Saturday, January 23, 2010
Of these five poems, Rebirth is the key. All Welsh symbols, such as the crown of Arthur and the crowns of the Welsh princes have been deliberately destroyed. The symbol of Wales, is that we have the greatest density of castles in the world, mainly built by our neighbour. A nation needs more symbols that a language still fighting for its existence and hundreds of crumbling castles. Embassy Glyndwr commissioned a superb sword to commemorate the last Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwr, and I was asked to write a poem for the ceremonies surrounding it – ‘On the Dedication of the Sword of State for Cymru’. This was read at the unveiling at Cardiff Castle, and the presentation in Machynlleth, the site of Glyndwr’s Parliament House or Senedd. ‘The Dagger into Cymru’ followed, inscribed on a shield presented to Corwen Council in 2004. ‘The Shield of State for Cymru’ naturally represents another lost symbol, and Coron Glyndwr was written for the presentation of the Crown at Cefn Caer, Pennal in 2007.
It is strange reading poetry, because writing it is intensely personal. You feel that you are giving away your secrets, as many of us find it far easier to express our feelings in poetry than prose. Writing distances one from revelation, in many ways – it masks feelings but still expresses them. I began rewriting poetry after a ten-year break, because of Rhys Parry’s request in his compilation of a book of poems on Glyndwr. I had come to think of it as a senseless, pointless occupation, but was then commissioned to write poems on the Sword of State for Wales, on Glyndwr causing a Rebirth of nationalism, and one on ‘the dagger’ .
I did not suffer from any kind of writer’s block – I have written 26 books in the last 10 years – but needed some stimulus. Just as much comedic talent comes from broken individuals, it seems that often one has to have some sort of depression to attempt writing poems. I think that the stimulus of a younger person’s interest, plus my pessimism about the situation of Wales in the modern world, have helped me to start again. Another reason for stopping was that poetry is not seen as necessary in today’s world. But without poetry Wales would have nothing – we have been a nation of poets for over 1500 years. Oral poetry has given us our history, culture and heritage, as records have been destroyed by successive waves of invaders. Without our oral culture we would not be a nation today.
Our bards have always been prized by us, and killed by the invaders – you kill the history, you kill the nation. So modern poets can tell a story of Wales that does not accord with what the English textbooks tell us – remember that history is always written by the conquerors, and always to their favour. Our last mab darogan, son of prophecy, the great continental warrior Owain LLawgoch, was assassinated on the orders of the English crown – but no one knows of him – a warrior once famed all over Europe. Our last prince, LLywelyn II was murdered in a trap set by the Mortimers, not killed almost by accident as according to current textbooks. Owain Glyndwr was voted the 7th most influential person in the Millennium by a panel of distinguished political leaders, scientists and eminent people across the world – placed above Churchill, Bill Gates, Einstein – but only recently has anyone thought to celebrate him. It has been a long, hard road for patriots like Gethin ap Gruffudd and Sian Ifans to stimulate interest across Wales in our national hero.
Poetry can give us pride. We can put the bare acts down, and then surround them with our feelings. It takes nerve to be a poet – and Wales needs every one of its people to take up the old craft and keep it going. Poetry can give us strength as a nation – we must not lose it…
This poem was commissioned by Rhys Parry for A Song for Owain - Poems in Praise of Owain Glyndwr and first read during the launch of the book at MOMA, Machynlleth, June 19th 2004.
Driven from unnatural duty By the evil shade of grey From moated mansion at Sycharth And plas at Glyndyfrdwy Owain regained the nationhood – Our candle of battle In spring the blood-poured lions of Gwynedd roared In summer the men of Cymru unsheathed their swords In Autumn the invasions became stronger And winter fell upon the nation 6 centuries of loss 20 generations of despair 60 decades of Trywerin 600 years of Aberfan The invisible immortal The defender of our nation Never betrayed - Still shelters his blasted people Ever present but unseen Born in Spring Gave our Summer Died in Autumn Without Winter As yet There is no Spring
ON THE DEDICATION OF THE SWORD OF STATE OF CYMRU
This poem was first read at Cardiff Castle upon May 6th 2004 when the Sword was unveiled for the first time. It was next read at Machynlleth upon June 20th 2004, as part of the Glyndwr celebrations of 18th-21st June. The poem was also inscribed upon a shield and given to the Mayor of Machynlleth after he had received the sword.
