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Posts Tagged ‘ancient poetry’

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AUTUMN SQUALL

There are few words here.
Bleak hill, cool breeze.
Iron hard is the ground
Of the present –
It will not give way.
Seeing is the stark choice
Of poets,
Dreaming of what was and is
And feeling the bones push
Through the thin skin
Of the day,
Sky-bright and bitter-edged.
We will grab what we can
And always wish for more.
Certain hunger there.
Sharp breeze, bleak hill.


A short reprise on ‘llym awel”. As days grow shorter it may be that I will continue my explorations of this oldest of British poetry, so akin to the nuances of T’ang poetry and the haiku of Japan. I am about half way through. After a year’s break it will be interesting to see how the verses get assimilated.

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LLYM AWEL Verse 9

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Ottid eiry o dv riv;
Karcharaur goruit, cul biv;
Nid annuyd hawdit hetiv.

“Snow fall on the side of the slope;
The horse is prisoner, the cattle thin;
It is nothing like a summer day today.”

1
Snow leans on the low slopes
Rain slants here in the valley
Cold slides from the hillsides,
Shades the day, the bitter night.
For weeks now no grass grows,
The horses stamp and mutter.

2
The world is hobbled
Stalled by snow
Nothing can be done
But wait
Counting ribs
Thin in hunger chains.
Cold airs slide white slopes
The valley’s continual rain slant.
In the dark
A horse lifts up a foot,
Puts down a foot.
Time is that slow,
Rolling down to emptiness.

3
We ache
With soft remembrance:
The scents of summer.
Mudsplashed and wan
Our churned meadow,
The heavy roof.
Huddled,
We long
For long sleep
And a dream or two
Of love and feast
And brightness.

4
The skies billow like oceans,
The stars, a long blizzard.
We are roofed in darkness
And a sunless weight.
The manacles of iron cold,
The chains of frost.
Bitter is the taste of winter days,
An ivy crown, a holly bed.
Poor animals, all of us,
Declining.

5
We can not dream of summer –
Those few, spiced, long days.
Souls float free from skin,
All the sky to move within.

We can not do but what we must
To flick off the gnaw of cold
And bite of hunger.

We cling to the swirling skirts of winter,
Dare not let go.
To fall too far,
Too thin to rise,
Too far to hope.
We must stay
Within our means
And shrink our dignity
Day by day.

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LLYM AWEL, verse 8: Improvisations.

Ottid eiry, tohid istrad;
Diuryssini vy keduir y cad;
Mi nid aw; anaw ni’m gad
.

Falling snow, the wide valley covered;
They hasten, the warriors to war;
Myself, I do not go; a wound does not allow.

‘Istrad’ is not any vague ‘valley’, but an open, level or wide part of a valley floor, ( ‘dale’ or ‘strath’ are modern translations, suggesting gentle, cultivated land), distinguishing it from a steep or narrow-walled valley (cwm, combe, dingle, dell,)
‘Tohid’ could be ‘blanketed’, or ‘covered’. ‘Blanketed’ sounds too soft and benign, ‘smothered’ too dramatic. I’ve settled for ‘covered’ , though it seems a little pedestrian.
‘Keduir’ ( kedwir) are warriors, ‘cad’ is battle, but ‘warriors’ and ‘war’ is, perhaps, a better echo of the original sounds and semantics.
Each line ends with the same rhyme: istrad/cad/gad. The last line has a nice reflection in ‘..nid aw; anaw ni’m..’
There seems to be a disconnection between first and second lines. We are left wondering :what is the context? Is the landscape description simply to provide a scene through which the warriors move? Does it reflect the two events: a blanket of snow paralysing the fertile valley floor, the descent of the war-band on hapless neighbours? Is the snowfall a cover for an unexpected, aggressive assault?
There is a clear suggestion of the quiet, open space and silence of the valley contrasted with the fast moving, tightly animated, urgent group of warriors.
The stillness and emptiness of the landscape is echoed in the last line by the helplessness of the narrator left behind as his companions depart. Though there is no suggestion whether the narrator feels guilt or relief, we can see the view of the wide, empty snow-filled valley floor as a correlate for his physical, emotional and mental state.

Falling snow is valley’s shroud.
A warrior’s heart is vast and cold.
With skilled companions, open to chance,
Brave and proud.
A blizzard roar sweeping away all.

Unfathomable is the mind of a mountain;
The language of clouds: not easy to read,
a mystery sung by rivers.

The silence in waiting long.
Unkind the distance between here
And good company.
Vast and empty is the future
We fill with hope.
Empty and shelterless
Is the valley void of laughter.

Wide, white and shrouded
Is the green glory of the young.
Each year these wounds
And the memories of wounds
Pile up to muffle song.

A keening wind will bring tears,
Even to the strong.

Halt and bold,
Blood-smeared will be the footsteps
Of those who return.
Their tracks:
The lines of those before us,
All aches smoothed over,
Disappearing,
The wide, vast future
Brought sharp to a point:
One moment whole,
One moment severed.
Cut short,
All certainty
Reduced to dream,
All echoes dying away.

The groans of ice.
Frost-cracked, the stones split,
Gape skywards toothless:
The road and door
To other worlds.

Left lame, useless,
Not knowing.
Watching slow snow fall.
Hands without strength,
An empty mind trudges distances.
Goalless, remote, the hollow eyes.
A dry and empty cup.

The minds of mountains
And their clouds
Weep and rejoice.
Glory of sunlight
Spitting shadows.

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6

Ottid eiry, guin aren;
Segur yscuid ar iscuit hen;
Ryauar guint, reuhid dien.

This verse has a beautiful rhythm and some clearly visible rhymes. The last word on each line rhymes ( aren, hen, dien), bringing a clear finality to the clipped imagery. The second line emphasises internal ‘s’ sounds and a sonic and semantic similarity between ‘yscuid’ (shield) and ‘iscuit’ ( shoulder). The third line rolls with repeated ‘r’s. ( ryauar, reuhid).

A fairly literal translation is:

‘Falling snow, white hoar-frost;
An idle shield on an old man’s shoulder;
Very great wind, grass freezes.’

The second line may have been a well-known epithet regarding uselessness, appropriateness, wasted effort or similar. Whatever it is alluding to, there is a clear contrast and comparison between the external conditions of winter and the frailty or limitations of humans.

A shield on
An old man’s
Shoulder is a
Useless weight.
This battle lost:
Blood freezes,
Hair whitens.
A rattling breath,
Needle cold in
The lungs.
Cold wind scythes
The land, all falls
Cold and motionless.

A shroud of memory shields the real.
A heavy weight is its covering.
A welcome numbness dulls each sharp edge.
White is the weight of snow,
White the beard of frost.
White the hair, white the vision.
White the mountain shield above the mist.

Heavy and lame the old man’s hand.
Dead weight the shouldered shield.
Neither weapon nor defence,
No comfort, but an accretion of habit,
Laden down, a bitter burden.
A cloak, a blanket would better serve.

The only blanket is snow.
The only battle, against cold.
The one breath, a wild wind
Turning grass to steel.
A bitter blade of winter
On bitter blades of grass.

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