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Posts Tagged ‘Celtic Poetry’

History_of_the_Kings_(f.99.v)_Cadwallon_fab_Cadfan


I periodically like to visit the Blog “The Fold of the Bards,” (http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/index.html) containing mostly the poetry, original and in translation, of the Celtic bards of antiquity. Posting of much of the poetry, epic in form, is far too long to include in T&T so I often look for shorter pieces or excerpts like the one I include below.

The poems themselves were not originally written down. In order to become a bard, one had to spend as much as eighteen years memorizing the poems of the past. Most of the poems concerned battles or the doings of the various gods or other supernatural creatures of Celtic mythology. Often when the heroes of one tribe met the heroes of another in battle, the bards of the respective warrior bands would retire to a nearby valley and conduct a bardic competition. The victor’s poem in that competition often would become the record of the battle in the bardic canon no matter the actual outcome of the battle.

One epic poem I read concerned a powerful tribe in northern England who had achieved dominance over a large area of what is now Northumbria. The battle was fought and the tribe was wiped out to a man. The only record we have of the tribes and that battle is a long poem listing every warrior on that losing side, what each was known for and how they died in battle (heroically of course). As for the winners, virtually nothing appears in the bardic canon. They disappeared from history as though they did not ever exist.

 
Gofara Braint
The Flooding of the Braint River

LlGC 9094 (i, ii) [Robert Vaughan’s Notebook]
Peniarth 120 (iii) [Edward Lhuyd’s copy of Vaughan’s Notebook]

Handid haus genyf gerdet yn ddigynvyl
o adaw kymbry wrth ynghussyl
Can dodyw pen Edwin lys Aberffraw
a dyfod Cymru yn un andaw
Neus duc Gwynedd gorvoled i Vrython


Translation:

The Flooding of the Braint River
Ease the flood without strife
From Wales to forsake my council (?)
The head of Edwin came to the court at Aberffraw
And the Welsh came in an assembly
The lord of Gwynedd brought joy to the Britons


NOTES: This five-line fragment of what we assume was a longer poem is found in only two manuscripts, the second a copy of the first. Robert Vaughan records it, but it’s believed to be much older, at least before the 14th century, based on its orthography, and perhaps not much longer after the life of Cadwallon ap Cadfan, about whom this poem is apparently about. Cadwallon defeated King Edwin of England, who was beheaded; Bede says the head was taken to York, but this poem claims it was taken to the royal court of Aberffraw on the Isle of Anglesey.

The title is difficult to understand on its own; it’s believed that gofara should be amended to gorlifa, “flooding”, and thus evokes the image of the Braint River on Anglesey, overflowing its banks after the death of Cadwallon.

The image of the river overflowing in grief–essentially the land weeping for its fallen lord–may have its origins in the old Celtic concept of the king marrying the goddess of sovereignty. The name of the river–Braint–is derived from Brigantia, the tutelary goddess of the Brigantes, the powerful tribe of North Britain. The name Brigantia, it is argued by scholars like D.A. Binchy, gave rise to the Welsh word for king, brenin, i.e. brenin < breenhin < *brigantīnos, “consort of the goddess Brigantia”. It certainly was the origin of the word braint, meaning “privilege”, for instance privileges concerning land grants (i.e., the Braint Teilo).

This possibly points to either a general wider worship of Brigantia, or to the settlement of Gwynedd by the legendary Cunedda from the part of North Britain where Brigantia was worshipped; however, this presupposes Cunedda to have still been pagan in the fifth century, which while possible is unlikely. It’s also possible that the river was named by the Irish who settled North Wales, including Anglesey, in the fifth century; indeed the Llŷn Peninsula that stretches southeast from the area bordering Anglesey is named for the Laigin, i.e., the Leinstermen, who were likely descended of the Brigantes in Ireland (their territories overlap), and whose patron saint was, not coincidently, St. Brigit.

SOURCES: Gruffydd, R. Geraint. “Canu Cadwallon ap Cadfan”. Astudiaethau ar yr Hengerdd: Studies in Old Welsh Poetry. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 1978.

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“Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote his poem ‘In Memoriam AHH,’ in response to the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. Several cantos consider the bleak lessons of paleontology — not just the myriads of deaths, but the specter of species extinction. Tennyson finished the poem in 1849, a decade before “The Origin of Species,” when the possibility of non-divinely-directed evolution and the reality of mass extinctions like the end-Permian were becoming part of general awareness.