The Royal Standard of England bears: St George’s Flag of England, St Andrew’s Flag of Scotland, And St Patrick’s Flag of Ireland. St David’s Flag of Wales Has never been included. Our Welsh Flag, The Flag of Cadwaladr, Y Ddraig Goch Is the oldest national flag in the world. A Nation has its own flag. The Royal Coat of Arms bears: The three lions of England, The lion of Scotland, And the harp of Ireland Glyndwr’s Coat of Arms Is the four lions rampant Of the House of Gwynedd – The oldest royal house in Britain. A Nation has its own Coat of Arms. The Royal Coat of Arms Bears the symbols of: The rose of England The thistle of Scotland, And the shamrock of Ireland. The British have their older symbols: St Peter’s leek, the daffodil of spring, St David’s leek of victory over the Saxon, And the dragon of Cadwaladr. A Nation has its own symbols. The Great Sword of State Carries the motifs of: The portcullis of Westminster, The rose of England, The fleur de lys of France, The thistle of Scotland And the harp of Ireland. There is no symbol Of Power Or Authority Over Wales, The British precursor of England. The First Nation wants The symbol of authority Of its Great Sword of State. A Nation needs its own sword. The trinity of sword, flag and coat of arms Is now complete. A Nation, not a principality. Cymru, not Wales. Comrades not foreigners. Cymraeg not Welsh. The British People, The First Nation, Is moving… Again.
THE DAGGER INTO CYMRU
The poem was commissioned for the Corwen Glyndwr Festival of September 18th-19th 2004, read upon the 18th, and inscribed upon a wooden shield presented to Gerallt Tudor, Chair of Corwen Council.
‘There is no pain greater than this, not the cut of a jagged-edged dagger nor the fire of a dagger’s breath. Nothing burns in your heart like the emptiness of losing something, someone, before you have truly learned of its value.’
R.A. Salvatore, ‘Homeland’
Carnwennan was the dagger of Arthur; And the scabbard of his sword Caledfwlch Could prevent the blood of the wounds Of this haemorrhaging country. How do we now want our death? Through the eye and into the mind? We understand but do not want to see. How do we now want our death? Through the ribs and into the heart? Where is the heart of Wales? How do we now want our death? Through the throat and into the windpipe? Shall we lose the language? The dagger casts the shadow of extinction And when the language goes The nation will follow. We Welsh use daggers to make lovespoons But this is not the twca cam With long handle and crooked blade But a straight, savage, mortal device. Defy the drawn dagger Daggers do not deal death in the rain They do not sweep/slice the air Daggers take you through the brain Slip into heart and throat Through the armoured coat A dagger moves slowly through the mind Dead voices, daggers of desire Stop us every day And their points seek The weakest vital. It slides-slithers-clanks Through the interstitial crevices Of the iron-cocooned Worm of authority and power Poking easily through the armour of state Emerging slimy-hot with blood. Is it mercy to kill A nation on all fours Via the misericorde Leaving a carcass for chewing historians? Does the heart pity A country’s despoil - This core of misery, And pierce a tongue For the sake of orthodoxy? Are we mortally wounded? Should we welcome the knife? The design of a dagger Is to assassinate Not to fight. What do we fear? Who do you warn? How do you defend Against the unseen? After the murder of LLywelyn the Last, LLawgoch suffered the dawn-drawn dagger - Red throat from assassin’s red hand. Glyndwr was our next son of prophecy But escaped the traitorous arrow of Hywel Sele And the cloaked intent of Dafydd Gam. Did Glyndwr then feel the horrors of guilt? His heart was pierced to the hilt His family was lost. Wales was wasted. Owain regained the murdered nationhood By virtue of warm blood. But our earls have flown. Wales is wasted. Did you put your heart into the dagger? Did it end almost like this? Do you lie under blades of bright grass In Corwen churchyard? And is your dagger in its church door, Hurled from Cadair Glyndwr? Or does Monnington hold your heart? You were never backstabbed No one wants to find your grave Bones represent our failure. Nothing is united in death And you never died. Carnwennan was the dagger of Arthur; And the scabbard of his sword Caledfwlch Could prevent the blood of the wounds Of this haemorrhaging country.
