Skene's Four Ancient Books of Wales

CHAPTER XIII.
TRUE PLACE OF THE POEMS IN WELSH LITERATURE.

   Having thus examined the recent criticism, by which the poems attributed to the bards of the sixth century are maintained really to belong to a much later period, so far as the limits of this work will permit, we have now to approach the true problem we have to solve, and endeavour to assign to them their real place in Cymric literature; and the first question is, Do the poems themselves afford any indications by which we may judge of their antiquity? It is obvious, viewed in this light, that if these poems are genuine they ought to reflect the history of the period to which they belong. If we find that they do not re-echo to any extent the fictitious narrative of the events of the fifth and sixth centuries as represented in the Bruts, but rather the leading facts of the early history of Cymry, as we have been able to deduce them from the older authorities, it will be a strong ground for concluding that they belong themselves to an earlier age. This is an inquiry which of course can only affect the so-called historical poems, with such others of the class of mythological poems as contain historical allusions; but when their true place and period are once ascertained, the other poems must be judged of by their resemblance to these in metrical structure, style, and sentiment.
   Following, then, the course of the history, as we have traced it, we have first the Marwnad or Death-song of Cunneddaf (B. T. 46). Cunedda, as we know, was Guledig in the fifth century, and retired from the northern wall to beyond the southern. In the poem we are told--

There is trembling from fear of Cunedda the burner,
In Caer Weir and Caer Lliwelydd;
that is, in Durham. and Carlisle--two towns, the one behind the west end, and the other the east end of the wall. And again--
He was to be admired in the tumult with nine hundred horse.
Here he is represented as commanding 900 horse, the exact amount of auxiliary cavalry attached to a Roman legion. The Roman wall, or mur, is likewise alluded to in two other of those death-songs (B. T. 40, 41)--one where Ercwlf is called the Wall-piercer, and the other where Madawg, the son of Uthyr, is called the Joy of the Wall.
   It is very remarkable how few of these poems contain any notice of Arthur. If they occupied a place, as is supposed, in Welsh literature, subsequent to the introduction of the Arthurian romance, we should expect these poems to be saturated with him and his knights, and his adventures, but it is not so. Out of so large a body of poems, there are only five which mention him at all, and then it is the historical Arthur, the Guledig, to whom the defence of the wall was entrusted, and who fights the twelve battles in the north and finally perishes at Camlan. In one of them, the Cadeir Teyrnon (B. T. 15), this idea pervades the whole poem. Arthur is the
Person of two authors of the race
Of the steel Ala.
He is mentioned as being
Among the Gosgordd of the wall.
The Bard asks
Who are the three chief ministers
That guarded the country?
And finally
From the destruction of Chiefs,
In a butchering manner;
From the loricated Legion
Arose the Guledig.
   In another, the poem in the Black Book which has been supposed to refer to the Mabinogi of Kilhwch and Olwen, Arthur again appears as the warrior fighting in the north, and two of his twelve battles are mentioned--
In Mynyd Eiddyn
He contended with Cynvyn.
And again--
On the strands of Trywruyd
Contending with Garwluyd,
Brave was his disposition.
With sword and shield.
And the same body of legionary cavalry is alluded to--
They were stanch commanders
Of a legion for the benefit of the country,
Bedwyn and Bridlaw,
Nine hundred to them would listen.
   Again, in the Spoils of Annwfn. (B. T. 30), in which, in its historical sense, an expedition to the dreary region north of the wall would be intended--
Thrice twenty Canhwr stood upon the mur or wall.
Canhwr is a centuria, or body of 100 men, and there were sixty centuries in the Roman legion, here represented as stationed at the wall.
   In the Historia Britonum, the author describes the Britons as having been, for forty years after the Romans left the island, "sub metu," which expression he afterwards explains as meaning, "sub metu Pictorum et Scotorum," and the memory of these fearful and destructive outbursts of ravaging and plundering bands of Picts from beyond the wall must have long dwelt in their recollection. This we might also expect to find reflected in the poems.
