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.
THE LOVES OF HYWEL AP OWAIN GWYNEDD
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.