Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book of the Month

Well this certainly isn't going to trouble the bestsellers list but on a number of counts it qualifies as my Book of the Month.

Firstly it's published, and very elegantly published, by Y Lolfa. The Ceredigion firm have been proving for decades that you can survive without the government handouts that so emasculate much of the Welsh publishing world. Oh and it is actually printed in Wales unlike many of the books published with tax payers money. Moving on we find that the author E A Rees is a professor of East European history in Florence, it's interesting how some of the most exciting works on Welsh history are being written by authors from outside the University of Wales.

The book itself is an attempt to write a biography of the fifteenth century bard and soldier Guto'r Glyn, based on the poet's own work and that of his contemporaries. As more and more bardic poetry is published in accessible editions and as the works of that amateur genealogist, Peter Bartram, makes sense of the family connections of the numerous aps and ferchs, we are surely going to see more books that use this astonishing source material to illuminate the past. The book is surely a harbinger of things to come. How fortunate Radnorshire is to have a wealth of such bardic material just waiting to be exploited by the historians of the future.

Does the book succeed as biography? I think it does. It may lack the fluidity of a modern work but the use of incisive poetry means that we get a far better insight into the character of Guto, his contemporaries and the society in which they lived, than would be available from the dry civil records available to traditional historians of the period. Having read Professor Rees's previous book about Welsh Rebels and Outlaws, I was pleased to see that this time he has opted for a comprehensive index to his work.

A reviewer is surely allowed to point out one mistake. The author says that no trace of the work of the bard Ieuan Gyfanedd survived but infact one poem did come down to us, a praise poem to Philip ap Rhys of St Harmon, I've attempted a translation here. Doubtless Rees was confused by the Dictionary of Welsh Biography's consigning of this poet to the wrong century! Professor Rees also deprives us of one of our local bards, Sion ap Phelpod of Brilley. He argues convincingly that Sion's poem to Hywel Dafi was infact written by Guto.

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