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Posts Tagged ‘Llym awel’

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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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BLACK BOOK

it seems time now
to turn back to those
terse ancient words of winter

(now the leaves flounder across lawns,
the grey lidless sky at the window,
and the hills melted in rain)

to tease out the meat
and gristle of them,
to open the heart,
see the red blood pump through
and where and how
that mysterious circulation,
vowel and consonant,
revolving as keys.

(and the cloud upon Bryn
like a dove on the brow of God.
and the trees in their lordly might
whispering from leaf to root to leaf)

each tooth and tongue
taking edge.
each passage,
a view coagulate.

(and the dusty crows thrown eastwards
on the wind of storm and shortening days)

a small breeze it is
that burns the flesh cold.
a bleak hill
a bleak hill.
harsh is the path,
and we, shelterless.

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LLYM AWEL verse 12 Improvisations
(Part One)

Gvenin igogaur, guan gaur adar;
Dit diulith….
Kassulwin kewin brin, coch gwaur.

“Bees shelter in winter quarters, the weak noise of birds;
A bitter day….
The ridge hill cloaked in white, a red dawn.”

The hives silent.
Bees shut up in winter.
So too, the thin voice
Of birds.
A bitter day of it,
So, too, words fail.
Gagged, gaunt,
All declines to murmur.
The hill ridge
Is cloaked in white.
A red dawn.

The hunters for gold
In their hollow halls
Gather murmured dreaming.
Summer is far away.
The dawn flowers red,
But still the birds are silent.

The beauty of it:
A silent red dawn.
River murmurs under ice.

Their laboured breath:
A cold wind sighing
Through bare branches.
The gold of victory
Keeps not cold
From the heart.
They will dream of
Summer and a summer sky,
And the dance of victory
And the boasts of heroes.

This verse has the second half of the second line missing. Rather ironic, as one of its main themes is silence, or comparative silence. The inactivity of the hive I have taken to be a metaphor or parallelism for the host of warriors, inactive, in their lord’s hall. Hence, the imagery of hunting for gold, the warrior’s prize, and bees in summer hunting for pollen.

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LLYM AWEL verse 11( part 1)

Eurtirn am corn, cirn am cluir;
Oer llyri, lluchedic auir;
Bir diwedit, blaen gvit gvir.

“Gold rims about the horn, the horn around the company;
Cold are the paths, full of lightning the sky;
Short is the evening, the tops of the trees are bent.”

Gold runs about its rim,
The horn is passed around the company.
Gold at the edges of the dark day,
Gold tasted on the tongue,
The tongue held silent.
Tangled are the paths and cold they are.

The circle of gold is eloquent but thin,
Shared, passed around, not owned by any.
The short round days.
Fire quenched and bent,
Should have been for the gods only-
As if we could have ever held lightning,
As if we could have gazed unblinking,
Unblinded by its sudden light.

It will burn all who yearn for it,
Burn them black and hollow.
Cold dust they will blow tree-high,
Forgotten, lost in name, one of many,
The bending boughs will mourn.

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LLYM AWEL verse 10

Ottid eiry, guin goror mynit;
Llum guit llog ar mor;
Meccid llvwyr llauer kyghor.

Snow falls, mountains are fringed in white;
These bleak trees: masts on the sea;
A coward has endless excuses.

1
Knowing what we know
What should be done?
We ask ( fearing the answer).

The cold clear cut,
The slow scribbled signature
Of snow.

Timber shattered,
The mast trees weep.
Stripped fingers
They have nothing to say.
The cry, long dry cry of winter.
Glass sea, glass sky,
Broken.

2
What is slight
Sustains us.
Rills and ridge
Croak under snow.

A laughter cough of ice.
Harsh is the wind on the edge of the valley.
No kind words for the hesitant.

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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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Llym Awel, second stanza. Improvisations.

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Ton tra thon, toid tu tir;
Goruchel guaetev rac bron banev bre;
Breit allan or seuir
.

The alliteration of the first line rolls and rumbles like the waves that are described therein, then stutters and becomes harsh as the roaring sound is described, followed by a diminishing gentleness of the vanquished sloping land. The last line has a shocked gulping sadness, or an amazed sorrow. It frames and positions the narrator in an emotional as well as a natural landscape.

“Wave on wave, covering the side of the land;
Very loud the roar against the high hill;
A wonder anything remains.”

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Wave tops wave.
A coupling clamber
A mating roar,
cast seed
spray spume.
Before one, before all,
up sloping land.
Seige unopposed,
howled hunger thrown,
A wild encroachment,
a burst breach
Long and longer reach,
a tumble.
The high hill groans.
What can stand,
what can stay?
From this slide skywards,
From this steep,
utter submergence?

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LLYM AWEL ( part 2 )

Llym awel, llum brin, anhaut caffael clid;
Llicrid rid, reuhid llin;
Ry seiw gur ar vn conin.

