Thursday, November 05, 2009

Morgan Elfael

While Radnorshire could compare with any Welsh county in its readiness to provide patronage to the bardic order, it must be admitted that the county - or those cantons which went to make up the modern county - produced few literary figures itself. Indeed the correspondent of Y Gwyliedydd writing in 1827, at a time when the Welsh language had retreated 20 miles in a generation, blamed this process of anglicization on the lack of local poets and literary figures.

It would be pleasant if evidence came to light showing that bards such as Bedo Brwynllys for example, actually derived their names from Radnorshire placenames, in his case Brwynllys in Llanddewi Ystradenni parish, rather than the generally accepted Breconshire Bronllys; but as it is, even a poet as associated with the county as Hywel ap Syr Mathew actually came from Llanfair Waterdine in Shropshire.

One bard that Radnorshire can certainly claim is Morgan Elfael, who in all probability came from Diserth and whose death is recorded in the Presteigne parish register in 1563. Many years ago I actually looked up the entry in the register at the Hereford Record Office, a tangible link - like the tomb of Elen Gethin and Tomas ap Rhosier in Kington church - with a past that in many ways seems almost mythical. Anyway Morgan was a fairly prolific bard with some 60 surviving poems hidden away in manuscript.

Ffrancis Payne published a long extract from one poem in Crwydro Sir Faesyfed but I've seen nothing else in print. The poem relates the adventures of a group of friends travelling to Arwystl, on the way they encounter a troll like creature. Here's my attempt at translating a few lines:

Philip fell in a heap,
Arse over head beneath the table,
Once more he got up, like a stupid dog
To grab hold a second time.
Dear God and his candles!
What a racket this angry wrestling match made!
Four hours they were fighting there,
Clumsily, arse over tip.
I've seen many, but he was the ugliest,
The dirty creature beneath Bedo.
There in plain view they saw
Bedo castrate the thing;
And throw him, a fat package,
Into the blazing fire on his bare backside.

It's interesting that Morgan uses South Wales dialect in this extract, cwnnu instead of codi and tawlu instead of taflu.


Anonymous said...

!! " a group of friends travelling to Llanidloes, on the way they encounter a troll ..."
May I enquire as to where they started from ?
I think we need more of this poem...

kjj said...

Yep, this is what comes from posting from memory - actually to Arwystl, the cantref which contains Llani. Morgan Elfael, Huw ap Dafydd Lewis of Harpton and Dafydd ap Hywel who Payne thinks is the household bard at Hergest were on the journey ..... so Harpton would seem a good starting point. Of course a lot of these bardic poems are just imaginary flights of fancy, so probably they never went anywhere.

A troll?? Well that's what the incident reminded me of 20 or so years ago when I last looked at it. Probably thinking of Danny Kaye though.

I see that some academic in Lampeter is researching Morgan, wonder if any of that research will ever be available for humble Radnorians to peruse?