Thursday, February 11, 2016


An Irritable Carcass

Llywarch (attrib.), "Song of the Old Man" ("Can yr Henwr"), tr. Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson (1909-1991), A Celtic Miscellany (London: Penguin Books, 1971), pp. 257-258:
Before I was bent-backed, I was eloquent of speech, my wonderful deeds were admired; the men of Argoed always supported me.

Before I was bent-backed, I was bold; I was welcomed in the drinking-hall of Powys, the paradise of Wales.

Before I was bent-backed, I was handsome, my spear was in the van, it drew first blood — I am crooked, I am sad, I am wretched.

Wooden staff, it is Autumn, the bracken is red, the stubble is yellow; I have given up what I love.

Wooden staff, it is Winter, men are talkative over the drink; no one visits my bedside.

Wooden staff, it is Spring, the cuckoos are brown, there is light at the evening meal; no girl loves me.

Wooden staff, it is early Summer, the furrow is red, the young corn is curly; it grieves me to look at your crook.

Wooden staff, knotty stick, support the yearning old man, Llywarch, the perpetual babbler...

Boisterous is the wind, white is the hue of the edge of the wood; the stag is emboldened, the hill is bleak; feeble is the old one, slowly he moves.

This leaf, the wind drives it, alas for its fate! It is old — this year it was born.

What I have loved from boyhood I now hate — a girl, a stranger, and a grey horse; indeed I am not fit for them.

The four things I have most hated ever have met together in one place; coughing and old age, sickness and sorrow.

I am old, I am lonely, I am shapeless and cold after my honoured couch; I am wretched, I am bent in three.

I am bent in three and old, I am peevish and giddy, I am silly, I am cantankerous; those who loved me love me not.

Girls do not love me, no one visits me, I cannot move about; ah, Death, why does it not come for me!

Neither sleep nor joy come to me after the slaying of Llawr and Gwen; I am an irritable carcass, I am old.

A wretched fate was fated for Llywarch ever since the night he was born — long toil without relief from weariness.
For the original and another translation, see Sarah Lynn Higle, Between Languages: The Uncooperative Text in Early Welsh and Old English Nature Poetry (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993), pp. 268-271.

Eastman Johnson, Old Man Seated
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