THE SHIELD OF STATE OF CYMRU
The English fight for power; the Welsh for liberty; the one to procure gain, the other to avoid loss. The English hirelings for money; the Welsh patriots for their country – Giraldus Cambrensis
We have had our shields of legend – The shield of Joseph of Arimathea With its blooded cross; The shield of Afalach, Galahad’s shield and Wynebgwrthucher The Honour of the Evening - The enchanted shield of Arthur Which accompanied Caledfwlch The Hard Notch hated by the Saxon. We had our shield of history - Tarian Glyndwr united the arms of Gwynedd - The passant lions On scarlet and gold - With the arms of Powys The rampant lion On silver and scarlet. He transmuted silver to gold, And the passive lion Into the four roaring lions Of Hywel Gwynedd Rhys Gethin Rhys Ddu And Rhys Tudor He held Tarian Glyndwr above As shield-bearer to Richard II (1) - Sir Owen de Glendore - And owed nothing to the traitorous Bolingbroke He had his English shields at his side The shields of love The border Scudamores (2) Who married his daughters He had his shield of Marged His wife the best of wives! Happy am I in her wine and mead. Eminent dame of knightly lineage, Honourable, beneficent, noble! Her children came in pairs, A beautiful nest of chieftains! (3) Why go to war? '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.' (4) Six invasions of mercenaries led by the English kings Destroying our abbeys and churches. (5) What care we for barefoot Welsh peasants? (6) Reaping grim fortune and reward Slashing, turning, burning, torturing and retreating Before the mounted war bands of Glyndwr "My nation has been trodden underfoot by the fury of the barbarous Saxons." (7) not for you defeat and the disgrace of the upturned shield and not for you death and the shield to carry your body off the field Owain had the shield of faith The armour of God As the Elect of Sain Derfel Gadarn. We are losing our shield of language Now our sole protection is Tarian Glyndwr Thrown into a cauldron of rebirth Ceridwen’s cauldron of inspiration Becoming our last shield of legend And fact
- 1 ‘His name in Welsh was Owain ap Gruffydd ap Fychan, which is simply Owen son of Griffith son of Vaughan. He turned courtier in the train of the Earl of Arundel. For his valour, or his genial parts, he became a favourite with Richard II, and was made that unhappy monarch’s shield-bearer. He was with Richard in many battles, in France, in Ireland, and in the Wars of the Roses. The king knighted him, and he was called Sir Owen de Glendore. In 1399 Richard II was deposed, Henry Bolingbroke usurped the English throne, and Owen Glendower went into retirement in Wales. He now became noted for a magnificent and lavish hospitality. His place, called Sycharth, was in the vale of the Dee, where he had some forty miles square of Vendotia’s most picturesque and fertile soil. Here he literally kept open house, there being neither locks nor bolts on his’… (from Wirt Sykes)
- 2 Scudamore in Old French literally means ‘shield of love’
- 3 From Iolo Goch, Glyndwr’s court poet.
- 4 An unknown English scribe -Vita Edwardi Secundi, c. l330
- 5 It was said that animals grazed for years in Llanrwst churchyard, because of the English sacking of the churches. Sir John Wynn in his ‘History of the Gwydir Family’ describes these years - ‘beginning in Anno 1400, continued fifteen years which brought such a desolation, that green grass grew on the market place in Llanrwst………and the deer fled in the churchyard’
- 6 King Richard’s abduction and murder ruined Glyndwr’s idyllic existence after just one year of retirement. His income from his estates was around two hundred pounds a year, but in 1399 Reginald Grey, Lord of Ruthin, stole some of his Glyndyfwrdwy lands. Glyndwr was legally trained, and decided to fight Grey with a lawsuit in the English Parliament. A proud and loyal man, of royal blood, extremely tall for his times, he wore his hair down to his shoulders against the prevailing fashion of cropped hair in London. His case was dismissed with the comment ‘What care we for barefoot Welsh dogs!’
