The Bard Sings …

harper

The bard sings,
so do the strings
of the harp
as fingers brush
the soft hairs inwoven
with the hush
of a bee’s wing
as petals close around
the sound of humming.

Words are the honey,
the stream that flows,
the bee in flight
from the rose
that blooms from the drone
of the quivering lyre,
the crwth, the harp;
the bard on fire
fingers the strings
as a voice declaims.

What remains
in the afterglow
of the woven words,
the knotted strings?
Awen’s echo
fills the silence
which still contains
the sound of Mabon’s harp
from an otherworld of music,
and whispered words
from a cauldron of song.


Some strands of thought shaping the conceits in this poem are discussed in a separate post on my Awenydd site HERE~>

Early Welsh Verse as Modern Poetry

Recent Translations of the Cynfeirdd


The Goddoddin : Lament for the Fallen , a version by Gillian Clarke (Faber, 2021)

The Book of Taliesin : Poems of Warfare and Praise in an Enchanted Britain Translated by Gwyneth Lewis and Rowan Williams (Penguin Classics, 2019)


The texts of the earliest poems in Welsh have long since been available in edited printed texts and in translations that, at least since the twentieth century, attempt a reliable literal rendering of their meaning. In some cases, where literal meaning is obscure, the scholarly texts provide discussions of possible interpretations of difficult words or phrases informed both by philological analysis and by implications of the metre and other aspects of verse structure. Notably, recent editions of the texts of The Goddoddin by A.O.H Jarman and The Book of Taliesin, by Marged Haycock supply the original Welsh texts with annotations and detailed notes alongside literal line by line translations into English, thereby making them comprehensible to a wider readership. The primary purpose of these translations is to render the original meaning as far as that is possible rather than to produce an English text that could be regarded as poetry. Modern poets attempting their own translations of the texts include Gwyn Thomas’ modern Welsh version of Y Gododdin and extracts from both The Gododdin and the Taliesin poems into English by Gwyn Williams, Joseph Clancy and Tony Conran. A version of the whole of The Gododdin was presented as poetry in English by Steve Short in 1994. This does not attempt to be a literal rendering of the text but does contain an accurate reflection of it in expressive modern verse. Written in vivid language and employing a style of epigrammatic commentary it gets close to the atmosphere of the original in a way that the word-for-word parallel texts cannot achieve. Steve Short’s version was produced by the Llanerch small press and is unlikely to have gained a wide circulation, though I note that it is still available.

More recently translations of The Book of Taliesin by Gwyneth Lewis and Rowan Williams and of The Gododdin by Gillian Clarke have appeared. Both, in their different ways, seek to give an accurate rendering of the poem as modern English poetry. The Book of Taliesin by Lewis and Williams supplies the texts of all the poems as given by Ifor Williams in his edition of those poems he supposed to be by the original sixth century poet, or later renderings of them, as well as those given by Marged Haycock in her editions of the ‘Legendary Poems’ and the ‘Prophetic Poems’, supposed to be the work of later bards adopting the Taliesin persona. They provide an extensive introduction discussing the provenance of the poems, their metrical features and the nature of awen as understood by the medieval bards {this latter matter discussed separately HERE~>}. They also preface each poem with it’s own introduction and provide both footnotes and endnotes to aid interpretation. So although they offer a readable version of the Taliesin poems as modern poetry, this edition also has an interpretive dimension that delves more deeply into the background, although some readers simply wanting a version of the texts may find the multiple footnoting a distraction. What Lewis and Williams do not provide is the original Welsh text. By contrast, Gillian Clarke’s edition of The Gododdin dispenses with much of the scholarly apparatus but does print her version of the poem as a parallel text facing the Welsh version as given by Jarman. Her ‘Version’ (as she titles it) does not always follow the facing text line by line but re-arranges it into a sharpened and syntactically more flexible modern English.

