Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Radnorshire Bardic Poems, 1

One of my great interests is the work of the fifteenth century bard Lewis Glyn Cothi who composed more than 80 praise poems to patrons living in and around what later became the old county of Radnorshire. I'm going to post English language translations of these poems here every now and again. This is a Cywydd Gofyn, a request poem, addressed to four female patrons living in Gwerthrynion, the area of Radnorshire bordered by the Wye on the south and the Ithon on the east. Glyn Cothi requests the gift of a new bed, but at the heart of the poem is in reality a description of the grave, and a sad echo of the death poem addressed to the bard's seven year old son Sion y Glyn.

No. 186 Request for a Bed

Four right living women,
Four whose like will never be again;
Four Marys under a splendid obligation,
Four Nons of generous St Harmon.

Gwenllian, daughter of old Owain,
Will be happy,
let us go to greet her;
Daughter of the prince of a privileged land,
This woman comes from Cenarth.
Efa is next, famed for her wine,
The high browed daughter of Llywelyn;
The Enid of Ricert ab Einion,
She is of the tribe of Llowdden.
Mallt, the daughter of Ieuan Fychan,
Will be praised in Maelienydd;
In Llananno, this girl is formed
From the ancestors of Elystan.
Elen Llwyd her word is good
As you will see, a daughter of Gruffydd Goch;
White wines and gowns were mine
From this Esyllt of the Gwenhwysians.
Cheerfully we greet each other,
Behold, four powerful good-women!
I know of no four in all the world
Who, in giving, can be compared.

From these four from Gwerthrynion
A thousand could learn between the Usk and Anglesey.
The doors of their four halls
To the world are like the gate of Bath;
To me, that is less, by the skull of St Oswald
Than the mead of Elen and Mallt,
Efa the good woman shares green wine,
Wine comes from Gwenllian’s hand.

Before them I am confident,
From six feasts, to ask for a bed.
A bed for when I am sick,
So I can escape from a long, pining sickness.
For me, it will be a place where
My guilty body can rest.
My little dice loves the night,
He throws himself, full stretch on the white coverlet,
To sleep for an hour away from me,
Stretched out on pure silk.
It is thick and many coloured,
Tender against the scorching frost,
A soft place of small feathers,
A place of rest for a labourer.
Square dice of white braid,
A high door between two bed walls,
An acre of superior green bedding,
An altar of sleep on the cell floor;
All is made of linen and cloth,
Of silk brocade and white feathers.
There, in the depth of the night,
One can sleep like Maelgwn in Rhos;
I’ll be like Eli with his mead,
Like Enoch, for sixty years.
There I would never see
Tenacious nightmares,
Or futile things that can never be;
Or any early morning dreams
Which find me at the altar of Rouen,
Or in the bed of the angels.

They gave it to me, four saints,
My saintly bed like a tennis court;
And flour from their four homes,
And gold, and ale, and mead,
And silver, and a fire, and a house,
A hundred feasts, and wine and a bed.

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