- 7 In a letter from Glyndwr to Charles VI of France - naturally he called the oppressors Saxons, rather than the French/Normans that they really were. The Saxons took over England as far as the Welsh Borders and there were halted.
Coron Glyndwr was commissioned for the presentation of the crown of Glyndwr, donated by Tony Lewis via Gethin Grifiths and Sian Ifans of Embassy Glyndwr, to Elfyn Rowlands of Cefn Caer, Pennal. The poem was read after the ceremony on the Senedd Green outside the Parliament House in Machynlleth, upon June 21st, 2007. Cefn Caer is a 13th-century Hall House, where Glyndwr drafted and signed the Pennal Letter, probably the document that has most defined Wales as a nation, The Pennal Policy and its accompanying letter were sent to Charles VI of France and Pope Benedict XIII upon Mardch 31st, 1406, delivered by Glyndwr’s envoys Maurice Kerry and Hugh Eddouyer. The crown with be held in perpetuity for the people of Wales at Cefn Caer, an important centre of bardic patronage for centuries.
Dedicated to the late Anthony Lewis, silversmith and patriot Our leaders fear symbols in Cymru Our leaders fear their leaders Their leaders fear knowledge And consequent loss of power Because symbols represent A higher kind of power Than that of economics Or coercion A power over people A force from history… The nationalism That derives from culture Not aggression Our symbols were destroyed Burnt, broken and sold Along with our minerals And our manuscripts And our land. Nothing survived A millennium of invasion Nothing is left… Except the language And an imposed mask Over our past And a dissolving memory Of what is lost But symbols restore history They restore our glory Symbols reinforce The nation And the language Symbols give us fortitude And foresight And force And recognition Our symbols were destroyed Our nation’s history traduced And obliterated by the wars Of the Saxons, Danes and Normans So what of our Owains? Their story was altered The new version of history is silent But what should WE know? Owain I, Owain ap Gruffudd ap Cynan, Owain Gwynedd Undefeated in his long reign Against invasion after invasion The victor at Crug Mawr and Coleshill and Crogen in Dyffryn Ceiriog Who led the alliance of all the princes of Wales The Lord Rhys of Deheubarth, Owain Cyfeiliog of Powys, And the men of Gwent To turn back Henry II at Corwen From the brow of Caerdrewyn. Two of his sons, Rhys and Cadwaladr hostages, Were blinded personally by Henry II in his rage, Along with Cynwrig and Maredudd, the sons of the Lord Rhys But they did not seek vengeance As vengeance would have hurt Cymru Owain II, Owain ap Gruffudd ap Llywelyn Fawr His father killed escaping from the Tower His brother Llywelyn lured by Mortimer promises Trapped, betrayed and beheaded His surrendered army of 3000 And his cavalry All slaughtered English losses from the massacre at Aberedw? Not one man… His lieutenants Almafan, lord of Lampadevar And Llywelyn Fychan of Bromfield were murdered Along with his seneschal, Rhys ap Gruffudd. And Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd? Dragged through the streets of Shrewsbury – Edward I gloriously invented this four-fold death The first time in history the world witnessed Hanging, drawing, quartering and displaying the remnants North, South, East and West At York, Winchester, Northampton and Bristol… His head went alongside his brother’s at the Tower Where their father had died And the House of Gwynedd was systematically exterminated Men, women and all the children, All except Rhodri Owain III, Owain ap Thomas ap Rhodri, Owain Llawgoch, Yvain de Galles Our son of prophecy, our Mab Darogan The flower of French chivalry, the greatest of warlords Feared from Switzerland to Spain… Unarmed, assassinated from behind, at Mortagne-sur-Mer On the direct orders of John of Gaunt, the son of Edward III The single survivor of the House of Gwynedd He had to die Witness the terrible extinction