Thursday, December 10, 2015


Two Welsh Poems on Arboricide

Dafydd ap Gwilym (14th century), "Y Draenllwyn" ("The Hawthorn Bush," tr. A. Cynfael Lake, found here):
'The dignified green hawthorn bush,
lovely dwelling where praise grows,
you are dressed in leaves and bark,
enchanted youth, you are armoured.
You change your appearance frequently,
your form is varied, dear one of the Lord.
Your burden in May is lovely,
colour of fine snow, better than money.
Truly radiant manner, armed tower,
your armour is a fine coat of many colours.

[You have had] a war–wound from your enemy.
Woe is me! Where are you? How grim!
There isn't half of you left here
nor even a third, colour of sparkling cherries.
He cut off your legs, my treasure,
vicious deed, and your thick branches.
Tell me, colour of a spray of foam,
you have been punished, who did this.'

'I know no cause,
I am weak and grievously wounded,
except the arch–scoundrel who came here
(a shock for me yesterday)
with an applewood–handled axe
to chop and beat me from my quarter
and drag one of my legs off with him
(woe is me, Mary!)
and steal my goods and my branches
and the fine tips and my precious stones.'

'I saw you growing coral.
Your top was fairer than an Englishman's shop.
Be quiet, don't worry soldier,
you shall have proper compensation for a man:
the churl will be killed by a song
and strung up as dead as a dog.'
I don't see this poem in Dafydd ap Gwilym, The Poems. Translation and Commentary by Richard Morgan Loomis (Binghamton: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1982). I think it's in Helen Fulton, ed., Selections from the Dafydd ap Gwilym Apocrypha (Llandysul: Gomer Press, 1996), but that book is unavailable to me.

Gruffudd ab Adda (14th century), "I'r Fedwen," ("The Birch"), tr. Joseph P. Clancy, Medieval Welsh Poems (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2003), pp. 208-209 (with the title "The Maypole," text pieced together from Google Books' snippet view, should be double-checked against the actual book):
Green birch whose hair's unsightly.
You're long exiled from the slope.
Fine lance fostered in woodlands,
Green veil, you’ve betrayed your grove.
Lodging for me and love's envoy
Was your close, in May's short nights.
Frequent once, it's a foul journey.
The tunes on your fine green twigs;
Songs of all sorts, roads' signpost,
I heard to your bright green house;
Herbs of all kinds grew under
Your leaves among hazel boughs,
When for a maiden's trysting
You dwelt last year in the grove.
You contemplate love no longer;
Deaf stay your branches above.
Completely you've forsaken
The green field, despite the cost,
From the hill and height of honour
To town by a swift exchange.
Though your resting-place be good,
Idloes town, Idloes town, crowded concourse,
Not good, my birch-tree, to me
Your rape, your region, your dwelling;
Not good for you there, long of face,
Your place, for bearing green leaves.
Green-plumed each city garden.
Was it not, birch, a foolish thing
To bring you there to wither,
Sad pole, near the pillory?
In leaftime, had you not come
To stand in the dry crossroad,
Though you're pleasing there, they say,
Better, tree, the brook's heaven.
Not a bird will sleep or sing,
Shrill chirp, on your fair branches,
So constant, dark woods' daughter,
People's noise about your tent,
Fierce wound, and grass will not grow,
With the town's trampling, beneath you
More than once on the windswept way
Of Adam and the the first woman.
You've been made to deal in trade;
You look like a market-woman
Fair-goers, gleeful language,
Point their fingers at your pain,
Your old fur and one grey garment
Amidst petty merchandise.
No more, while your sister stays,
Will fern hide your bold seedlings;
No privacy, no secrets,
No shelter beneath your eaves.
You'll not shield, high piercing look,
The primroses of April:
You will not think of wishing,
Fair warden, for the valley's birds.
God, it grieves us, land's lean coldness,
Sudden shame, that you're ensnared.
Taller than noble Tegwedd
You tower, fine is your crest.
Make your choice, captive branches,
Foolish is your city life,
To leave for the fine home hillside
or wither there in the town.
The same, tr. H. Idris Bell, "Translations from the Cywyddwyr," Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, Session 1940 (1941) 221-253 (at 227, 229, with the title "To a Birch Tree Cut Down for Transport to Llanidloes"):
Long exiled, birch, from your woodland height,
Those green locks in evil plight,
Your gleaming stem has left forlorn,
Traitress, the wood where you were born.
Through the brief May night your branches were
A house for me and my messenger,
And your lovely top, that endured this wrong,
Was loud then with birds' song.
In your lush green house many a bird
Tracing song's winding ways was heard,
And 'mid the hazels in your shade
A myriad flowers their carpet spread
When last year my sweet with me
In your pleasance loved to be.
Of love's traffic you think not now;
Mute dumbness holds every bough.
You are gone, all your beauty lost,
From the verdant glade, with toil and cost,
From the hill lands that were your own
To a changed life in the strange town.
Though your moot-hill, Idloes, make brave show,
Where your busy crowds drift to and fro,
To see my birch in such ill state
Your town and your folk and their foray I hate.
Vengeance, town, you shall surely feel
If thus the fresh young leaves you steal.
The town has gardens green-leaved, fair,
And churlish was it, birch, to bear
Your form, fast withering, hence to be
A bare pole by the pillory!
In the leafy time if you went not down
To the arid carfax in the town,
Though the place is pleasant, men aver,
Yet better, tree, your dingle were.
No bird will sleep, no clear voice sing
On your slender summit all the spring,
Such din your wounded branches round,
Dear sister of the trees, will sound,
Nor under you will the green grass grow,
Where all day long the townsmen go,
No more than where in wind-swift haste
Adam and the first woman passed.
For commerce, seems it, you were made;
Henceforth you'll ply the huxter's trade,
And many a finger in the rout
Of the fair's jollity will point you out,
Your gray shirt and coat threadbare,
Mid pedlars' wares sad-hearted there.
The ferns no more, where your sisters rise,
Will shroud your saplings from prying eyes
Nor will hid love the magic know
Of secret hour your eaves below,
Nor clumps of April primrose hide
From eager gazers at your side.
You'll never wonder how they thrive,
The birds that in your dingle live.
Ah, God! the whole land makes ado
That such foul wrong is wrought on you—
Your mien so courtly and so staid,
Your head in loveliest leaves arrayed!
Nay, choose you now, poor captive wood—
For folly is your burgesshood—
To come back home to your fair down
Or wither yonder in the town.
Thanks to Eric Thomson for help.

Related post: All Rhuthyn's Woods are Ravaged.


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