Preiddeu Annwn: The Spoils of Annwn

Edited by Gwynogvryn Evans, Facsimile and Edition (Llanbedrog, 1910), fols. 54.16-56.13.
Scholars have traditionally dated this MS to the thirteenth-century. Marged Haycock, however, argued in her dissertation that it was compiled somewhat later (Llyfr Taliesin: Astudiaethau ar Rai Agweddau, Aberystwyth, 1983). The poem itself may be dated anywhere between the ninth and twelfth century, judging from lexical and metrical evidence (Haycock: "'Preiddeu Annwn' and the Figure of Taliesin," Studia Celtica 18/19 (1983-84): 37).



The Welsh word annwn, annwfyn is traditionally translated "otherworld," and is akin to some of the Irish worlds of the gods (Tír na mBéo, "Land of the Living," etc.) One will recall that in the First Branch of The Mabinogi, Pwyll exchanges place and shape with Arawn, king of Annwn, whose realm is there depicted as co-existent with Pwyll's Dyfed. In another poem from The Book of Taliesin ( Angar Kyfyndawt, 18.26-23.8) the speaker declares annwfyn to be underground:

yn annwfyn ydiwyth, in Annwfyn the peacefulness,
yn annwfyn ygorwyth in Annwfyn the wrath,
yn annwfyn is eluyd in Annwfyn below the earth...

It can be subaqueous, as it seems to be here in this poem. Annwn is popularly associated with the land of the old gods who can bestow gifts, including the gift of poetry (awen): awen aganaf / odwfyn ys dygaf, "It is Awen I sing, / from the deep I bring it"; AK). Semantically and conceptually the term is ambiguous. The MW prefix an- can negate as well as intensify (as in Latin in-) so that the word yields either or both an + dwfyn, "un-world," "very-deep," possibly "extreme world." It is not a Celtic "underworld," per se, although mention of "hell," (vffern, suggests that associations between Annwn ("very deep"?) and the land of the dead were vivid to whoever committed this text to writing.



This poem has traditionally had value only insofar as it mentioned Arthur, and it is frequently anthologized in collections on Arthuriana. But witness the bafflement of various scholars about the trajectory of the poem, which departs from a somewhat contemplative account of Arthur's raid on an otherworldly fortress, turning in the last half of the poem to a heated denunciation of cowards and ignoramuses, and ending with a passionate rant about monks and wolves. Connecting these apparently separate themes (Arthur's expedition and the denunciation of cowards and monks) has been challenging: D.W. Nash looked upon these last stanzas as interpolations (The Book of Taliesin, or The Bards and Druids of Britain [London: John Russell Smith, 1858], p. 212); A.O.H. Jarman declared that the final stanzas were irrelevant to the theme of Arthur ("The Delineation of Arthur in Early Welsh Verse," in An Arthurian Tapestry: Essays in Memory of Lewis Thorpe, ed. Kenneth Varty [Glasgow: The University of Glasgow, British Branch of the International Arthurian Society, 1981], p. 11), and both Kenneth Jackson ("Arthur in Early Welsh Verse," in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, ed. R. S. Loomis [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959], p. 16) and Roger Sherman Loomis (see the subsequent reference) omit them. John K. Bollard translates the whole poem, remarking that "the poet seems to be discontented with the lowly men and cowardly monks around him, in contrast to the warriors whom he accompanied on Arthur's expedition" ("Arthur in the Early Welsh Tradition," in The Romance of Arthur, eds James J. Wilhelm and Laila Z. Gross [New York: Garland Press], p. 21); Marged Haycock, ("The Figure of Taliesin") is the first to suggest that the poem is in fact not about Arthur but about Taliesin and his vaunting of knowledge, and I identify the poem as a metaphor of its own making--a poem about the material "spoils" of poetic composition that the speaker has wrested from Welsh poetic lore ("The Spoils of Annwn: Taliesin and Material Poetry" in A Celtic Florilegium: Studies in Memory of Brendan O Hehir, eds. Katrhyn A. Klar, Eve E. Sweetser, and Clair Thomas (Lawrence, MA: Celtic Studies Publications, 1966), pp. 43-53). See also Patrick Sims-Williams, "The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems," in The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature, eds. Rachel Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarmen, and Brynley F. Roberts (Cardiff: University of Cardiff Press, 1991) pp. 33-71; Andrea Budgey, "'Preiddeu Annwn' and the Welsh Tradition of Arthur," in Celtic Languages and Celtic Peoples: Proceedings of the Second North American Congress of Celtic Studies, eds. Cyril J. Byrne, Margaret Harry, and Pádraig ó Siadhail (Halifax: Nova Scotia: Saint Mary's University, 1992) pp. 391-404; and O.J. Padel, Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff: The University of Wales Press, 2000), pp. 34-36.