Of the line of Cunedda After a millennium of glory Owain IV, Lord of Deeside and Sycharth, Owain ap Gruffudd Fychan ap Gruffudd, Another son of prophecy – Glyndwr! A loyal, cultured gentle man Forced by Grey’s lies to face the pretender Henry IV, The traitorous Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt In 1400 Glyndwr took his lion rampant of Powys And displaced the four passant lions of Gwynedd And on Dydd Glyndwr, September 16th 1400 He raised our new Royal Standard Four rampant lions, gold and scarlet No longer supine And in the 4th year of 1400 The Iron Ring was broken The mighty bastions of Aberystwyth, Harlech, Cricieth, and Beaumaris fell And in the South – Caerffili, Cardiff and all the castles of the Bro were taken; The Bishops of Bangor and Saint Asaf joined the Liberation Army Shropshire, Hereford and Cheshire bent their heads Ambassadors went to the court of Charles VI of France Our first Parliament at Machynlleth had ambassadors from Castile, Scotland and France The Treaty of Alliance was ratified with France And Owain’s Great Seal was struck Showing his orb, sceptre, sword and crown His four-pointed gold crown represents Cymru It shines with the symbols that support our language What does it sing? It rings the four oldest bishoprics in the Isles of the Britons Bangor of the Ordovices and the House of Gwynedd Saint Asaf of the Deceangli and the House of Powys Llanddewi of the Demetae and the House of Deheubarth Llandaf of the Silures and the House of Glywyssing Our crown sings the four quarters of the body of Wales Four tribes Four cathedrals Four princedoms Four lions It completes our quartet of symbols Cleddyf, Tarian, Dagr a Choron Sword, Shield, Dagger and Crown The unity of four princedoms Under one king Anointed with this crown on Dydd y Senedd Midsummer Day, 1404 And a force has at last broken through four seasons To now return to spring Our symbols of Glyndwr’s sword And his golden crown Return us foresight And force And recognition Of our nation – Cymru am Byth!
Notes on Coron Glyndwr:
- To remember the sacrifice of Glyndwr, he lost his brother and five of his six sons in the war. His wife and his daughter Catrin were taken into captivity where they died. Catrin’s husband Edmund Mortimer had been killed at Harlech. Glyndwr’s infant grandson, Catrin’s child also was killed, as having a better claim to the throne than Bolingbroke.
- Gruffudd, his eldest son was captured at Usk and taken to then Tower where he died. Madog, Dafydd, Thomas and Sion died. Only one of his six sons, Maredudd survived the war. Of his five other daughters: Isabel ‘Ddwn’ married Adam ap Iorwerth; Joan married Sir John Croft; Alice married Sir John Skidmore; Ann married Sir Richard Monnington; and the possibly illegitimate Margaret married Philip ap Rhys of Cenarth.
- We should also know that the House of Gwynedd had been systematically exterminated – every single descendant, and Glyndwr changed their flag. His personal clan flag was the red lion rampant on silver and black stripes. He took the four lions passant of the extinct House of Gwynedd, kept the scarlet and gold colours, but made them rampant like his lion, standing up, not passive, and symbolic of what he was trying to do for Wales.
- You can see in the poem the unending treachery of a line of Franco-Norman kings of England towards the Welsh, from Henry II through Edward I, to John of Gaunt and his son, the pretender to the crown, Henry IV.
- Please also remember that any history written by the conqueror is effectively propaganda – you read and hear what the conqueror wants.
- This crown completes the set of sword, dagger, shield and crown that the people of Glyndwr have commissioned for the people of Wales.
- ‘Lampadevar’ is in Montgomeryshire, and Llywelyn Fychan’s brother Madog had married Llywelyn’s sister, Margaret. There was a Rhys ap Gruffudd of the commote of Endeligion, which included Caerleon in Gwent, who was born in 1238.