Saturday, January 23, 2010

Poems on Owain Glyndŵr

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…

REBIRTH

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

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.