Monday, November 08, 2010

The Men of Elfael

In Brut y Tywysogion under the year 1252 there is an entry that Elfael - and if you don't know that the cantref of Elfael covered what later became the southern half of Radnorshire, then you should do - was despoiled because the men of Elfael had illegally used the pastures, and here there's some confusion, of either Maelienydd or Elenydd. A couple of centuries or more later and the bard Lewis Glyn Cothi was requesting the gift of a stallion from the men of Elfael.

So who were these men of Elfael? It seems to me that they must have constituted a legal body. If individuals in Elfael had illegally grazed animals on a neighbouring cantref then surely they would have been despoiled rather than a group punishment being imposed. A group punishment suggests a group transgression. Likewise Lewis Glyn Cothi requested gifts from plenty of named individuals in poems where he praises their bloodline. In the poem below he requests a gift from a group and praises their country. He also expects the gift to come from a pound, an institution that would have had to be administered, presumably, by these men of Elfael.

Anyway it makes sense that the men of Elfael constituted some kind of proto-democratic body, along the lines of a Swiss canton perhaps. It is probably the natural organic system of local government that suits Wales. Of course now we're blessed with Powys County Council.

Request For a Stallion from the Men of Elfael by Lewis Glyn Cothi

Blessed God, ‘til my last day,
To the generous land that chases a stag.
Once, long ago, I was young and cheerful,
That was then, today I’m old,
And with age comes bad temper,
I’m an unwelcome pedestrian.

Although I’ve had the gold of the fair lands of Elfael,
Now I desire something more.
I desire a stallion,
One with a coat as black as charcoal.
From the manor to the van, I’m not interested
In some wild-tempered bay,
A slim lion is what I desire,
A strong giant or a rounded stag,
As fair as that great stallion, his sire,
As tame towards me as a sheep.
Today it’s easy work to find him
In the pound of the two Elfaels;
And then like swan feathers,
A smooth saddle to cover the horse,
And a short bit in his nostril
To stop him from jumping.
I am as gentle as a swan,
My stallion is gentle on my backside.
Up top, my saddle is smooth,
Like the van, I’m bald.

The two best lands in all the world,
The cultivated lands of Elfael,
Idnerth Hir and Elystan turned them
Into a land of fields,
And then, full of riches,
They were Einion Clud’s yard.
Elfael has never lent her shoulder,
Like so many lands, to an English tune.
Elfael is greater than a thousand myriad,
More than the fair of Man and her roads.
Troy was broader than Greece,
Wide in one fair whorl,
Yet the Greeks and their turmoil
Broke through the walls of Troy;
The men of Elfael also go
Through the wide lands of the earth.

If there is a musician without
A share of silver or mead,
Let him drop his prices, let him search the Wye
For silver, as far as Clyro;
From Clyro, calling for strength
In his heels, back to Diserth;
From Diserth, and being honoured,
Let him come to the land of Aberedw.
In strength he will have cattle,
In minted gold, in kind words,
In corn, on the banks of the Edw,
In great stallions, in greater happiness.

Over Elfael, the Cross of Tyfaelog,
And the Virgin, and the Cross and the Holy Rood,
Let Dwynwen extend her cross
Over the land of Mael, over fair Elfael,
God’s will be done, below the land of Mael,
And Sulfedd bless Elfael!


Gob said...

Once, long ago, I was young and cheerful,
That was then, today I’m old,
And with age comes bad temper,
I’m an unwelcome pedestrian.


Anonymous said...

Unlike your blogger who is happy as Larry and has an Alto

Gob said...

I rather like those four lines and think I may use them to declare the Gob Christmas Lunch open.

radnorian said...

I occasionally give a lift to a bad tempered pedestrian, he was never young and cheerful though.

Good luck with your Christmas lunch.