Y Gododdin

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Y Gododdin is the earliest known British poem, and is attributed to Aneirin in about 600 CE. Aneirin (or Neirin) was a late 6th century Brythonic poet, a contemorary of Taliesin and Myrddin. possibly a bard or 'court poet' in one of the Cumbric kingdoms of the Old North (Hen Ogledd in Welsh), probably that of Gododdin at Edinburgh. The works attributed to him are contained in a late-13th century manuscript known as the Book of Aneirin (Llyfr Aneirin), which is thought to be copied from a 9th century transcription of poetry that had previously survived through oral transmission. The language of the poetry is partly partially Middle Welsh, but at least some dates from around Aneirin's time, and so its attribution might be genuine.

The poem describes warriors feasting in a great hall in or near what is now the city of Edinburgh, before setting out to die in a heroic battle against the the Angles of Deira and Bernicia at the Battle of Catraeth (probably Catterick in North Yorkshire). ("Never was there such a host/From the fort of Eiddyn,/That would scatter abroad the mounted ravagers.") One stanza contains what might be the earliest reference to Arthur, as a paragon of courage. The poem also mentions other knights from Arthur's court: Peredur (from the Mabinogion, the Welsh name of Perceval) and Owain (Chretien's Yvain). Taliesin is also named in the poem. The poem tells that Aneirin was taken prisoner at this battle, and was one of only four (or two) Brythonic survivors. He remained a captive until a ransom was paid by Ceneu ap Llywarch Hen.


In the 1869 translation by William Skene [1], the first verse reads:[2]

Gredyf gwr oed gwas (Of manly disposition was the youth)
Gwrhyt am dias (Valour had he in the tumult)
Meirch mwth myngvras (Fleet thick-maned chargers)
A dan vordwyt megyrwas (Were under the thigh of the illustrious youth)
Ysgwyt ysgauyn lledan (A shield, light and broad)
Ar bedrein mein vuan (Was on the slender swift flank)
Kledyuawr glas glan (A sword, blue and bright)
Ethy eur aphan (Golden spurs, and ermine)
Ny bi ef a vi (It is not by me)
Cas e rof a thi (That hatred shall be shown to thee)
Gwell gwneif a thi (I will do better towards thee)
Ar wawt dy uoli (To celebrate thee in poetic eulogy)
Kynt y waet elawr (Sooner hadst thou gone to the bloody bier)
Nogyt y neithyawr (Than to the nuptial feast)
Kynt y vwyt y vrein (Sooner hadst thou gone to be food for ravens)
Noc y argyurein (Than to the conflict of spears)
Ku kyueillt ewein (Thou beloved friend of Owain!)
Kwl y uot a dan vrein (Wrong it is that he should be under ravens)
Marth ym pa vro (It is evident in what region)
Llad un mab marro (The only son of Marro was killed.)


References

  1. translation of "Y Gododdin"
  2. Celtic Literature Collective