LV

Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;

That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,

I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world’s altar-stairs
That slope thro’ darkness up to God,

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.

LVI

‘So careful of the type?’ but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, ‘A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.

‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.’ And he, shall he,

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?

“For one answer to Tennyson’s anguished question about human extinction, there’s an argument that says we can estimate how much longer humanity has got from just basic probability theory. It comes from astrophysicist Richard Gott, and goes like this: Homo sapiens has been around about 200,000 years. It’s not very likely that we’re living at the very beginning or very end of our species’ history, just like it’s not very likely that a name chosen at random from the phone book will come at the very beginning or the very end. Specifically, there’s only a 2.5% chance that we’re living in the first 2.5% of our species’ life span, and only a 2.5% chance we’re living in the last 2.5% of our species’ life span. So do the math, and there’s a 95% probability that our species will last somewhere between .2 million and 8 million years.

“This might also explain the Fermi paradox — we, and other intelligent species aren’t likely to colonize the galaxy. But it’s only fair to add that a lot of other people (the physicist Freeman Dyson, for example) think this gloomily Tennysonian conclusion is an abuse of probability theory.”
Logarithmic History (https://logarithmichistory.wordpress.com/2019/03/13/in-memoriam-paleozoic-5/)

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Today’s Poem:
Pasted Graphic
Sculpture of the poet Taliesin on permanent loan to the Order of Sancta Sophia, Pennal.

“I have been many things,
Before becoming as I am.
I have been a narrow multi-colored sword.
I have been a tear in the air.
I have lived as the faintest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
A book among words.”*
Taliesin, 500 ACE
(*My revisions to translation).

The Birth of Taliesin:
wp91b42536_05_06
Ceridwen and Gwion Bach by Tim Rossiter.

“The magical story of Taliesin (t-ah l-ee eh-sin) – Hanes Taliesin – begins with the goddess Ceridwen (KEH-rihd-wehn) stirring her Cauldron over her cooking fire. Ceridwen is the triple-goddess in her form as elder or ‘crone’. Her Cauldron is the source of everything, for she is God in the aspect of Creator. At this point, the Cauldron is the source of poetic inspiration (awen in Welsh) and of all wisdom and knowledge. She has her son Gwion Bach (which might be translated “Little Man-ling”) stir and watch the pot. Accidentally, three drops fall from the Cauldron onto Gwion’s thumb, and he sucks his thumb. With this act he becomes filled with all knowledge – and, seeing danger ahead for himself, scurries.

There follows a magic hunt, in which Ceridwen chases Gwion, Gwion shape-shifts into a hare, then an otter, then a bird, and Ceridwen shape-shifts in pursuit. Gwion then becomes an ear of grain and Ceridwen turns herself into a hen and eats him. The symbolic meaning is fairly transparent: Gwion, the archetypal Human Person, acquiring a little wisdom, flees from fire (the cauldron) via earth (hare), water (otter) and air (bird), all of them changing forms within the great cosmic delusion of Creation (hence, “shape shifting”); but the Divine Mother is in constant pursuit, ever coaxing Her child back to Herself. Eventually, the Human becomes totally humble, submitting himself to a state of being (one grain) in which he can be wholly absorbed into the Divine Consciousness…….

…..and, as often happens in a story when grain is a symbol, he is reborn. The Hanes Taliesin tells us that Gwion now spends nine months in the womb of Ceridwen and is then reborn as Taliesin. Ceridwen wills neither to keep him nor to kill him, so she leaves him in a basket by Gwyddno’s royal salmon weir. There he is found by Prince Elffin, son of King Gwyddno Garanhir of Ceredigion.

Elffin is frustrated. He was there, allowed to fish for salmon for the first time in his life, and instead of catching any he caught this darned baby. The baby Taliesin immediately sings Elffin a poem, in which he proclaims himself “loquacious though not yet able to speak” (reminiscent of Krishna’s comparably surprising day-of-birth speech to his father), informs him “I was once little Gwion Bach but now I am Taliesin”, and promises the young prince that he will one day be worth more to him than even as inconceivably big a day’s catch as three hundred salmon.”
https://kingarthursomerset.wordpress.com/about/

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