofudd’s bright gentle snow-covered
arm (cheeks bright as the sun)
caught me (it was easy even if it were bold)
head to head in the shelter of a leaf-house;
the clasping of a knot of refined love,
the two wrists of a pure wise girl.
Good was that tall white girl of gentle courteous form
holding loving hands about me.
It was a full share of me, from my eager escapade,
a bold collar of clandestine love….


Yesterday in dire peril I heard
a fine englyn from an angel of heaven,
and the declaiming of solemn songs
and a rounded composition and Christ’s ode.
I was instructed by a disciple of the Son of Mary—
these were his words, facile praise:

‘Dafydd, seemingly of sober mind,
whose verse is unequalled, of good repute,
impose upon the inspiration of your tongue
God’s patronage, and lie no more.
In trees (three wretched trysts)
and leaves there is nothing but transitoriness.
Refrain from sleeping with girls,
for Mary’s sake do your best to despise mead.
Neither green treetops nor tavern were worth a bean,
it is only the Lord’s word that is truly worth.’

By the Man who rules this day,
in my head there’s a pain for a fine girl,
and in my brow a wound of distress
for a splendid maid, and I am dying.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Day 7: Dafydd ap Gwilym and the Changing Nature of Welsh Poetry

Dafydd ap Gwilym, Wales’ greatest poet, was like a burst of light on the Welsh literary scene in the 1300s. He lived and wrote at a time when the relationship between poet and patron was changing. Also, literary themes were changing throughout Europe. Although he was not the first Welsh poet to incorporate themes of nature and love—Hywel ap Owain Gwynedd did so over 100 years prior—Dafydd took these themes to new heights, even bringing himself and his feelings into his poems. Animals serve as messengers conveying the poet’s love to his favorite maiden. Poems are addressed to women with whom he had affairs (such as Morfudd, to whom he addressed many poems), or to women he hoped to bed. And, he wrote of failed attempts at love, sometimes poking fun at himself. In “Trafferth Mewn Tafarn” (“Trouble in the Tavern”), he woos a young woman over dinner and wine, then arranges to meet her later in her bed. Sneaking through the tavern at night, in the dark, he trips over a stool, bangs into a table knocking off dishes and goblets, wakes up some Englishmen (who assume a Welshman is trying to steal from them) as well as the tavern-keeper and others, and in the ensuing chaos, misses his lovemaking opportunity. To be sure, there were the occasional praise poems and elegies, but these were the exceptions. For a good summary of Dafydd’s life and pathbreaking contributions to Welsh poetry, see

Swansea University has created a great website devoted to Dafydd and his works. Two minor downsides to the site: poems titles are only in Welsh and are not listed in alphabetical order. But, those are small prices to pay for the luxury of having Dafydd’s work, in Welsh and English, at one’s fingertips.

One of my favorites is Yr Wylan/The Seagull. I’ve included the first verse in Welsh and the entire poem in English:

Yr wylan deg ar lanw, dioer,
Unlliw ag eiry neu wenlloer,
Dilwch yw dy degwch di,
Darn fel haul, dyrnfol heli.
Ysgafn ar don eigion wyd,
Esgudfalch edn bygodfwyd.
Yngo’r aud wrth yr angor
Lawlaw â mi, lili môr….

Fair gull on the tide, indeed,
of the same hue as snow or the white moon,
your beauty is without blemish,
a piece like the sun, gauntlet of the brine.
You are light on the ocean wave,
swift proud fish-eating bird.
You’d go close by the anchor
hand-in-hand with me, sea lily.
Just like a letter you are painted silver,
you’re a nun on the crest of the sea tide.

Perfect praise of a girl, you are praised afar,
make for the curve of fortress and castle.
Gull, look for one
of the colour of Eigr on the lovely fortress.
Say my ardent words,
may she choose me, go to the girl.
If she’s alone, make bold to greet her,
be courteous to the dainty maid
for gain; say I will not live,
noble refined youth, unless I have her.
I love her, strength of complete passion,
oh men, neither Myrddin
with his fine wheaten lips
nor Taliesin ever loved a fairer one.
A sought-after girl [dressed in] fine linen under copper [hair],
exquisite visage perfectly formed.