Taliesin is first mentioned by Nennius in his Historia Britonum as being a bard of status in the sixth century along with Neirin (Aneirin), Cian, Talhaearn, and Bluchbard. Only Taliesin and Aneirin appear as authors of medieval Welsh texts. Taliesin as court bard to Urien Rheged gave way from the beginning in popularity to Taliesin the magician, wizard, shape-shifter, riddler, and repository of esoteric knowledge. In Y Gododdin, by Aneirin, Taliesin is referred to as one "who knows it"--possibly as a fellow "seer" who went through a poetic initiation described by Aneirin as an imprisonment underground: mi na vi Aneirin / ys gwyr Taliesin / o feg gywrennin ("I yet not I Aneirin, / Taliesin knows it / skilled in expression": Y Gododdin: Britain's Oldest Heroic Poem, ed., trans., A.O.H. Jarman [Llandysul: Gomer Press, 1990], pp. 33, 32). Patrick Ford has made available several of the texts devoted to "The Tale of Gwion Bach" and "The Tale of Taliesin," where it is described how little Gwion received knowledge from the cauldron of Cerridwen that the goddess meant for her ugly son Afagddu; how he fled from her in various shapes, was eaten and given birth to by her; and how as Taliesin he confounded the bards of the corrupt king Maelgwn with a dazzling display of his own arcane knowledge, his manipulation of shapes and storms, and so forth (Ford, The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977], pp. 159-192. See also his Ystoria Taliesin [Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992]).



"The Spoils of Annwm" [sic], in The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1966), pp. 107-108.



"The Spoils of Annwn: An Early Welsh Poem," in Wales and the Arthurian Legend (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1956), pp. 131-178.



"'Preiddeu Annwn' and the Figure of Taliesin," Studia Celtica, 18/19 (1983-84): 52-78.



"Preideu Annwvyn: The Spoils of the Unworld," in John T. Koch and John Carey, eds., The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales (Andover, Massachusetts, and Aberystwyth: Celtic Studies Publications, Inc. 2000), pp. 295-297. For an earlier translation with commentary, see his article by the same name in Bulletin for the Board of Celtic Studies, vol. xxxi (1984): 87-92.



"The Spoils of Annwn: Taliesin and Material Poetry," in A Celtic Florilegium: Studies in Memory of Brendan O Hehir, eds. Kathryn A. Klar, Eve E. Sweetser, and Clair Thomas (Lawrence, MA: Celtic Studies Publications, 1966), pp. 43-53.



Y Geiriadur Mawr ("Big Dictionary"): The Complete Welsh-English English-Welsh Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, ed. H. Meurig Evans and W.O Thomas (Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer, 1983).



Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru ("University of Wales Dictionary"): A Dictionary of the Welsh Language, eds. R.J. Thomas et al (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1950-). Though still unfinished, this dictionary is more comprehensive than GM.



Geirfa Barrdoniaeth Gynnar Cymraeg, ed. John Lloyd-Jones "Early Bardic Vocabulary of Wales" (Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1931-).



The title Preid(d)eu Annwn looks to be written in a different hand from that of the scribe who copied the poem, and seems to echo the phrase in line 7 with a later spelling of annwfyn. The "r" of Preiddeu is the long insular "r," and the form of the "d" indicates that it is to be taken as the voiced interdental fricative with the later spelling preiddeu.



MS: py. Williams, Jackson, and Haycock support emending py to the perfective particle ry. Haycock translates "who has extended" on the grounds that ry has relative force; thence the subject should be "the Lord" and not "sovereignty."



The structure of this poem is based on that of a collection of awdlau (awdl = a short poem or stanza of lines that rhyme), wherein each line is a couplet: two related units and a caesura. Several of these lines, however, are triplets--three units wherein the first two rhyme and two caesuras--that stand out metrically and dramatically. This is one such line, and all the concluding lines that repeat ("except seven none rose up") are triplets (lines 10, 19, 28, 34, 42, and 48). Other triplets are to be found in lines 8, 13, 32, and 38. I indicated the caesuras by printing them with line breaks.