   When a poem opens with these lines:--
How miserable it is to see
Tumult and commotion,
Wounds and confusion,
The Brithwyr in motion,
And a cruel fate,
With the impulse of destiny,
And for the sake of Heaven,
Declare the discontinuance of the disaster--
is it possible to doubt that that poem was written in a time when the country was still smarting from the recollection of their ravages? Thus, in another poem (R. B. 23), we have
Let the chief architects
Against the fierce Picts
Be the Morini Brython--
alluding to the attempt by the Britons to protect themselves by the wall. Then, in two other poems, One commonly called the Mic Dinbych (B. T. 21), where the billows which surround one of the cities are said
To come to the green sward from the region of the Ffichti;
and in another (B. T. 11), where, it is said--
Hearndur and Hyfeid and Gwallawg,
And Owen of Mona of Maelgwnian energy,
Will lay the Peithwyr prostrate--
is it possible to doubt that they must have been written when the Picts were still a powerful people in Britain, and before their kingdom was merged in that of the Scots?
   The mode in which Mr. Nash deals with these passages is characteristic. He ignores the first poem altogether, and he so disguises the other passages in his translation as to banish the Picts as effectually from them as they were ever expelled by the Roman troops from the province. In the passage quoted from the second poem, he translates the line--Rac Ffichit leuon, before twenty chiefs. Now, Ffichit does not mean twenty in Welsh, but Fichead means twenty in Gaelic; and he would rather suppose that the bard had introduced a Gaelic word than that he could have alluded to such embarrassing people as the Picts.
   In the next passage he translates the line--Adaw hwynt werglas o glas Ffichti, "promised to them are the drinking-cups of painted glass." If A daw hwynt means they came, Adaw means a promise; but how Gwerlas call mean drinking-cups I cannot conceive.
   It is always used as meaning "the green sward." Then he evidently supposes that glas is the English word "glass," instead of the middle form of clas, a region; and thus here, too, he would rather suppose that the bard had used the English word "glass," and. the Latin word "pictus" in its corrupt form ffichti, than that the Picts could have been mentioned; but the technical use in Welsh of Ffchti for the Picts is quite established.
   The last passage he thus translates:--"Hearnddur and Hyfeid Hir, and Gwallawg and Owen of Mona, and Maelgwn of great reputation, they would prostrate the foe;" thus quietly suppressing the word Peithwyr, which certainly does not mean. simply "foe."1
   Nennius mentions the Picts whom Arthur defeated at the battle of Mynyd Eiddyn, or Edinburgh, by the strange and unusual name of Catbregion; but we find them appearing under that name in another poem in the Book: of Taliessin (50):--
The Catbreith of a strange language will be troubled,
From the ford of Taradyr to Portwygyr in Mona.
The ford of Taradyr is the ford of Torrador, across the river Carron, the northern boundary of the Picts of Manau, near Falkirk.
   This poem, too, is ignored by Mr. Nash.
   Another portion of these poems must evidently have been known to the author of the Genealogia, written in the eighth century. After narrating the reign of Ida, king of Northumbria, who died in 559, he says:--"Tunc Talhaern Cataguen in poemate claruit et Neirin et Taliesin et Bluchbard et Cian qui vocatur Gueinthgwant simul uno tempore in poemate Britannico claruerunt." Of these four who shone in British poetry, it is admitted that the first three are Aneurin, Taliessin, and Llywarch Hen, and being mentioned in the course of his notice of Bernicia, they must have been connected with the north. The expression used with regard to them is remarkable. It does not simply say that they flourished then but "in poemate Britannico claruerunt." Could he have used that expression had there not been poemata Britannica, Welsh poems, then well known and then connect with this some of the subsequent notices, "Contra illum (i.e. Hussa) quatuor regis Urbgen et Ridderch Hen et Guallaue et Morcant dimicaverunt." The idea that runs through these notices, and accounts for the otherwise apparently unconnected and intrusive mention of the bards, is this. Aneurin, Taliessin, and Llywarch Hen, wrote Welsh poems, and it was against Hussa that Urien, Ridderch Hen, Gwallawg, and Morcant fought. Add to this, that the subject of a number of the poems of Taliessin and Llywarch Hen was the wars of these very heroes against the Saxons; and can we reasonably doubt that these poems were known to the writer? The next notice is still more significant "Deodric, contra illum Urbgen cum filiis dimicabat fortiter." There is but one poem in which Urien is mentioned as fighting along with any of his sons. It is the Battle of Argoed Llwyfain, attributed to Taliessin (B. T. 35), in which Urien and his son Owen are attacked by Flamddwyn, the Saxon king, and fight valiantly against him. Must this poem not have been in the mind of the writer when he here notes--It was against Deodric that Urien and his sons fought,--thus identifying him with Flamddwyn? There is another allusion of the same kind equally significant. After narrating the war between Oswy and Penda, with the thirty British kings who assisted him, and their slaughter in Campo Gai, he adds, "Et nunc facta est strages Gai Campi." Is the idea not this--And it was now that the well-known slaughter of Catraeth took place? for traeth, a shore, is here rendered by Campus and Ca, forming in combination Ga, as in Gatraeth, is the adjective Gaus agreeing with Campus, and the great poem of the Gododin, including the mixed portion, which belongs to this period, must have been known to the writer. If these inferences are at all legitimate, a body of historical poems attributed to the same bards, and narrating the same events by the same warriors as those which we now have, must have been in, existence when the author of the Genealogia wrote--that is, in the eighth century.