Ah gull, if you get to see
the cheek of the fairest girl in Christendom,
unless I get a most gentle response
the girl will be the death of me.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Day 6: The Loves of Hywel ap Owain Gwynedd

Welsh bards continued in the tradition of Aneirin and Taliesin through the Middle Ages, working and writing for a patron, and focusing on traditional themes. But, by the times were a-changing. Troubadours and poets on the Continent were introducing themes of love and nature, and these ideas made their way to Wales. Hywel ap Owain Gwynedd was one of the first poets in Wales to write about love and nature, setting the stage for the spectacular poetry of Dafydd ap Gwilym, whom we'll meet tomorrow. Hywel is an apt example of this chivalric age: prince, warrior, poet. Although he was illegitimate, Hywel was named successor to his father as Prince of Gwynedd, in accordance with Welsh law, and ascended to the throne in 1170. He was killed in battle that same year fighting against his younger half- brothers, who had staged a coup. Eight of his poems remain.

Today’s poem is “The Loves of Hywel ap Owain Gwynedd,” translated by Gwyn Williams, which appeared in translation in the journal Poetry London in 1951 and is now available on-line.


My choice, a slim, fair, bright girl,
tall, lovely in her heather coloured gown;
my choice learning, to look at womanliness
which quietly utters a seemly thought.
My choice is to share with and be with a girl,
privately, with secrets and gifts.
My choice is you, colour of the foam,
your wealth your wisdom, and your fine Welsh ...

I love today what the English hate, the land of the North,
and the varied growth that borders the river Lliw.
I love those who gave me my fill of mead
where the seas reach in long contention.
I love its household and its strong buildings,
and at its lord's wish to go to war.
I love its coast and its mountains,
its castle near the woods and its fine lands,
its water meadows and its valleys,
its white gulls and its lovely women.
I love its soldiers, its trained stallions,
its woods, its brave men and its homes.
I love its fields under the little clover
where I found a place of triumphant joy ...
I love the coastland of Meirionnydd
where a white arm was my pillow.
I love the nightingale in the wild privet
where two waters meet in the valley of worship ...

Great violence has involved me in payment,
and there's no escape from longing
for pretty Nest, like apple blossom,
for the golden pear tree, the heart of my sin.

For the virgin Enerys there's no end to my pain,
she clings to her chastity;
for Hunydd there's matter till Doomsday,
and for Hawis my chosen ritual.

I had a girl, o deep day;
I had two, their praise be the greater;
I had three and four and fortune;
I had five, splendid in their white flesh;
I had six without concealing sin;
Gwenglaer of the White Tower brought me strife;
I had seven and a grievous time of it;
I had eight, paying part of my praise to Canterbury.
Teeth serve to keep the tongue quiet.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Day 5: Marwnad Owain ab Urien and the Role of the Bard

Today’s post focuses on two aspects of Welsh poetic tradition: the elegy and the role of the bard in Welsh society. The poet’s job was to maintain and transmit oral tradition as well as sing praises to, and maintain the memory of, great leaders. These roles were divided between two groups within the poetic class: those that maintain tradition and history (known as the fili in Ireland) and the professional poets, bards, who were employed by noblemen and leaders to sing praises and elegies, maintain genealogies, and entertain at court. No self-respecting Great Man in Celtic society would be without his bard.

The Marwnad Owain ab Urien is an early example of an elegy in memory of a great man. Written by Taliesin in the 6th century, the poem honors Owain ab [son of] Urien, King of Rheged. It also provides a good example of the use of complex rhyming and similarity of sounds employed by Welsh poets. For instance, in the third through sixth lines below:

Internal rhyme within the 3rd line: udd and cudd
End and internal rhyme between the 3rd and 4th lines: tromlas and fas
End rhymes between the 4th and 6th: gywyddaid and llifaid
End rhyme and internal rhymes in the 5th and 6th: clodfawr, gwawr, and gwaywawr
Similar sounds at beginning of 5th and 6th lines: Isgell and esgyll

Over time, Owain would be remembered in literature as one of Arthur’s knights of round table, and would be the main character in Chrestien de Troyes’s Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. He also features in the collection of Welsh tales, The Mabinogion, in Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain, and The Dream of Rhonabwy.

