The Celtic Literature Collective

The Gwarchan of Maelderw
The Book of Anuerin V
From The Four Ancient Books of Wales

Every ode of the Gododin is equivalent to a single song, according to the privilege of poetical composition. Each of the Gwarchans is equal to three hundred and sixty-three songs, because the number of the men who went to Catraeth is commemorated in the Gorchans; and as no man should go to battle without arms, so no bard ought to contend without that poem.

Here now begins the Gwarchan of Maelderw. Taliessin sung it, and it is a privileged ode. His three Gwarchans are equal in poetical competition to all the odes in the Gododin.

The noise of two Abers[1] around the Caer![2]
Arouse thyself to arms and splendour!
Cold is the passing and repassing of the breach of battle.
Lover of fame, seekest thou to sleep?
The variegated texture, the covering of heroism,
For the shelterless assault shall be woven.
The breach that has been attempted will not be effected.
Bear the patient exertion of heroism.
Sharply in arms he used to frown,
But mildly allured he the intellectual world.
A man that will run when thou pursuest,
Will have the rounded house of the sepulchre for his bed.
Call together, but do not reproach the over-anxious;
And meddle not with the fierce and violent.
Let him who has a just claim break the boundary.
He does not calculate upon praise
Who defends his shelter.
Praise is the meed of those who have made impressions.
The victor gazed towards the fair one.
Of bright and prominent uplifted front,
On the ruddy dragon, the palladium of Pharaon,[3]
Which will in the air accompany the people.
Dead is every one that fell on his mouth
In the repulsion of the march of Teth and Teddyd.
Courteous was the great retinue of the wall, of ashen spears.
To the sea thou mayst not come;
But neither thy retreat nor thy counsel will fail,
Thou magnanimous soul in the defence of his boundaries.
No more can they extricate themselves,
Extricate themselves before the barrier of Eiddyn.4
Cenan, the fair wall of excellence,
Placed a sword on the entrenchment of warriors.
Victorious was the chief
In disposing the sovereign, I
The inconstant
Gray-headed chief of ministers,
Whose counsels were deep.
The mutually sweet will not produce the mutually bitter.
I have mutually wished,
I do mutually wish for the repose of Enlli
The fair aspect of which is filled with deep interest,
On the course on a serene morning.
It allures me, it plays upon my strong desire.
I will ask the men for a dwelling,
In order to lessen the loss.
Happiness was lost and recovered.
The northern Run, chieftain, thou hast caused to withdraw;
The fat one in returning thou wilt cause to return to me.
They call more for large trees than for honeysuckles.

(Three lines untranslated).

Let the sovereign stand firm between the looks of Dremrudd,
The ruddy glancer, whose purpose cannot be viewed for a sufficient time,
Whose purpose cannot be viewed for a sufficient time,
By those who with impunity plough the noisy sea.
First to be satisfied is the pale one,
The eccentric, whose throne is of complete form.
Before he was covered, Gownddelw
Was a tall man of great worth like Maelderw.
I will extol him who wields the spear,
Whose course is like that of the ruler of the mount,
The pervader of the land, by whose influence I am moved.
With active tumult did he descend to the ravine between the hills,
Nor was his presence a running shadow.
Whatever may befall the high land,
Disgrace shall never happen to the assembled train.

[1] aber: the mouth of a river; a delta.

[2] caer: lit. an encampment, but essentially is equivalent to the Latin "castra," from which we get our term "chester," as seen in such placenames as "Gloucester" or "Worcester"--that is, they once served as Roman encampments, and towns grew up around them.

[3] "dragon... Pharon": this refers to the story of "Lludd and Llefelys", wherein two dragons are discovered fighting--a red one and a white one. This fighting has destroyed Britain, and so Lludd seeks the help of his brother Llefelys, who tells him to imprison the dragons under the mountains in Snowdon, as we are told in the Red Book.  However, according to Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth, when Vortigern wanted to build his fort on this mountain--Dinas Pharon (City of the Pharaoh? for reasons no one has been able to satisfactorally explain)--the dragons prevent it, until the boy Merlin--here called Merlin Ambrosius/Myrddin Emrys--tells him to let the dragons loose.  The red dragon kills the white, and Merlin Ambrosius explains that the red dragon represents the leader of the Welsh, while the white dragon represents the leader of the Saxons; i.e., that Uther Pendragon and his son Arthur would defeat the Saxon invaders.  The red dragon is now on the flag of Wales:

[4] Eiddyn: Duneiddyn, which is Edinburgh.

The Four Ancient Books of Wales. ed. by William F. Skene. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1868.

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