LYRA CELTICA NOTES
ANCIENT IRISH AND SCOTTISH
THE MYSTERY OF AMERGIN. PAGE 3
Of this strange pantheistical fragment, Dr. Douglas Hyde writes:--"The first poem written in Ireland is said to have been the work of Amergin, who was brother of Evir, Ir, and Eremon, the first Milesian princes who colonised Ireland many hundred of years before Christ. The three short pieces of verse ascribed to Amergin are certainly very ancient and very strange. But, as the whole story of the Milesian invasion is wrapped in mystery and is quite possibly only a rationalised account of early Irish mythology (in which the Tuatha De Danann, Firbolgs and possibly Milesians, are nothing but the gods of the early Irish euhemerised into men), no faith can be placed in the alleged date or genuineness of Amergin's verses. They are, however, of interest, because as Irish traditition represented them as being the first verses made in Ireland, so it may very well be that they actually do present the oldest surviving lines in any vernacular tongue in Europe except Greek."
THE SONG OF FIONN. PAGE 4
"The Song of Finn MacCool, composed after his eating of the Salmon of Knowledge." This, if not the earliest, is almost the earliest authentic fragment of Erse poetry. The translation is after O'Donovan and Dr. Douglas Hyde.
CREDHE'S LAMENT. PAGE 5
From The Colloquy of the Ancients (called also "The Dialogue of the Sages," and by other analogues), translated by Standish Hayes O'Grady (vide The Book of Lismore; Silva Gadelica; etc.). See specific mention in Introduction.
CUCHULLIN IN HIS CHARIOT. PAGE 6
(Source:Hector MacLean's Ultonian Hero Ballads. See Introduction.)
DEIRDRE'S LAMENT FOR THE SONS OF USNACH. PAGE 8
Of the many Irish-Gaelic and Scottish-Gaelic and English translations and paraphrases, I have selected the rendering of Sir Samuel Ferguson. The original Erse is of unknown antiquity. (See Introduction.)
THE LAMENT OF QUEEN MAEV. PAGE 10
This admirable translation is by Mr T. W. Rolleston (vide Note to p. 166), after the original in The Book of Leinster.
THE MARCH OF THE FAERIE HOST. PAGE 12
This striking poem is given as translated by Professor Kuno Meyer. It and other verses are to be found, in the original, in The Book of Lismore (15th century). The particular narrative therein deals with the visit of Laegaire mac Crimthainn to the land of Faerie. The episodic portion of this narrative has been translated and edited by Mr. Standish Hayes O'Grady (see Silva Gadelica); but the general reader may be more interested in the brief and lucid commentary of Professor Kuno Meyer (see The Voyage of Bran--with Essay on the Celtic Elysium, by Mr Alfred Nutt--recently published by D. Nutt). Professor Meyer considers this and the other verses of "Laegaire mac Crimthainn" to be as old as the 10th century period. "The Faerie Host," as here given, is fragmentary, being part of an episode; but I have further curtailed it by three lines, for the sake of effect and unity of impression. The other three lines are--
"At all times melodious are they,
Quick-witted in song-making,
Skilled at playing fiachell."
VISION OF A FAIR WOMAN. PAGE 13
This characteristic Scoto-Celtic poem is supposed by some scholars to be very ancient. The Gaelic version permits of some doubt on the conjecture, but the text is not in this instance conclusive. The "Aisling" will be found in Smith's Collection of Ancient Poems, from the Gaelic of Ossian, Ullin, Orran, and others (1790)--the reputed originals of which were published in 1787. See, for easier reference, Nigel MacNeil's Literature of the Highlanders, p. 218.
THE FIAN BANNERS. PAGE 14
This paraphrase of an ancient poem is modern. The original is supposed to relate to the Scoto-Celtic and Viking wars of the 11th century. (See Nigel MacNeil's Literature of the Highlanders, P. 117.)
THE RUNE OF ST PATRICK PAGE 17("THE FARDH; OR THE CRY OF THE DEER").