We do not have much material on Gweir; he is mentioned (Gweir ap Geirioed) in Tryoedd Ynys Prydein ("The Triads of the Isle of Britain"; ed. trans. Rachel Bromwich [Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1961], p. 140) as one of three famous prisoners along with Llyr Lledyeith and Mabon uab Modron (a former god whose career seems to be imprisonment and wailing). Loomis notes that Lundy, an island off the coast of Cornwall is known as ynys weir, "Gweir's Island," a detail that reinforces the sense of his importance as a resident or prisoner of an island fortress (Loomis, "Spoils of Annwn," p. 150).



Kaer Sidi appears in another poem in The Book of Taliesin in a line with the same rhyming patterns: ys kyweir vyg kadeir yg kaer sidi, "Equipped is my (bardic) chair in Kaer Sidi" (BT: fol. 34.8-13). Here, Taliesin boasts of being seated in formality and honor in an otherworldly place of pleasure (Nys plawd heint aheneint auo yndi, "neither disease nor old-age afflicts him who may be here"), wherein three (musical?) instruments play before it around a fire (teir oryan y am tan agan recdi. He sits in a fortress whose peaks (or corners) are surrounded by the sea (Ac am y banneu ffrydyeu gweilgi, with the fruitful fountain above him (Ar ffynhawn ffrwythlawn yssyd oduchti. Like the sparkling beverage in Preideu Annwn, "sweeter than white wine is the drink in it" (ys whegach nor gwin gwyn yllyn yndi). The speaker declares that "Manawyddan and Pryderi know it" (ys gwyr manawyt aphryderi), suggesting that Kaer Sidi is like Gwales in the Second Branch of The Mabinogi, where the bereaved retinue of Bendigeiduran rest for eighty years in pleasant forgetfulness. Sidi may come from Old Irish síde, from nominative síd, "gods" or "fairy-folk," or the mound or dwelling place of such folk. These otherworldly abodes were often submerged, which may account both for the "fruitful fountain" above the chair in the one poem and the fact that the survivors "rose up" in Preideu Annwn. Instead of the bardic chair, it is a prison that is equipped in this Kaer Sidi. Reward and punishment alike are doled out in the fairy fortress, but note that Gweir, like a poet, is singing (or lamenting) before the "Spoils of Annwn."



This word ebostol would appear to mean "apostle," and yields a second meaning, "epistle," "letter," "homily," "tale," which could very well be a confusion with L. epistola. "The Tale of Pwyll and Pryderi" is an obvious reference, so it would seem, to the four branches of The Mabinogi, but Gweir is never mentioned therein. As Loomis suggests, though, the texts that remain to us have probably been recompiled, and earlier stories lost; there may well have been an Ebostol Pwyll a Phryderi, just as there are other mentions in the branches to tale titles.



This phrase is ambiguous. Rac in GM has several meanings: "in front of," "before," or "on account of," because of," or "for the sake of." The most obvious translation of preideu is "spoils," "plunder," that which Arthur's men have come for (the cauldron). But preideu can also mean "cattle," "herds", and however unlikely this meaning fits the context, recall that there are magical beasts mentioned further on in the poem. Haycock: "wondrous herds are frequently encountered in the Irish Otherworld" ("The Figure of Taliesin," p. 67).



Yn bardwedi is subject to various interpretations. Bardwedi clearly seems to be a compound of bard + gwedi, "prayer," but yn is not clear. The most common use of prefixed yn is "our." But this could also be the preposition "in": "in bardic prayer." Haycock also suggests an error for ym, "my" (p. 67), or even y, "his." Koch has: "And until Judgement he will persist as an imploring bard." If no error is assumed, then are Gweir and Taliesin (the speaker) identified? Are they singing together? Are they similarly incarcerated? Do they speak for all bardic (and divine) prisoners and singers? Haycock disambiguates with "our (own)," as though the speaker is using the "royal we."



The name of Arthur's ship.



Many scholars suggest emending to ochlywit to cohere with the rhyme on -it, in which case we would have "song was heard."



Haycock has "first utterance"; Koch: "poetry." This word kynneir (GPC) literally means "foremost utterance or song," hence its later meaning of "eulogy," "song of praise," "poetry."