   Further, in examining these poems,. we find that there runs through the poems in each of the four books a date indicated in the poem itself, which is nearly the same in all, and is comprised within the first sixty years of the seventh or immediately preceding century. Thus, in the Book of Caermarthen, there is what I conceive to be the text of the Avallenau in its original shape, and in this text the bard says--
Ten years and forty, with my treasures,
Have I been sojourning among ghosts and sprites.
And the first poem tells us that, after the battle of Ardderyd,
Seven score generous ones become ghosts.
In the wood of Celyddon they came to an end.
The battle of Ardderyd was fought in the year 573, and ten years and forty will bring us to 623, not long after which the poem may have. been composed.
   In the Book of Aneurin, the bard who wrote the last part of the Gododin tells us that "from the height of Adoyn he saw the head of Dyfnwal Brec devoured by ravens;" but Dyfnwal Brec is no other than Donald Brec, king of Dalriada, and the year of his death is a fixed era. It was in 642;
   In the Book of Taliessin there is a poem (49) which has been much misunderstood. It contains these verses:--
Five chiefs there will be to me
Of the Gwyddyl Ffichti,
Of a sinner's disposition,
Of a race of the knife;
Five others there will be to me
Of the Norddmyn place;
The sixth a wonderful king,
From the sowing to the reaping;
The seventh proceeded
To the land over the flood;
The eighth, of the line of Dyfi,
Shall not be freed from prosperity.
   The Dyfi or Dovey flows past Corsfochno and the Traeth Maelgwn, where Maelgwn Gwynedd. established the sovereignty in his family, is on its shore. The kings of his race are the only kings who could be said to be of the line of Dyfi or Dovey. The word Norddmyn is probably the word translated by the author of the Genealogia, where he calls Oswald "Rex Nordorum." It is only used on this one occasion, and seems, during his reign, to have been applied to the kings of the Nordanhymbri. We know that the Saxons of Bernicia superseded a Pictish population; and there is but one king of the line of Dyfi who became a king of Bernicia, and he was Cadwallawn, a descendant of Maelgwn Gwynedd. The passage, therefore, appears to refer to Bernicia, which lay south of the Firth of Forth. We have first five kings of the Gwyddyl Ffichti, then five kings of the Norddmyn--Ida, Ella, Ethelric, Ethelfred, and Edwin. The sixth, from the sowing to the reaping--that is, from spring to harvest--was Osric, who only reigned a few months, when he was slain in autumn by Cadwallawn. The seventh was Eanfrid, who crossed the flood--that is, the Firth of Forth--from the land of the Picts, where he had taken refuge, and was likewise slain by Cadwallawn, who is the eighth king of the line of Dyfi, and the poem must have been written before his reverse of fortune in 655. In the poem called Cerdd y Vab Llyr (B. T. 14) there is this line--
A battle against the lord of fame in the dales of Severn,
Against Brochmail of Powys, who loved my Awen.
which implies that the bard was contemporary with Brochmail, who is mentioned by Bede as being present at the battle fought in 613. In the Red Book of Hergest, in the historical poems attributed to Llywarch Hen, there occurs throughout a current of expressions which imply that the bard witnessed the events he alludes to, and must have lived during the period extending from the death of Urien to that of Cadwallawn in 659. But what was this period thus indicated in so many of the poems, and running through the four ancient books? It was that of the great outburst of energy on the part of the Cymry under Cadwallawn, when they even, for the time, obtained supremacy over the Angles of Northumberland, and throughout his life presented a formidable front to their Saxon foes--when their hopes must have been excited, and their exultation equally great, till, after the first reverse in 655, they were finally quenched by the death of Cadwaladyr, in the pestilence of 664, who, they fondly hoped, would have re-established the power they had enjoyed under his father.