This translation of the "Faedh," from The Book of Hymns (11th century), is by Charles Mangan.
COLUMCILLE CECENIT. PAGE 18
The version of Colum's Hymn here given is the translation of Dr. Douglas Hyde, himself a poet, and one of the foremost living Irish folklorists. All students of Celtic literature should see his fascinating volume of metrical renderings of the old Erse, The Three- Sorrows of Story-Telling,. (Vide Notes to p. 126.)
COLUMCILLE FECIT. PAGE 20
This well-known poem is given as translated by Michael O'Curry, from an Irish MS. in the Burgundian Library of Brussels.
THE SONG OF MURDOCH THE MONK. PAGE 22
This "Monastic Shaving Song" is the version of Professor Blackie, as translated from Bishop Ewing's Book.
DOMHNULL MAC FHIONNLAIDH.
"THE AGED BARD'S WISH." PAGE 23
Although this undoubtedly old Gaelic poem is attributed by its translators, Edward Stuart and John Sobieski to the early bard Domhnuil mac Fhionnlaidh, there is no certainty (as they admit) either as to authorship or date. This version is taken from Ballads and Songs by Charles Edward Stuart and John Sobieski,
"OSSIAN SANG." PAGE 28
The original was jotted down in phonetic Gaelic by Dean Macgregor some 380 years ago.
FINGAL AND ROS-CRANA. PAGE 29
This is not part of the text of Macpherson's Ossian though the Englishing is by Macpherson, who attributes the original to Colgan, an ancient Scoto-Irish bard. It will be found in the Notes to Temora. (See Introduction.)
THE NIGHT-SONG OF THE BARDS. PAGE 31
Macpherson "translated" this, he avers, from an old Gaelic original. His version is to be found in the Notes to Croma.
"COMALA." PAGE 35
I have selected this short poem as representative of the semi-mythical Ossian of Macpherson. It is undoubtedly ancient substantially.
THE DEATH-SONG OF OSSIAN. PAGE 41
The close of "The Songs of Selma." (See foregoing Note.)
THE POOL OF PILATE. PAGE 45
From the ancient Cornish drama, The Resurrection of Christ (vide section: "The Death of Pilate"). See the volume on the subject by Mr. Edwin Norris, referred to in Note to "The Vision of Seth."
MERLIN THE DIVINER. PAGE 46
(Vide Introduction.) This, though it exists in the old Cornish dialect, is really an ancient Breton incantation. The Cornish variant is to be found in that invaluable depository of Armorican legendary lore, the Barzaz Breiz. The translation here given is by Thos. Stephens. (Vide Thos. Stephens a Memoir. Wm. Rees, Llandovery, 1849.)
THE VISION OF SETH. PAGE 47
This dramatic fragment is from The Ancient Cornish Drama, edited and translated by Edwin Norris, Sec. R. A.S. (Oxford, 1859).
THE DANCE OF THE SWORD. PAGE 53
(Vide Introduction.) In Armorican, Gwin ar C'Hallaoued: Ha Korol or C'Hlezf--ie. The Wine of the Gauls, and the Dance of the Sword. Supposed to be the fragment of a Song that accompanied the old Celtic sword-dance in honour of the Sun. [This and the following translation by the late Tom Taylor are, by courteous permission of Messrs Macmillan, quoted from Ballads and Songs of Brittany (selections from the Barzaz Breiz of the Vicomte Hersart de la Villemarqué).
THE LORD NANN AND THE FAIRY. PAGE 55
(By the same, and from the same source.) "The Korrigan" of Breton superstition has his familiar congeners in Celtic Scotland and Ireland; and is identical with the "elf" of Scandinavian mythology and of the Danish ballads. In this English version of "The Lord Nann" the metre and divisions into stanzas of the original Armorican have been adhered to. The triplet indicates antiquity in Cambrian and Armorican compositions.
ALAIN THE FOX. PAGE 58
This and the following poem are from the same FrancoBreton source as their two predecessors, but are translated by Mr F. G. Fleay, M.A. (The Masterpeices of Breton Ballads. Printed for Private Circulation. - Halifax, 1870).