The cauldron is a very complex image, with a complex background. First of all, there is the Cerridwen's cauldron in "The Tale of Gwion Bach" (see Ford, The Mabinogi and Other Tales, mentioned above) in which the magic brew that will confer poetic and magic power is stolen from Afagddu by the young Taliesin. It is to this story that the poet in Preideu Annwn clearly refers, as the cauldron is literally the source of his "foremost utterance." But the cauldron is also an object wrested by Bendigeiduran in "The Second Branch" of The Mabinogi and given (along with his sister Branwen) to Matholwch, King of Ireland. This cauldron has the property of bringing slain warriors back to life. When Bendigeiduran comes to rescue his sister Branwen from ill-treatment, war breaks out between Wales and Ireland, and the cauldron is broken. It is stated that seven Welsh warriors returned from that tragic event: Pryderi, Manawyddan, Glifieu son of Taran, Taliesin, Ynawg, Gruddieu son of Muriel, and Heilyn son of Gwyn Hen. It would appear that the events of this story have been given a new context in Preideu Annwn wherein Arthur has been substituted for the god/hero Bran. But there is also a wrested Irish cauldron in Culhwch and Olwen in which Arthur is directly involved. Having promised to help Culhwch complete the impossible tasks demanded of Ysbyddadan, one of them being the attainment of the cauldron of the giant Diwrnach, Arthur sails in his ship to Ireland and comes away with it after a more successful battle than the one described here. Ireland may also have been conceived of as a kind of "Otherworld" in Welsh lore, which may explain the Irish name given to the first mention of the fortress. Furthermore, an Irish tale, Siaburcharpat Conchulaind, "The Phantom Chariot of Cuchulain," contains a poem called Dun Scáith, "Fortress of Shadow" (in Lebor na Huidre: Book of the Dun Cow, R.I. Best and Osborn Bergin, eds. [Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, ], pp. 281-287. For an accessible translation, see that in Tom Peete Cross and Clark Harris Slover, eds., Ancient Irish Tales [New York: Barnes and Noble, 1936], pp. 352-353). It has in common with Preideu Annwn a sea voyage, a raid upon an island stronghold with iron doors and a subterranean chamber, magic cattle, a cauldron which is filled with treasure, and an escape. Evidently there was a source legend known in both Irish and Welsh lore that may have furnished the materials for all these stories, and which involved a raid upon a god's fortress for a divine cauldron.



lluch lleawc may be a garbled version of a name: "the sword of Lluch Lleawch." Loomis calls it "a remarkable muddle" (p. 161): in Culhwch and Olwen we have two mentions of Llenlleawc the Irishman in the list of names Culhwch invokes, plus a Llwch Llawwynnyawc (Llwch "Windy-hand" according to Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones, trans. The Mabinogion [London: Everyman, 1975], p. 107). LLenleawc Wyddel is also the warrior among Arthur's men who kills the giant Diwrnach, enabling the cauldron to be taken in Culhwch and Olwen. Both J. Lloyd Jones and Sir Ifor Williams whom Loomis consulted in the preparation of his article (Loomis, p. 135, note 30) take lluch lleawc to be separate adjectives: "flashing" and "death-dealing." Haycock suggests that Lleawc may have been an earlier, or variant form of the name Llenleawc (p. 70). Koch has "a sword of lightning slaughter" (p. 296).



Another possibly muddled name. Loomis suggests that Lluch Lleawc is a variant of Llwch Llawwynnawc in Culhwch and Olwen, cognate with the Irish semi-deity Lugh, "who had an epithet which is given in Cath Maige Tured as Lonnbémnech and in Oided Chloinne Tuirenn as Loinnbhéimnionach" (p. 163). Haycock is skeptical; she suggests it means "leaping one" and may be an epithet for Arthur. She also notes its appearances in other texts as a personal name (p. 71). I think Loomis's sense of coincidence is not to be wondered at, and I suggest that there is considerable scribal confusion here.



Vedwit, possibly a compound, as Haycock points out, with med + gwit, GPC "feast, banquet, liquid, fluid, honey." Loomis translates "Fortress of Mead-Carousal"; Koch: "Fort of Intoxication"; Haycock: "Fortress of the Mead Feast." All of these named fortresses may merely supply epithets for the same otherworldly castle to which Arthur has led his expedition.



Koch has "strong door" (p. 296), and so does Loomis (p. 136); Haycock: "radiant" (p. 62). Pybyr in GM is defined as "staunch, strong, enthusiastic, bright, fine." Haycock suggests scribal confusion with pefyr, "radiant," "flaming," in the interests of seeing it in connection with line 20, and she points to other confusions of these two words (i.e., the name Gronw Pebyr/Pefyr in "Math uab Mathonwy," pointed out by Williams in his notes to Pedeir Keinc Mabinogi ("The Four Branches of the Mabinogi" [Cardiff: University of Wales Press], p. 286). Intrigued by the more seductive imagery, I too originally had "flaming door" ("Material Poetry," p. 51), but have here emended to "strong door," with its implications of "shining" and "fine."



