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.

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