BRAN (THE CROW). PAGE 60
See foregoing Note.
THE SOUL. PAGE 67
This strange fragment is of unknown antiquity, and may well be, as affirmed, of as remote a date as the 6th or even 5th century. It is from that remarkable depository of early Cymric lore, The Black Book of Caermarthen (1154-1189).
LLYWARC'H HËN. PAGE 68
The "Gorwynion" of Llywarc'h Hën, "Prince of the Cambrian Britons" (if it is really the work of that poet), is one of the most famous productions of early Cymric literature. Llywarc'h Hën's floreat is by some authorities placed in the middle of the 7th century, by others so early as the beginning of the 6th, and by others as really extending from early in the 6th till the middle of the 7th: the drift of evidence indicates the remoter date as the more probable. The translation here given was made about a hundred years ago by William Owen. It is not easy to find an English equivalent for "Gorwynion," a plural word which signifies objects that have a very bright whiteness or glare. Perhaps the word glitterings might serve, though, as has been suggested, the nearest term would be Coruscants. The last line of these verses generally contains some moral maxim, unconnected with the preceding lines, except in the metre. It is said that the custom arose through the desire of the bards to assist the memory in the conveyance of instruction by oral means. In the translation the rhymed or assonantal unity of the tercets is lost, with the result that the third-line maxim generally comes in with almost ludicrous inappositeness. According to the Triads of the lsle of Britain, Llywarc'h Hën passed his younger days at the Court of Arthur. In one triad he is alluded to as one of the three free guests at the Arthurian Court; in another, as one of the three counselling warriors. According to tradition, the bones of this princely bard lie beneath the Church of Llanvor, where, as averred, be was interred at the patriarchal age of 150 years. He was not one of the Sacred Bards, because of his military profession as a prince and knight; for these might not carry arms, and in their presence a naked sword even might not be held. The Beirdd were not poets and sages only, but were accounted and accepted as missioners of peace.
LLYWARC'H HËN. PAGE 71
This is another series of "Gorwynion," attributed to Llywarc'h Hën by Mr. Skene, who has translated it from The Red Book of Hergest (MS. compiled in 14th and 15th centuries). The English rendering of The Red Book was issued through Messrs Edmonston & Douglas of Edinburgh in 1868.
TALIESIN. PAGE 73
"Song to the Wind (Vide Introduction). "The Song about the Wind," of which only a section is given here, will be found in full in Skene's Four Ancient Books of Wales, Vol. I., page 535, and is the most famous poem by the most famous of Cymric bards. It was first translated, some fortyfive years ago, by Lady Charlotte Guest, whose Englished renderings of the "Mabinogion" attracted the attention of scholars throughout the whole Western world. (Longmans, 1849 and later.) Emerson delighted in the "Song," and declared it to be one of the finest pieces of its kind extant in any literature. See also the Myvytian Archaiology.
ANEURIN. PAGE 75
Aneurin was one of the famous warrior bards of ancient Wales. His birth is noted as Circa 500 A.D., and in any case he flourished during the first hall of the 6th century. Aneurin--like Taliesin, called "the monarch of the bard" was a Briton of Manau Gododin, a principality or province of Cymric Scotland, now Mid-Lothian and Linlithgowshire. Manau Gododin stretched from the Carron of to-day (the Carun of Ossian), some miles to the north-west of Falkirk to the river Esk, that now divides Mid-Lothian and East Lothian. Manau Gododin was then much more Celtic (Pictish) than Gododin. "Breatan Cymru" (ie. the country of the Welsh Britons) then comprised the larger part of southern Scotland--that is, from the north end of Loch Lomond, and from the upper reaches of the Gwruid (the Forth), to the Mull of Galloway on the south-west; eastward to a line drawn from the western Lammermuirs, by Melrose, Kelso, and Jedburgh, and so down by the Cheviots to Hexham, and thence southwesterly by Cumberland. The exception was the Pictish or Celtic province of Galloway--bounded on the west by Carrawg (that part of Ayrshire known as Carrick); on the north by Coel (Kyle); on the east by a line drawn from Sanquhar through Nithsdale and by Dumfries to Locharmoss and the Solway; on the south-west, by Novant (Mull of Galloway); and on the south by the Solway Firth.