In both cases what results is editions of the poems as accessible modern poetry by accomplished poets from major publishers which should bring them to the attention of a wider readership than the niche market of those interested in medieval Welsh poetry or the world of the early Welsh bards. But they too will be well served by both of these books. The Taliesin poems of Lewis and Williams provide most in the way of background analysis and context for the poems and even render some in a metrical configuration reflecting the original. But Gillian Clarke’s Gododdin poems may be best appreciated as modern English poems in their own right and do include the original Welsh text for comparison. She adds a translation of ‘Pais Dinogad‘ a short poem the manuscript of which was contained in the same binding as the Gododdin poems. Together these publications are invaluable additions to the published corpus of translations from early Welsh poetry.

Sketches

Big birds overhead
haunting the sky:

Kites like ships
on the wind
unassailed;

Buzzards turning
through slow arcs
preying over the land;

A heron’s
heavy wing-beats
towards the river;

Beyond them the Sun,
clouded in grey,
diffused through the veil

Of retreating Summer.

Gwrthryfel

Gwrthryfel / Uprising: An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Wales, edited by Mike Jenkins, £12 inc. p. and p., 180pps., 4 colour illustrations, ISBN 978-1-912710-48-5

From CULTURE MATTERS

Containing my contribution:

Notes for an Ecologist

It is the Earth itself that is the treasure, not
what is buried in her – the shining hoards of
carbon that feed the rolling mills of the dragon.

We had a life once marked out by the rising
and the setting of the Sun, and by darkness,
with bright Moon and and dark Moon, dark cloud or stars.

To the Earth we cleaved for love and for shelter,
her stones were our hearth stones, her trees made our fires
and we cleaved the earth for a giving of seed.

Our implements bit deep into clay and marl, into
shales that resisted the shares of wood and bone
but were shattered and ground by iron and gritstone.

Our fires then were the fires of the Sun, furnaces
blazing in the heat of the day, cold blades we made
that would pierce shale and bone: steel to carry a life away.

We mined ore from the rocks, cut stone for our walls,
dug pigments for staining. Some gave blood in recompense,
others gathered wealth from wasted lives.

We painted our world with the mind’s brush
and shaped a story with sharp quills of thought,
sat back satisfied as bright day faded to night.

We viewed it all then in imagination’s starlight
waiting for dawn to bring it alive. Dawn comes
gun-barrel grey over the subdued land. We grieve.

For the knot that was tied is broken forever
though we try with gestures to the way of right-living
to be something more than brave green consumers.

We find time to mourn for the forest peoples
who prayed to Faunus before their lands were taken,
for the scattered tribes who dwindle in cities.

We have a creed now: to love the Earth,
be carbon neutral, protect the climate.
Will this bring expiation, this guilty posturing?

What of those who profit from the crimes
that revenge themselves on our children,
who impose even death vicariously?

There is no refuge, nor any sanctuary.

Wildlife on the House

I thought these marks on the wall under our porch were mud splashes until I looked closer and found them to be spiderlings (Araneus…?) bunched up together.

A few days later they are beginning to disperse….
….and a few are beginning to make tiny webs!

Although we are willing hosts to these, for the first time in many years we have no martins nesting in the eaves nor swallows in the back of our garage. In fact only one sighting so far this year of either of these birds passing overhead when there have been several flying around daily in past years.

They may be late arriving, and the warmer southern winds that are now blowing may bring them. We will certainly miss them if they don’t come.

Blackbird

If sitting in a garden listening
to a blackbird singing
were all that there was,

it would be enough!

Ruth Bidgood

I’ve just heard the news that the poet Ruth Bidgood died on March 4th in her hundreth year. I remember going to a reading by her when she was ninety and wrote about it HERE

My review of Symbols of Plenty containing her Hymn to Ffraid is HERE

Hers was a life well lived with poems well written.

Polyphony

Polyphony

Many voices, woven sounds
loosely meandering, yet
tightly bound in harmony,
each line following
its own time
but tuned to another,
fabricating a flow
of music, a ground
of being, a belonging
one to the other:
exclusively inclusive
reflecting a perfect
social order.