Week 106: From ‘Canu Heledd’

Remembrance Sunday this weekend, which invites something by Owen or Sassoon, but instead let’s go back to a poem from a much older time about a much older war, yet one that speaks no less powerfully of loss and desolation. The following lines are from a cycle of early Welsh poems known as Canu Heledd, the Song of Heledd, probably composed some time in the ninth century though relating to events from a couple of centuries before. Heledd was the sister of Cynddylan, a seventh-century prince of Powys, and here she laments the loss of her brother and all his royal household, fallen in some forgotten battle against the English, leaving her as the last of her line.

The plain translation that follows is my own; it would take a better man than me to reproduce the intricate verbal music of the Welsh englynion.

From ‘Canu Heledd’

stauell gyndylan ys tywyll heno,
heb dan, heb wely.
wylaf wers; tawaf wedy.

stauell gyndylan ys tywyll heno,
heb dan, heb gannwyll.
Namyn duw, pwy a’m dyry pwyll?

stauell gyndylan ys tywyll heno,
heb dan, heb oleuat.
Etlit a’m daw amdanat.

……..

tywarchen ercal ar erdywal wyr,
o etiued moryal:
a gwedy rys, mac rys mal.

Cynddylan’s hall is dark tonight
Without fire, without bed.
I will weep a while, then be silent.

Cynddylan’s hall is dark tonight
Without fire, without candle.
Unless to God, where shall I turn for counsel?

Cynddylan’s hall is dark tonight
Without fire, without light.
Grief for you comes upon me.

….

The grass of Ercal covers up brave men,
Moryal’s lineage:
It bred them, then it broke them.

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