Echwydd has two meanings: "noonday" and "river" or "flowing water." Loomis prefers the first meaning, and takes the word "jet" (muchyd to mean "jet-blackness" to further his interpretation of a "crepuscular" time of day known to denizens of the Otherworld (Loomis, p. 165). His translation: "Noon-day and jet-blackness are mingled." Koch, Haycock and I take the second meaning, but the mixture of "jet" and "flowing water" is mysterious. Haycock: "The mixing of water and jet to create fire may be a learned reference to a belief mentioned in Isidore of Seville's Etymologiae, xvi.iv (ed. W. M. Lindsay [Oxford: 1911])" (p. 72). Loomis: "[T]o no one who has followed the discussion thus far will it seem an objection that the island paradise and the subterranean lamp-lighted region are not easy for us to reconcile imaginatively. Nothing is more manifest than that the Celts blended such incongruous pictures, not only without effort but even with delight."



An error for gosgor, "retinue."



Latin: "intractibility, rigidity, hardness."



This is probably the hardest word to find an equivalent for, and it occurs three times in the opening line of this and the next two stanzas. Loomis translates: "I do not reward"; Koch: "I set no value on," both of them following Williams, as he advised Loomis (p. 136). According to the GM and the GPC, this verb gobrynaf/gobrynu means "merit," "deserve, be worthy of" and appears to be a compound of prynu (GM: "buy," "redeem") with intensive prefix go-. Williams advised as he did because "I do not deserve X" or "I do not merit X" unfortunately first convey in English the sense of "I am not worthy of X." which is why Haycock supplies a modifying paranthesis in her very literal translation: "I do not deserve (i.e., I deserve better than)." When one is after a smoother equivalent, one strays from the original Welsh: "I merit more than" would give the sense that Haycock is after, but it erases the sense of negation and denial in this line. This, alas, may be the only way to express the valency of gobrynaf. I wonder if it is a verb that exhibits one more argument than our English word "deserve," such that it can mean both "merit" and "bestow merit." It probably means to set up a comparison, a sense of equation, given the prynu part of its compound--"I do not match little men" (meaning they are not my match, they are not in my league). The speaker is denigrating the llawyr, not looking up to them. The Taliesin poet speaks frequently of scoring "merit points" or winning contests with his poetry, and I wonder if gobrynaf carries this sense of keeping score. So, with a concession to the lack of an equivalent verb in English, I go with "merit." There are, after all, expressions in English such as "it does not merit attention," or "I don't deserve this punishment" which come closer to what this verb conveys in this context. As chief poet, Taliesin does not merit the worthless men of letters whom he looks upon as poor readers, unlearned competitors, sloppy copiers (perhaps) and holier-than-thou critics. This is a revision of my earlier translation ("reward").



Llawyr is a compound of llaw, "small," "mean," "paltry," and gwyr, "men": "insignificant men." Haycock suggests emending to llewyr, "readers," in order to disambiguate what it is that the speaker, as poet, "deserves more than," since as the poem progresses it is clear that these are men of letters and not warriors. She also argues that llewyr might not have been "immediately familiar to the scribe of the BT or one of his predecessors." I cannot countenance this kind of manipulation of the text in aid of interpretation. Further, it collapses an important link between "readers" with slack shield straps and "warriors." If the poem is about poetic as well as folkloric plunder, as I argue in "Material Poetry," with the elaborate metaphor of a raid, then it is important to keep both sides of the symbolism.



Llen llywyadur presents another conundrum. How do we connect these three words--llawyr llen llywyadur--across the caesura? Williams: "I set no value on book-reading folk." Loomis: "I, Lord of Letters, do not reward mean folk." Koch: "I set no value on the director's wretched scribes." Haycock: "I deserve (i.e., I deserve better than) ?readers concerned with the literature of the Lord." The denunciation of monks at the end of the poem sheds light on this peculiar sentence, which seems to denigrate scribes. Haycock argues that because llen llywyadur makes a prosodic unit, divided from llawyr by the caesura, we should see it as a grammatical unit: "literature of the Lord" i.e., "scripture." Her translation is probably the most correct, and the hardest to express in any elegant way except to find a more concise equivalent. See above.



"Fortress of Glass." Glass, says Haycock, is a material associated with "otherness." Loomis writes that both the Fortress of Glass and the Silent Sentinel are motifs to be found in Nennius's Historia Brittonum which describes the "original" inhabitants of the Irish, come from Spain, who encounter a glass tower in the middle of the sea, and whose people do not respond to their hails. They attack the castle with thirty ships which founder, save one; and the people of that ship populate the whole of Ireland. See the translation by Pamela S.M. Hopkins and John.T. Koch, in The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales, eds. John T. Koch and John Carey, p. 277)." Loomis writes that this story is well-known to the Arthurian romancers. Chrêtien's Erec "refers to Maheloas as 'the lord of the Isle of Glass'" wherein one hears no thunder or lightning or tempest, nor is it too hot or cold.