   The first poem in the Red Book of Hergest is the Cyvoesi Myrddin, and its peculiar form requires special consideration. It is a species of chronicle written in the shape of a dialogue between Myrddin and his sister Gwendydd, in which the latter appeals to her brother's prophetical power to foretell the successive rulers over Britain. This is a device of which there are other examples, and it is a favourite one in rude times. A record of past events is written in the shape, of a prophecy of future events, and the period of its composition is indicated by the termination of a distinct and literal record, and the commencement of one clothed in figurative and obscure language. This is a species of poetic chronicle which, is peculiarly adapted to addition and interpolation. A few imitative verses in the same style can be inserted or added, bringing the record from time to time further down.
   The Cyvoesi commences with Rydderch Hael, in whose time the prophecy is supposed to be uttered, and the bard foretells the rule of Morcant after him; after. Morcant, Urien; and after Urien, Maelgwn Hir. He then takes the line of Maelgwn's descendants down to Cynan Tindaethwy, when he introduces Mervyn o dir Manau, and follows his descendants to Howel dda. The record then changes its character, and proceeds to foretell a succession of kings under descriptive names, until it announces the coming again of Cadwaladyr, who is said to reign 303 years and 3 months, and to be succeeded by Cyndaf; and after some further obscure references, the poem assumes a more personal character, in which the bard is described as having been imprisoned beneath the earth, and concludes.
   It has been supposed that this poem must have been composed in the reign of Howel dda, who died in 948, as after his name the style of the poem changes from the direct mention of historic kings under their real names to that of a list of apparently imaginary kings, designated by obscure epithets; but Mr. Stephens does not admit this, and maintains that these obscure epithets can be so easily identified as to show that the bard was in fact recording the historic successors of Howel dda. An example of this identification will suffice: The bard, when asked, Who will rule after Howel? answers Y Bargodyein, the borderers. Mr. Stephens thinks this word plainly indicates Jevan and Jago, the sons of Edwal Voel, king of North Wales, because their claim to the throne which they usurped only bordered on a rightful title.2
   There is reason to think, however, that parts of this poem were compiled at an earlier date than the reign of Howel dda. It may in fact be divided into four parts--the first, from the beginning to the end of the 26th stanza, containing the stanza mentioning Cadwaladyr; the second, from the 26th stanza to the 65th; the third, from the 66th stanza to the 102d; and the fourth, from the 102d stanza to the end.
   Now there is this peculiarity in the first part of the poem, that it names as the kings who ruled before Maelgwn, Urien, Morcant, and Rydderch Hael. Is it possible to conceive that any chronicle containing such a succession of kings could have been composed in Wales even so early as the tenth century? Would the author not have given, in preference, the kings said to have ruled in Wales? Its connection, how ever, with Nennius and with Bernicia is apparent. Nennius states that the British kings who fought against the Bernician kings were Urien, Rydderch, Gwallawg, and Morcant, and the Cyvoesi begins its list with three of them--Rydderch, Morcant, and Urien--and then says that Maelgwn reigned over Gwynedd only. This part of the chronicle must have been composed in the north, but after Cadwaladyr there is an obvious break. Throughout the previous part, the questions and answers alternate, each answer being followed by a question, Who ruled next? But the verse naming Cadwaladyr is not followed by a question. The verses are as follows--
25 Though I see thy cheek is direful,
It comes impulsively to my mind
Who will rule after Cadwallawn.
26 A tall man holding a conference,
And Britain under one sceptre:
The best of Cymro's sons, Cadwaladyr.
27 He that comes before me mildly,
His abilities are they not worthless?
After Cadwaladyr, Idwal.
   The question before this last stanza is omitted, but if we go on to the mention again of Cadwaladyr, in the 102d stanza, which commences the fourth portion of the Cyvoesi, we shall find that it must originally have immediately succeeded the 26th stanza. Let us place them together:--
215 Though I see thy check is direful,
It comes impulsively to my Mind
Who will rule after Cadwallawn.
26 A tall man holding a conference,
And Britain under one sceptre:
The best of Cymro's sons, Cadwaladyr.
102 Do not separate abruptly from me,
From a dislike to the conference.
Who will rule after Cadwaladyr?
103 To Gwendydd I will declare,
Age after age I will predict,
After Cadwaladyr, Cyndav.
   As Cyndav is an imaginary king, I hold that the original poem, of which we have a part in the first 26 stanzas, must have been composed before the death of Cadwaladyr, while he was still the hope of the Cymry, and must have belonged to the north.
   The second part, which contains the real names of the kings to Howel dda, and a list of imaginary kings after, him, must, I think, notwithstanding Mr. Stephens' attempt to identify them, have been added in the reign of Howel dda; and this is confirmed by the fact that the, successor of Cadwaladyr is made to be his son Idwal, and that there is no appearance of Ivor from Armorica, who would certainly have been mentioned had the poem been composed after the appearance of the Bruts.
