Arthurian and Grail Poetry
Marwnad Cunedda or The Death-song of Cunedda
This poem is taken from Llyfr Taliesin; but it is believed
to be a much earlier work. It is an elegy for Cunneda, who with his sons were moved from the
Gododdin to Gwynedd around 400CE to expell the Irish. He would become the ancestor of the kings
and princes of Gwynedd.
Sir Ifor Williams believed this poem to be a ninth or tenth-century pseudo-archaic fraud;
but more recently R.G. Gruffudd and John Koch have both argued that it should be considered
a genuine Northern British elegy. Gruffudd believes that 'it reads in fact like a North
British poem composed shortly after Cunedda's death (there is no reference to his exploits
in North Wales)'. Koch has noted that Cunedda's enemies appear to have been the Roman-fortified
towns south of the Wall and that amongst his followers appear to be the men of
Bernicia. A later pseudo-archaic fraud would also likely have an overtly Christian tone as in Marwnad
Owain, which is also attributed to the historical sixth-century Taliesin.
This translation is
by John Koch. The opening attribution to Taliesin's authorship may be a later addition. The name
Byrneich [Bernicia] pre-dates the English kingdom of that name.
Mydwyf taliessin deryd gwawt godolaf vedyd.
Bedyd rwyd rifedeu eidolyd.
kyfrwnc allt ac allt ac echwyd
Ergrynawr cunedaf creisseryd.
ygkaer weir achaer liwelyd.
Ergrynawt kyfatwt kyfergyr.
kyfanwanec tan tramyr ton.
llupawt glew ygilyd.
kan kafas y whel uch eluyd.
mal vcheneit gwynt wrth onwyd.
kefynderchyn ygwn ygyfyl kyfachetwyn achoelyn kerenhyd.
Gwiscant veird kywrein kanonhyd.
marw cunedaf agwynaf agwynit.
Cwynitor tewdor tewdum diarchar.
Dychyfal dychyfun dyfynveis
Ymadrawd cwdwdawd caletlwm.
kaletach wrth elyn noc ascwrn.
ys kynyal cunedaf kyn kywys athytwet.
ywyneb a gatwet kanweith cyn bu lleith yndorglwyt
Dychludent wyr bryneich ympymlwyt.
Ef canet racyofyn ae arswyt oergerdet.
kyn bu dayr dogyn ydwet.
heit haual am wydwal gwnebrwyt.
gweinaw gwaeth llyfred noc adwyt.
Adoet hun dimyaw agwynaf amlys am grys cynedaf
Am ryaflaw hallt am hydyruer mor.
Am breid afwrn aballaf.
gwawt veird aogon aogaf.
Ac ereill arefon arifaf.
Ryfedawr yn erulawd
Anaw cant gorwyd kyn kymun cuneda.
Rymafei biw blith yrhaf.
Rymafei edystrawt ygayaf.
Rymafei win gloyw ac olew.
Rymafei torof keith rac vn trew.
Ef dyfal ogressur o gyflew gweladur.
Pennadur pryt llew lludwy uedei gywlat rac mab edern kyn edyrn anaelew.
Ef dywal diarchar diedig.
Am ryfreu agheu dychyfyg.
Ef goborthi aes ymanregorawl gwir gwrawl oed y vnbyn.
Dymhun achyfatcun athal gwin kamda.
diua hun o goelig.
[I am Taliesin of ardent song, which I bestow on Christendom,
praising the wonders of the lord of Christendom.]
Between the brine and the high slope and fresh stream water,
men will cringe before Cunedda, the violent one.
In Caer Weir [?Durham] and Caer Lywelydd [Carlisle],
fighting will shake the Roman towns [civitates].
A tidal inrush of flame, a wave from across the sea;
champion will set upon champion;
moved by the man who gained sway across the habitable surface of the world,
as the sighing of the wind over the ash wood.
The heirs of Kynvarch and those of Coel will hold fast together in alliance.
They will adorn the skillful bards who sing.
It is the death of Cunedda that I mourn and shall mourn.
The thick door, the stout stronghold of refuge,
the fearless one is mourned --
the noble, refined, profound one,
His address to the towns of the Romans [civitates] was harsh and stark,
harder than bone against the foe.
Exalted Cunedda, before going to his earthen resting place,
he maintained his honour a hundred times over.
Before our protector perished,
the men of the land of Byrneich [Bernica] were wont to give battle.
A song of pain was sung for fear and dread of him before a covering of earth became his portion.
A pack like wild dogs ensheathed him.
Cowardice is worse than death. For this bitter death I lament,
for the court and the onslaught of Cunedda.
For [want of] the abundance of the brine, for the salmon of the sea,
for the spoils of the oven, I shall now surely perish.
I shall recite the verse that the bards recite.
As others reckon, I shall reckon
the wonders of the battle lord:
[his] gift of a hundred steeds before Cunedda took his share.
He used to grant me cattle in mid summer.
He used to grant me horses in winter.
He used to grant me bright wine and oil.
He used to grant me a throng of slaves for a household.
He was a mighty attacker in conflict --
the chieftain whose face was that of a lion.
The borderland was always reduced to ashes prior to the everlasting overthrow
of Edern's son [Cunedda].
He who was brave, unyielding, fierce, is cut off by the consuming power of death.
He was wont to sustain a resplendent shield [ie protection].
Heroic men were his captains.
Grief wakens me, holds back the wine of the man great in feats --
the sleep of Coel's descendants destroyed.