This word breaks the rhyme with -ur. The question here is whether it is golud or colud. Goludd, "hindrance," "impediment," gives good sense in the context of this stanza about a glass castle and an incommunicative sentinel. Loomis translates "frustration" (p. 167). But the pattern in these epithets with kaer shows lenition of the second element, so it's possible that this is coludd, "guts," "bowels." Loomis is dead set against "bowels" as an interpretation; perfedd is a synonym meaning both "entrails" and "middle of" (perfeddd nos, "dead of night" GM), and he tentatively suggests as a secondary meaning "Fortress in the Middle of the Earth." Haycock: "impediment"; Koch: "concealed fort."



Now we enter the part of the poem where the references and the language are doubly obscure. Haycock mentions a number of possibilities for peridyd: it is a noun meaning "Creator"; it is a verb meaning "is created." She chooses the latter in her notes (p. 73), but puts ellision marks in her translation: "they do not know on what day...what time...was born..." (p. 63). Loomis's translation ends with stanza four. "They know not what was created on what day," is Koch's translation. Pwy could be "who" or "whom." A very dark couple of lines.



Could ymeindyd be "mid-day"? mei + dyd, formed by analogy with meinoeth, "middle of the night"?



No one has a confident translation for this word cwy or for the whole line. Koch has: "what hour of the day it was born and where"; Haycock: "What time... was born..." I'm not much more enlightened. Cwy could be a personal name; Haycock makes the interesting suggestion, based on a proposed emendment by John Lloyd-Jones in his G, that it is an error for dwy, "God." If we emend pwy in the previous line to plwy(w), then "lines 36-7 might be understood thus: '...who do not know on what day the ?human race is (?was) created (nor) at what time ?of the day God (i.e. Jesus) was born.'" Clearly, what we are seeing here is the typical Taliesin-poet boasting of esoteric knowledge that his competitors (the wretched scribes, the mean men of letters) are not privy to.



This word dychnut has occasioned some confusion among lexicographers. The entry for *dychnudo (with the asterisk indicating archaism) in GM gives the meaning "howl." But the entry for the same word dychnudaf, dychnuddo in GPC gives the meaning "to crowd together in a pack," from di + cnud, "pack." The only referent it cites, however, is this line in Preideu Annwn, which suggests that the word is a hapax. If this poem is the only place it occurs, clearly one lexicographer's guess is as good as another's. The GM entry seems driven by the context of the word, and it must have been assumed that it was a compound with udo, "howl," instead of cnud, "pack." But both meanings are completely relevant to the line. If the monks are dogs or young wolves "packing together" in a choir, then one can also imagine them howling (instead of singing). The satiric pun is effective, and reminds me of Maelgwn's bards in "The Tale of Taliesin" who, made to say "blerwm blerwm" with their fingers on their lips, are similarly rendered inarticulate by a bard "who knows." To honor this ambiguity, I have translated this first use as "howl" and the second use (in line 53) as "pack together."



cunin cor, literally, "whelps of (or in) a choir." "Choir dogs." Cor has a delightful array of meanings that extend the word-play in the previous line: "chancel, choir, sanctuary, court, circle, compass, range" (GPC). So while the dogs are clearly in a pack, as monks they are also sequestered in a chancel or choir, where they customarily sing. Koch: "Monks pack together like a troop of dogs." Haycock: "Monks throng together like a wolfpack." I prefer to retain the suggestion of a choir.



O gyfranc udyd is translated by Koch as "[shrinking] from encounter with the lords." Haycock: "because of the encounter of the masters."



ae gwidanhor in this line and ae gwidyanhawr in line 54 are contested. Ae: a relative particle that can be either subject or object. The ending suggests a passive construction. Koch takes these verbs to be deponents, and translates "who know"; Haycock sees them as impersonals of gwyddiannu (? verb made from gwydd[i]on? "wizard"? "one who knows"?) or gwybot, "know," and translates "to whom is made known."



This is a difficult line because it yields so many possibilities. bet, or bedd can mean "grave," but it may also be a lenited form of pet, "how many?" As Haycock advises, another question would be in keeping with the questions that have gone before. "How many saints?" she translates. Koch omits this line altogether. See the next note on diuant.