Aneurin was a contemporary of the princely poet, Llywarc'h Hën. He was called Aneurin y Coed Awr ap Caw o Gwm Cawlwyd--or again, Aneurin Gwadrydd-- both designations indicative of his greatness. It has been maintained that Aneurin is identical with the celebrated Gildas, "the author of the Latin epistle which Bede so blindly copied," both Aneurin and Gildas having been sons of Caw. He is supposed to be alluded to as the seventh bard, in a curious fragment preserved in the Myvyrian -Archaiology (Vol. III.), which I excerp here.
"The seven questions put by Catwg the Wise, to the Seven Wise Men of the College of Llanvuthan, and the answers of these men:
1. "What is the greatest wisdom of man?"
"To be able to do evil and not to do it," answered St Tedio.
2. "What is the highest goodness of man?"
"Justice," answered Tahaiarn.
3. "What is the worst principle of man?"
"Falsehood," answered Taliesin, chief of Bards.
4. "What is the noblest action of man?"
"Correctness," answered Cynan, son of Clydno Eddin.
5. "What is the greatest folly of man?"
"To desire a common evil, which he cannot do," answered Ystyvan, the Bard of Teilo.
6. "Who is the poorest man?"
"He who is not contented with his own property," answered Arawn, son of Cynvarch.
7. "Who is the richest man?"
"He who does not covet anything belonging to others," answered Gildas of Coed Awr.
"The Ode to the Months " is given in the translation of William Probert (1820), according to whom the Ode contains moral maxims and observations which were known and repeated long before Aneurin lived, and were put into verse by him as an aid to the memor: "valuable, because they show the modes of thinking and expression which the primitive inhabitants of Britain used nearly 2000 years ago."
DAFYDD AP GWILYM. PAGE 78
(Fl. 14th century.) In his love of Nature, and in the richness of his poetic imagination (as well, so say those who can read Welsh fluently, as in his poetry), Dafydd ap Gwilym is the Keats of Wales. The romance of his life and wild-wood experiences has yet to be written: and we still await an adequate translator--though, to judge from some recent renderings by Mr Ernest Rhys, in an interesting short study of Dafydd, recently published in The Chap Book (Stone & Kimball, Chicago) we may not have to wait much longer. He was a lovechild: of noble parentage, though born under a hedge at Llandaff. His mother wedded after his birth; but he remained the "wilding" throughout his life. He became the favourite of Ivor Hael of Emlyn, with whose daughter Morvydd he fell in love. He wooed and won her "under the greenwood tree," but only to lose her shortly afterward, when she was forcibly married to a man called Bwa Bach. Dafydd stole her from her legitimate husband, but was captured and imprisoned. His ultimate release was due to the payment of the imposed fine, the sum having been got together by the men of Glamorgan. His most ardent love-poetry is addressed to this fair Morvydd.
RHYS GOCH OF ERYRI. PAGE 82
There are two famous poets of the name of Rbys Goch; probably both belong to the 14th century (and Wilkins certainly disputes the claim of Rhys Goch ap Rhiccart to be of the 12th century). This Ode is an Ilustration of the sound answering the sense. Rhys was in love with the fair Gwen of Dol, and sent a peacock to her. His rival, also a bard, composed a poem to the Fox, beseeching it to kill his rival's present, and, singularly enough, the bird was destroyed by a fox, and the rival bard was happy. Stung by this misadventure, Rhys composed the above, which, in the original, so teems with gutturals that Sion Tudor called it the "Shibboleth of Sobriety, because no man, when drunk, could possibly pronounce it."
RHYS GOCH AP RHICCART. PAGE 83
See foregoing Note.
More Lyra Celtica Notes