The Marwnad Owain ap Urien is from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse. The English translation that follows is by W.F. Skene, available at


Enaid Owain ab Urien,
Gobwyllid Rheen o’i raid.
Rheged udd ae cudd tromlas,
Nid oedd fas ei gywyddaid.
Isgell gwr cerddglyd clodfawr,
Esgyll gwawr gwaywawr llifaid.
Cany cheffir cystedlydd
I udd Llwynfenydd llathraid.
Medel gallon, gefeilad,
Eisylud ei dad a’i daid.

Pan laddawd Owain Fflamddwyn
Nid oedd fwy nogyd cysgaid.
Cygid Lloegr llydan nifer
A lleufer yn eu llygaid;
A rhai ni ffoynt haeach
A oeddynt hyach no rhaid.
Owain a’u cosbes yn ddrud,
Mal cnud yn dylud defaid.
Gwr gwiw uch ei amliw seirch
A roddai feirch i erichiaid.
Cyd as cronnai mal called,
Rhy ranned rhag ei enaid.
Enaid Owain ab Urien,
Gobwyllid Rheen o’i raid.

The soul of Owain son of Urien.
May its Lord consider its need.
The chief of Rheged, the heavy sward conceals him.
His knowledge was not shallow.
A low cell (contains) the renowned protector of bards,
the wings of dawn were the flowing of his lances.
For there will not be found a match
for the chief of the glittering west.
The reaper of the tenacious foes.
The offspring of his father and grandfather.

When Flamdwyn killed Owain,
there was not one greater than he sleeping.
A wide number of Lloegyr
went to sleep with light in their eyes
And those that fled not instantly
were beyond necessity.
Owain valiantly chastised them,
like a pack (of wolves) pursuing sheep.
A worthy man, upon his many-coloured trappings,
he would give horses to those that asked.
While he hoarded hard money,
it was not shared for his soul.
The soul of Owain, son of Urien.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Day 4: Welsh History

On March 4, 2011, the UK government announced that a majority of voters in Wales voted in favor of the referendum to extend the law-making powers to the Welsh National Assembly. Wales had achieved a level of autonomy from London not seen since 1282, when Edward I defeated Llywellyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd, and completed the conquest of Wales.

Today’s poem is another by R.S. Thomas, from his nationalism-themed collection, Welsh Airs.


We were a people taut for war; the hills
Were no harder, the thin grass
Clothed them more warmly than the coarse
Shirts our small bones.
We fought, and were always in retreat,
Like snow thawing on the slopes
Of Mynydd Mawr; and yet the stranger
Never found out ultimate stand
In the thick woods, declaiming verse
To the sharp prompting of the harp.

Our kings died, or they were slain
By the old treachery at the ford.
Our bards perished, driven from the halls
Of nobles by the thorn and bramble.

We were a people bred on legends,
Warming our hands at the red past.
The great were ashamed of our loose rags
Clinging stubbornly to the proud tree
Of blood and birth; our lean bellies
And mud houses were a proof
Of our ineptitude for life.

We were a people wasting ourselves
In fruitless battles for our masters,
In lands to which we had no claim,
With men for whom we felt no hatred.

We were a people, and are so yet,
When we have finished quarrelling for crumbs
Under the table, or gnawing the bones
Of a dead culture, we will arise,
Armed, but not in the old way.

From R.S. Thomas, Welsh Airs, 1987, Poetry Wales Press.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Day 3: The Old Language

Two years ago, on March 3, 2011, the Welsh voted on a referendum to give the National Assembly of Wales expanded ability to pass laws in 20 subject areas without additional approval by Parliament in London. This was a major step in the direction of greater autonomy for Wales. The results of the referendum were announced on March 4, 2011, so this story will be concluded tomorrow.

Today’s poem is The Old Language, by the late R.S. Thomas. We’re leaping roughly 1,300 years from Aneirin to Thomas, but it seemed fitting to move from one to the other given today’s anniversary. Thomas was a staunch Welsh Nationalist; despite being bilingual, he wrote only in English, which was his first language. He also was a priest in the Church in Wales, serving parishes in rural North Wales. His poems are rooted in the people, land, and history of Wales, and often draw upon the struggle to maintain the Welsh language and culture in the face of the political, economic, and cultural pull exerted by England. You can read more about R.S. Thomas on the Poetry Foundation’s site.