Either the interrogative or "whether there is..."



difant, according to the GPC, has a number of intriguing meanings that could be multiply applied to this word: as a noun: "total loss, perdition, annihilation, dissolution, disappearance; abyss, the void; desolate or lonely place; the otherworld." As a participle: "vanishing, vanished, fleeting, transient, completely lost, passed away." As an adjective: "base, contemptible." Haycock translates "in the void." See the next note on llawr.



This word llawr can mean "earth," or "champion" (GM, GPC). Allawr means "altar." The whole line may be variously rendered as: "The grave of the saint is vanishing, both grave and ground," or: "The grave of the saint is hidden, both grave and champion," or: "How many saints in the Otherworld, and how many on earth?" or: "How many saints lost, and how many altars?" Haycock: "How many saints in the void, and how many on earth?" Whatever the line means, diuant is a gloomy concept, and the sense expressed here is of sadness and loss, which is confirmed by the last line of the poem.


Preiddeu Annwn: The Spoils of Annwn

by: Sarah Higley (Translator)
from: The Camelot Project  2007

The following is the text (and translation) of a poem taken from the fourteenth-century Llyfr Taliesin (Book of Taliesin) which makes intriguing mention of Arthur who apparently leads warriors on a raid of the Welsh "otherworld": Annwn. Hauntingly beautiful, it is nevertheless quite obscure in its language as well as its references, and recent consensus is that the poem is less about Arthur than it is about Taliesin and his bardic prowess. Some of you may have already come upon a faulty translation of this poem in Robert Graves' The White Goddess, which omits the last two stanzas about monks. Students will wish to consult more recent translations and interpretations. See especially Roger Sherman Loomis, Marged Haycock, John Koch, and my own published remarks about this poem and its difficulties. Loomis's analysis is helpful for its examination of some of the obscure Arthurian references in the first four stanzas only; Haycock's analysis offers detailed linguistic work. My task on this page is to do only a little bit of both, but to refer you to these and other studies. The dictionaries I and others have used go by these abbreviations: GM, GPC, and G. Text and translation below:

Preiddeu Annwn


1. Golychaf wledic
      pendeuic gwlat ri.
1. I praise the Lord,
      Prince of the realm, King.
2. [r]y ledas ypennaeth
      dros traeth mundi.
2. His sovereignty has extended
      across the world's tract.
3. bu kyweir
      karchar gweir
      ygkaer sidi.
3. Equipped was
     the prison of Gweir
      in the Mound Fortress,
4. trwy ebostol pwyll
4. throughout the account(?) of
      Pwyll and Pryderi.
5. Neb kyn noc ef
      nyt aeth idi.
5. No one before him
      went into it,
6. yr gadwyn trom las
      kywirwas ae ketwi.
6. into the heavy blue/gray chain;
      a faithful servant it held.
7. Arac preideu annwfyn
      tost yt geni.
7. And before the spoils of Annwfyn
      bitterly he sang.
8. Ac yt urawt
8. And until Judgment
     shall last
      our bardic invocation.
9. Tri lloneit prytwen
      yd aetham ni idi.
9. Three fullnesses of Prydwen
      we went into it.
10. nam seith
     ny dyrreith
      ogaer sidi.
10. Except seven
     none rose up
      from the Fortress of the Mound.


11. Neut wyf glot geinmyn
    cerd ochlywir.
11. I am honored in praise.
    Song was heard
12. ygkaer pedryuan
     pedyr ychwelyt.
12. in the Four-Peaked Fortress,
     four its revolutions.
13. yg kenneir
    or peir
     pan leferit.
13. My poetry,
    from the cauldron
    it was uttered.
14. Oanadyl naw morwyn
14. From the breath of nine maidens
    it was kindled.
15. Neu peir pen annwfyn
    pwy y vynut.
15. The cauldron of the chief of Annwfyn:
    what is its fashion?
16. gwrym am yoror
16. A dark ridge around its border
    and pearls.
17. Ny beirw bwyt llwfyr
    ny rytyghit.
17. It does not boil the food of a coward;
    it has not been destined.
18. cledyf lluch lleawc
    idaw rydyrchit.
18. The flashing sword of Lleawch
    has been lifted to it.
19. Ac yn llaw leminawc
    yd edewit.
19. And in the hand of Lleminawc
    it was left.
20. Arac drws porth vffern
    llugyrn lloscit.
20. And before the door of hell
    lamps burned.
21. Aphan aetham ni gan arthur
    trafferth lechrit
21. And when we went with Arthur,
    brilliant difficulty,
22. namyn seith
    ny dyrreith
    o gaer vedwit.
22. except seven
    none rose up
    from the Fortress of Mead-Drunkenness.


