Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Review

It's a long time since I bought a guidebook to a Welsh historic building, probably back in the time when they were published by the Ministry of Works with blue covers, impenetrable prose, and the occasional fuzzy monochrome snap.

Anyway the Welsh Assembly are to be congratulated on the quality of their present day guidebooks. The Raglan book for example contains 56 pages of excellent colour photography and striking diagrams, and at £3.50 it is a bargain.

Of course I have a quibble and not a minor one either. Nowhere in the guidebook would a visitor learn that Raglan was one of the major centres of bardic patronage, for poets like Guto'r Glyn, Llywelyn ab Y Moel, Lewis Glyn Cothi etc. - the equals of any English language poet. Would a guidebook about Tintern fail to mention that it was the subject of a poem by Wordsworth?

Even worse the guide is quite disparaging of the bards in a couple of asides. It mentions a reference to the Great Tower in the work of Guto'r Glyn but adds "one has to be wary of bardic panegyrics." Why? Now English poetry may well be a solitary onanistic business, but Welsh poetry was composed to be declaimed in the public arena. Guto'r Glyn knew and fought in France alongside William ap Thomas of Raglan, his praise poem would have been sung in the presence of the subject and other great men of the country. There was little place for mere empty flattery in such works and if you actually read Welsh praise poetry of the 15C you'll see how false this widely held belief is.

A couple of paragraphs further on the guide comments on Lewis Glyn Cothi's elergy for William ap Thomas's widow Gwladus vz Dafydd Gam. Glyn Cothi mentions that 3000 people attended her funeral but the guidebook adds "perhaps with some pardonable poetic exaggeration." Why? Gwladus was the mother of five sons, the Herberts of Raglan and Colbrook, and the Vaughans of Tretower, Bredwardine and Hergest. I would have thought that 3000 was a conservative number of mourners for the mother of sons and grandsons who ruled most of South East Wales.

Now all this betrays a wider mentality where only English records can be relied on, while Welsh records are dismissed as exaggerations. Wales needs to put such attitudes behind it and the Assembly's guidebooks to our historic monuments might be a good place to start.


Anonymous said...

But they don't rhyme.

kjj said...

Well they do rhyme - OK so my translations don't rhyme but what do you expect for nothing.