England what have you done to make the speech
My fathers used a stranger at my lips,
An offence to the ear, a shackle on the tongue
That would fit new thoughts to an abiding tune?
Answer me now. The workshop where they wrought
Stands idle, and thick dust covers their tools.
The blue metal of streams, the copper and gold
Seams in the wood are all unquarried; the leaves’
Intricate filigree falls, and who shall renew
Its brisk pattern? When spring wakens the hearts
Of the young children to sing, what song shall be theirs?

From R.S. Thomas, 1996, Everyman’s Poetry, J.M. Dent, London

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Day 2: "Men went to Catraeth....": Early Welsh Poetry

For the second entry in this month of Celtic poetry, I'm going back to the earliest era of poetry written in the Welsh language.  Back to the 6th and 7th centuries, to a time when multiple British kingdoms still existed and were locked in a struggle against the Saxons.  This was a golden era, at least in the minds of Welsh nationalists in later centuries; a time when the Welsh (or their cultural and linguistic forebears) ruled Britain.  This was the Age of Arthur.  A time of heroic Christian (or nominally Christian) kings and princes, heirs of the Romano-British past, who were attempting to halt Saxon expansion.  Men like Coel Hen (Old King Cole of the nursery rhyme), Urien of Rheged (now the county of Cumbria), and Arthur himself.  This era has always posed a bit of a conundrum for Welsh nationalism.  The great British kingdoms in the poetry of this era are located in what is now northern England and southern Scotland (see map).  If Wales were to separate from the United Kingdom, it would essentially be separating from lands that were central to Welsh history, literature, and identity, and giving up on the myth that one day Arthur will return and reunite the British (that is, the Celts of Great Britain).

Our entry for today is the poem Y Gododdin/The Gododdin.  This heroic poem dates to the early 7th century and is attributed to the poet Aneirin.  The poem tells the story of a group of warriors, drawn from throughout the British kingdoms, who come to Din Eidyn (Edinburgh) in the kingdom of Gododdin. They train, and are wined and dined, for a full year before embarking south to attack the Saxons at Catraeth (modern-day Catterick in Yorkshire). And, as is all too often the outcome in tales of Celtic bravery, they are defeated and nearly every warrior is killed. The long poem (97 stanzas) is a series of elegies to the warriors.

There are a number of websites providing the full text.  William F. Skene's 1869 English translation "The Gododdin Poems" is available for those who simply want to access the poem in English.  Project Gutenberg has made available Rev. John Williams' 1852 edition of the poem in Welsh (with some spelling changes to ease pronunciation), followed by the English translation, and also providing introductory text and footnotes.  The extracts below are from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse (in Welsh), with English translations from Skene's translation.


Gwyr a aeth gatraeth oedd fraeth eu llu;
Glasfedd eu hancwyn, a gwenwyn fu,
Trichant trwy beiriant yn catau--
A gwedi elwch tawelwch fu.
Cyd elwynt lannau i benydu,
Dadl diau angau i eu treiddu.

The men went to Catraeth, loquacious was their host;
Fresh mead was their feast, and also their poison.
Three hundred were contending with weapons;
And after sportive mirth, stillness ensued!
Though they went to churches to do penance,
The inevitable strife of death was to pierce them.


Gwr a aeth Gatraeth gan ddydd,
Neu lewes ef feddgwyn feinoethydd.
Bu druan, gyfatgan gyfluydd,
Ei neges, ordrachwres drenghidydd.
     Ni chrysiws Gatraeth
     Mawr mor ehelaeth
          Ei arfaeth odd uch medd.
     Ni bu mor gyfor
     O Eiddyn ysgor
          A ysgarai oswydd.
Tudfwlch Hir, ech ei dir a'i drefydd
Ef lladdai Saeson seithfed dydd.
Perheyd ei wryd yn wrfydd
A'i gofain gan e gain gyweithydd.
Pan ddyfu Dudfwlch dud nerthydd,
Oedd gwaedlan gwyalfan Fab Cilydd.