23. Neut wyf glot geinmyn
      kerd glywanawr.
23. I am honored in praise;
      song is heard
24. ygkaer pedryfan
     ynys pybyrdor
24. in the Fortress of Four-Peaks,
      isle of the strong door.
25. echwyd amuchyd
25. Flowing water and jet
     are mingled.
26. gwin gloyw eugwirawt
     rac eu gorgord.
26. Sparkling wine their liquor
    before their retinue.
27. Tri lloneit prytwen
     yd aetham ni ar vor.
27. Three fullnesses of Prydwen
    we went on the sea.
28. namyn seith
    ny dyrreith
     ogaer rigor.
28. Except seven none rose up
    from the Fortress of Hardness.


29. Ny obrynafi lawyr
    llen llywyadur
29. I merit not the Lord's
     little men of letters.
30. tra chaer wydyr ny welsynt
    wrhyt arthur.
30. Beyond the Glass Fortress they did not see
     the valor of Arthur.
31. Tri vgeint canhwr
    aseui ar y mur.
31. Six thousand men
    stood upon the wall.
32. oed anhawd
32. It was difficult
    to speak
    with their sentinel.
33. tri lloneit prytwen
    yd aeth gan arthur.
33. Three fullnesses of Prydwen
    went with Arthur.
34. namyn seith
    ny dyrreith
    ogaer golud.
34. Except seven
    none rose up
    from the Fortress of Guts (Hindrance?).


35. Ny obrynaf y lawyr
    llaes eu kylchwy
35. I do not merit little men,
    slack their shield straps.
36. ny wdant wy pydyd
    peridyd pwy.
36. They do not know which day
    who was created (or: created whom?);
37. py awr ymeindyd
    y ganet cwy.
37. what hour of midday (?)
    Cwy was born.
38. Pwy gwnaeth
    arnyt aeth
    doleu defwy.
38. Who made him
    who did not go
    (to the) meadows of Defwy?
39. ny wdant wy yrych brych
     bras y penrwy.
39. They do not know the brindled ox,
    thick his headband.
40. Seith vgein kygwng
    yny aerwy.
40. Seven score links
    on his collar.
41. Aphan aetham ni gan arthur
    auyrdwl gofwy.
41. And when we went with Arthur,
    dolorous visit,
42. namyn seith
    ny dyrreith
    o gaer vandwy.
42. except seven
    none rose up
    from the fortress of God's Peak.


43. Ny obrynafy lawyr
    llaes eu gohen.
43. I do not merit little men,
    slack their will.
44. ny wdant pydyd
    peridyd pen.
44. They do not know which day
    the chief was created,
45. Py awr ymeindyd
    y ganet perchen.
45. what hour of the midday
    the owner was born,
46. Py vil agatwant
    aryant ypen.
46. what animal they keep, silver its head.
47. Pan aetham ni gan arthur
    afyrdwl gynhen.
47. When we went with Arthur,
    sorrowful strife,
48. namyn seith
    ny dyrreith
    o gaer ochren.
48. except seven
    none rose up
     from the Fortress of Enclosedness.


49. Myneich dychnut
    val cunin cor.
49. Monks howl
     like a choir of dogs
50. o gyfranc udyd
    ae gwidanhor.
50. from an encounter with lords
    who know:
51. Ae vn hynt gwynt
    ae vn dwfyr mor.
51. is there one course of wind?
    is there one course of water?
52. Ae vn vfel tan
    twrwf diachor.
52. is there one spark of fire
    of fierce tumult?



53. Myneych dychnut
    val bleidawr.
53. Monks pack together
    like young wolves
54. o gyfranc udyd
    ae gwidyanhawr.
54. from an encounter with lords
    who know.
55. ny wdant pan yscar
    deweint agwawr.
55. They do not know when midnight
    and dawn divide.
56. neu wynt pwy hynt
    pwy yrynnawd.
56. Nor wind, what its course,
    what its onrush,
57. py va diua
    py tir aplawd.
57. what place it ravages,
    what region it strikes.
58. bet sant
    yn diuant
    abet allawr.
58. The grave of the saint
    is hidden
    (or: lost, vanishing, in the Otherworld),
    both grave and ground (or: champion).
59. Golychaf y wledic
    pendefic mawr.
59. I praise the Lord,
    great prince,
60. na bwyf trist
    crist am gwadawl.
60. that I be not sad;
    Christ endows me.