The Flowering of Literature|
Much influenced by the poems of Ovid, to whom he acknowledged his debt as one considered the supreme authority on love, Dafydd went so far as to describe himself as "Ovid's man." His command of the language is unparalleled among Welsh poets. His primary theme, the pursuit of love, is usually associated with an idealized forest setting of animals and birds, but he was also adept at using a racy, colloquial dialog.
A few lines translated from "Merched Llanbadarn" (The Girls of Llanbadarn) aptly show Dafydd's portrayal of his own feelings and experiences:
I bend before this passion;
a plague on the parish girls!
Since, o force of my longing,
I have never had one of them!
Not one sweet and hoped-for maiden,
Not one young girl, or hag, nor wife,
What recoil, what malicious thoughts,
Contemporaries of Dafydd ap Gwilym were Llywelyn Goch (1350-90) whose best known poem is perhaps "Marwnad Lleucu Llwyd" (The Death of Lleucu Llwyd) one of the finest love-poems in Welsh in which the passionate, moving poem bids farewell to a wife who had died while the author was absent. Despite the beauty of this particular poem, Llywelyn Goch is not as well known as Iolo Goch (1320-98) one of the first of the gentry poets, writing eulogies to the gentry and others in Wales.
What omission makes them not want me?
What harm is it to a thick-browed girl
To have me in the dark, dense wood?
It would not be shameful for her
To see me in a den of leaves.
Three of the poems of the much-travelled poet Iolo Goch deal with Owain Glyndwr, his most famous patron: one of these describes Sycharth, Owain's court, with its fine mansion and bountiful gardens. Iolo's most notable poem is one in praise of "Y Llafurwr" (The Laborer), in which the excerpt below uses clever metaphors to describe the art of ploughing and the usefulness of the plough.
Blessed is he ho through his youth
holds in his hands the plough.'
It's a cradle tearing the smooth long broom,
a fishing basket lacing the field,
a holy image of a dear praise,
a heron opening a quick furrow,
a basket for the wild earth, now to be tamed
in honored, cultured order;
a gander of the wild acres,
grains come from its true skill.
It brings forth crops from the rich earth,
A good beast biting the ground
Iolo had experienced the horrors of the Black Death and, unlike Dafydd ap Gwilym, wrote poetry that showed his concerns at social disintegration and the necessity of preserving order, thus anticipating countless generations of Welsh poets with the same concerns. The order found at the home of Owain Glyndwr is one expression of this feeling. It may have been these concerns that led to Iolo's ambivalence towards English rule in Wales; he resented it but praised those who could maintain social order.
Iolo Goch's poems show his detailed knowledge of the period's wars and of people and places in his native Wales as well as those of Ireland, France and England. Despite his own claim to fame, however, Iolo records that Llywelyn Goch's "Marwnad Lleucu Llwyd" was always one of the first poems asked for when young people assembled to hear the work of the bards.
Not all poets presented the image of a stable and peaceful society. Under the surface, things were not what they seemed: resistance to the English regime was too long-standing and too deep-seated to remain dormant forever. One scribe at Edward's court expressed the situation this way:
The Welsh habit of revolt against the
English is a long-standing madness . . .
and this is the reason. The Welsh,
formerly called the Britons, were once
noble, crowned with the whole realm of
England; but they were expelled by the
Saxons and lost both name and a kingdom
...But from the sayings of the prophet
Merlin they still hope to recover England.
Hence it is they frequently rebel.
The reference to Merlin is an indication of the tenacity of the Welsh traditions kept alive by its literary men. The "Brut y Tywysogion," in 682, had the following entry. "In that year Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, the last king that ruled over the Britons, went to Rome and there he died. . .and thenceforth the Britons lost the crown of the Kingship, and the Saxons obtained it, as Merlin (Myrddyn) had prophesied to Gwrtheyrn Wrthenau."
The 10th century the poem Armes Prydain had predicted that the Welsh would rise and give battle; that "they must become united as one band, as sworn brothers through warfare." Another writer around 1060 had referred to a Welsh king, Bendigeidfran, son of Llyr, being crowned king "over this island and exalted with the crown of London." A lament for Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, composed around 1063 had spoken of him as the "golden-torqued king of the Welsh and their defender...he who was sword and shield over the fate of all Wales."
A great inspiration to the people of Wales to continue their struggle was the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth in the early part of the 12th century. This had kept alive the great pride of the Welsh in their ancient traditions, not the least of which was that they were a special people, descended from Brutus, and that their language was descended from Trojan. As fanciful as it might be, modern historians see Geoffrey's account of the Britain's founding as central to the consciousness of the Welsh for many centuries. It was a consciousness that finally led to revolt.
Chapter 7: Rebellion
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