The man went to Catraeth with the day:
Truly he quaffed the foaming mead on serene nights;
He was unlucky, though proverbially fortunate:
His mission, through ambition, was that of a destroyer.
     There hastened not to Catraeth
     A chief so magnificent
          As to his design on the standard.
     Never was there such a host
     From the fort of Eiddyn,
          That would scatter abroad the mounted ravagers.
Tudvwlch Hir, near his land and towns,
Slaughtered the Saxons for seven days.
His valour remained until he was overpowered;
And his memory will remain among his fair associates.
When Tudvwlch, the supporter of the land, arrived,
The station of the son of Cilydd became a plain of blood.


O winfaith a meddfaith yd grysiasant
Gwyr yn rhaid molaid, enaid ddichwant;
Gloyw ddull i am drull yd gydfaethant;
Gwin a medd a mall a amugsant;
O osgordd Fynyddawg andwyf adfant fy mryd,
A rhwy rhy gollais o'm gwir garant.
O drychant rhiallu yd grysiasant Gatraeth,
Tru, namyn un gwr nid atgorsant.

From the banquet of wine and mead they hastened,
Men renowned in difficulty, careless of their lives;
In bright array around the viands they feasted together;
Wine and mead and meal they enjoyed.
From the retinue of Mynyddawg I am being ruined;
And I have lost a leader from among my true friends.
Of the body of three hundred men that hastened to Catraeth,
Alas! none have returned but one alone.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Day 1: Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant! Happy St. David's Day! And, a celebration of Welsh Poetry

March 1st is St. David's Day-- the day celebrating David, the patron saint of Wales.  It's a very different holiday than the other day in March celebrating another Celtic saint.  Yes, that would be Patrick (who, by the way, was from a Romano-British family and would have spoken Welsh as his first language).  David was a teetotaler-- Dewi Dyfrwr, David the Water Drinker, as he is known-- and teetotalism was big in Wales in the 19th century when Welsh nationalism was beginning to flower.  Perhaps that explains why you won't find lots of Welsh and those of us with Welsh ancestry heading out to the pubs on March 1.  You can read more about David here.

Since March is a month that begins with homage to one Celtic saint and hits its peak with homage to another, and also recognizing the high respect the Celtic peoples had for their poets ("bard" is a Celtic word), I will celebrate March with a poem a day from a Celtic poet.  We'll start things off with the Welsh National Anthem, Hen Gwylad Fy Nhadau/Land of My Fathers, first in Cymraeg (that is, Welsh) and then an English translation.


Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mad,
Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed.

(Cytgan - Chorus)

Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad.
Tra môr yn fur i'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau.

Hen Gymru fynyddig, paradwys y bardd,
Pob dyffryn, pob clogwyn, i'm golwg sydd hardd;
Trwy deimlad gwladgarol, mor swynol yw si
Ei nentydd, afonydd, i mi.

(Cytgan - Chorus)

Os treisiodd y gelyn fy ngwlad tan ei droed,
Mae hen iaith y Cymry mor fyw ag erioed,
Ni luddiwyd yr awen gan erchyll law brad,
Na thelyn berseiniol fy ngwlad.
(Cytgan - Chorus)


The old land of my fathers is dear to me,
Land of bards and singers, famous men of renown;
Her brave warriors, very splendid patriots,
For freedom shed their blood.

Nation, Nation, I am faithful to my Nation.
While the sea [is] a wall to the pure, most loved land,
O may the old language endure.

Old mountainous Wales, paradise of the bard,
Every valley, every cliff, to my look is beautiful.
Through patriotic feeling, so charming is the murmur
Of her brooks, rivers, to me.

If the enemy oppresses my land under his foot,
The old language of the Welsh is as alive as ever.
The muse is not hindered by the hideous hand of treason,
Nor [is] the melodious harp of my country.

The "old language" is, of course, Cymraeg, the nearly direct descendant of the British language that was spoken throughout the island of Great Britain prior to the Anglo-Saxon takeover of much of the island.  Poetry in the Welsh language has a long and rich heritage, dating back to the 6th century in written form, which we'll celebrate through the month.