   The third portion, extending from stanza 66 to stanza 102, has probably been added in South Wales in the twelfth century. The lord of eight fortresses, mentioned in the 65th stanza, may have been Robert Fitz-Hamon, the first Norman who obtained Glamorgan, and built castles; and Mab Henri, in the 68th stanza, Robert, Earl of Gloucester, who succeeded him in Glamorgan, and was son of Henry the First.
   This part of the poem contains a prophecy that Cadwaladyr would reappear with a powerful host to defend the men of Gwynedd, that he would descend in the vale of Tywi, and would reign 303 years.
   There were, however, two very distinct forms in which this prophecy of the reappearing of Cadwaladyr was conveyed. The first we find in the Afallenau, the text of which, as it appears in the Black Book, I consider to be that of an old poem.
   The poem in that text concludes with this stanza:--
Sweet apple-tree, and a tree of crimson hue
Which grows in concealment in the wood of Celyddon,
Though sought for their fruit, it will be in vain,
Until Cadwaladyr comes from the conference of the ford of Rheon,
And Cynan to meet him advances upon the Saxons.
The Cymry will be victorious, glowing will be their leader;
All shall have their rights, and Britons will rejoice,
Sounding the horns of gladness, and chanting the song of peace and happiness.
   The other form of the prophecy we find in the Hoianau, which I agree with Mr. Stephens in considering to be spurious.
   In it the expressions are as follows:--
And I will predict that two rightful princes,
Will produce peace from heaven to earth--
Cynan and Cadwaladyr--thorough Cymry,
May their councils be admired.
.       .        .        .        .        .        .
And when Cadwaladyr comes to the subjugation of Mona,
The Saxons will be extirpated from lovely Britain.
.       .        .        .        .        .        .
Stout Cynan appearing from the banks of the Teifi,
Will cause confusion in Dyfed.
   The form of the prophecy in the Hoianau is obviously the same with that in the third part of the Cyvoesi, which I consider to have been produced in South Wales in the twelfth century. In the one, Cadwaladyr comes to Mona, and Cynan from the valley of the Teifi in Dyfed or South Wales, in the other, Cadwaladyr comes to Gwynedd, and descends in the vale of the Tywi in South Wales.
   But the form of the prophecy in the Avallenau is very different. There Cadwaladyr comes from a conference at Ryd Rheon, or the ford of Reon, and this is evidently the same place as Llwch Rheon, which we can identify with Loch Ryan in Galloway, and he goes to the wood of Celyddon to meet Cynan.
   In the later form of the prophecy Cynan and Cadwaladyr come from Armorica. Thus, in the Vita Merlini, Geoffrey says--
The Britons their noble kingdom,
Shall for a long time lose through weakness,
Until from Armorica Conan shall come in his car,
And Cadwaladyr, the honoured leader of the Cymry.
And the prophecy can only have assumed this shape after the fictitious narrative of Cadwaladyr taking refuge in Armorica was substituted for his death in the pestilence, and the scene of his return is placed in South Wales, whence this form of the prophecy emerged.
   But the prophecy which connects his reappearance with the conference at the ford of Loch Ryan, and places the meeting with Conan in the wood of Celyddon, must be much older, and the Cumbrian form of the prophecy; and with this form of it, the first passage in the Cyvoesi is obviously connected, which describes Cadwaladyr as a tall man holding a conference.

Footnotes
1. In noticing Mr. Nash's so-called translations, I may remark that he invariably translates Welsh on the principle that, if any Welsh word resembles an English word, it must be the English word that is used. He carries this so far as to translate the well-known word for a ford in Welsh, rhyd, by the English word "road." He appears to me to translate Welsh somewhat in the same fashion as Hood's School-boy translated the first line of Virgil--Arma, virumque cano--An arm, a man, and a cane.
2. The italics are Mr. Stephens'.

1. In noticing Mr. Nash's so-called translations, I may remark that he invariably translates Welsh on the principle that, if any Welsh word resembles an English word, it must be the English word that is used. He carries this so far as to translate the well-known word for a ford in Welsh, rhyd, by the English word "road." He appears to me to translate Welsh somewhat in the same fashion as Hood's School-boy translated the first line of Virgil--Arma, virumque cano--An arm, a man, and a cane.
2. The italics are Mr. Stephens'.