The second phrase is ” llum brin” , “bleak hill”.
Jackson makes it ‘bare the hill’. My iTranslate prefers ‘bleak’.
The choice of synonyms are many and subtly divergent: bare, desolate, hostile, barren, are all covered by ‘bleak’, whereas ‘bare’ seems to me a thinner meaning, and confusable with ‘naked’, thus making the association physically personal, rather than the ferociously and unconcernedly unsympathetic ‘bleak’.
At this stage in the poem the poet has just drawn a landscape and inferred from the adjectives (sharp, bleak) a human presence. The final phrase of the line is ‘anhaut caffael clid’ ‘difficult to find/to obtain/have shelter’, implying he/we are out in this harsh weather.
As this is the case, I wonder whether ‘llum brin’ should be read as ‘this bleak hill’, or ‘bleak hilltop’, because we are not to view it as something out there at a distance, but something here below our feet, all around us, because it is out on the exposed hilltop that we would want to find shelter from the elements.

“Sharp breeze, bleak hilltop, difficult it is to obtain shelter”

There is a contrast in the two halves of the line between the impersonal elemental world, and a small human being moving,uncomfortable, through it. In the Welsh, the first two phrases glide and tumble, compared to the jerking, hesitency of the last three words.
The next line resumes the echoing, reflecting alliteration:

“Llicrid rid, reuhid llin;”

and also returns to observations of the seen world: ‘Llicrid rid’ , Jackson translates as ‘The ford is marred’. There is a sense in ‘llicrid’ of pollution, contamination, become fouled. Presumably the weather conditions have destroyed the gentle, smooth crossing place. I have settled on ‘churned up’ to give that sense of disorder and chaos. This then nicely contrasts with the following phrase: ‘reuhid llin’, lake freezes. Slight variations will give a different taste. Jackson translates this line as ‘ the ford is marred, the lake freezes’, but I feel this distances the experience and makes it rather general, something that happens each winter, not something that is causing an immediate emotional reaction in the poet at this moment, on this journey.

‘The ford is churned up, the lake frozen’

These two phrases contrast each other in the same way that wind/ breeze is active and hilltop is motionless. Here the ford has become wrecked and flooded where it is usually calm, and the gentle rippling lake has become motionless and still.
In Celtic worldviews ( even as a continuation from the Bronze Age) both fords and lakes were sacred as gateways to the Otherworld, liminal places to access the spiritual. Here, they can no longer serve that function – the poet feels even more isolated from the succour of the spirit worlds ( and so giving another meaning to ‘difficult to find shelter’).

The last line is:

‘Ry seiw gur ar vn conin.’

‘Ry seiw’ is “it is (even) possible to stand”, gur/gŵr is ‘a man’, ar is ‘on’, vn/un conin is ‘one stalk/grass/reed’

So: it is possible to stand a man on one reed
It is possible for a man to stand on one reed.
A man might stand on a single reed.

Jackson says: ” A man could stand on a single stalk” , which has a nice quality of flow and wonder to it. To my eye, a ‘stalk’ can be too easily visualised as lying flat on the ground, whereas a reed maintains its sense of verticality, and has a more proverbial sound to it.
Nicola Jacobs’ commentary explains this line as meaning the reed/grass is so frozen, so hard that it can be (theoretically) balanced on. But it also suggests a man made hollow by care and hunger, so light, so worn away and insubstantial, that a reed would not bend under his weight.

The ‘sharp breeze’ of the first phrase is echoed by the sharp, blade-like reed of the last, both summing up the discomfort of the season.

I will mull these ideas and work on my interpretation……

IMPROVISATIONS ON LLYM AWEL

Sharp beeeze, bleak hilltop, difficult it is to obtain shelter.
The ford is churned up, the lake frozen.
A man might stand on a single reed.

Splinter cold, breath stolen.
Pummelled, stripped, this ice wind.

Desolate my road, this dead, domed hill,
Rotted brown and wan.

Shelterless, this way or that,
Remorseless the trudge, and dismal.

Every ford is ice mud,
Churned by all the cattle of the world,
Cast, charnel, sullied, broken.

No joyous lake,
No light waved, rippled,
No meek lap nor song.
All iron ice, white and burning stillness.

Worn hollow by winter,
Wormed and wrought, ringed out.
I wince from every blade of it.
Reeds rattle underfoot.
Pierced, I am lost amongst grasses,
Harsh-throated, severed from home.

—-

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LLYM AWEL ( part1)

Llym awel, llum brin
Anhaut caffael clid
Llicrid rid, reuhid llin,
Ry seiw gur ar vn conin.

This long sequence of ancient Welsh verse is named from its first phrase. I was curious to see if I could use some of these words in my artworks. There is a magnetic mystery in words on the horizon of understanding, whether because the language is very old or because it is unknown. Language freed in this way from meaning turns into the music of rhythm and the shape of the mouth. Language is a vessel of sound. Meaning is what fills that shape up in some way. But meaning is not one thing. These gnomic verses, like much ancient poetry, is terse and ambiguous. Translate one way and it carries a completely different mood from translating another way. After all, vocabulary is not meaning. Language builds a picture in the reader/hearer’s mind, and because it is created by another human, it carries its own emotional energy, which may or may not be transmitted whole. Language is translation of a unique experience by and for another. Translation from one language to another first of all loses the implicit rhythms of the original language, and then it often misplaces some of the original emotional intent by a less than perfect matching of word meanings.

‘Llym awel’ seems to be generally translated as ‘sharp wind’, but this itself is a metaphor. Wind does not cut, nor bite, gnaw or pierce. It has no teeth and no sharp edges. The wind, ( if it is wind), is to be perceived through our physical experience. That is what is transferred ( or not) in the meaning. I cannot speak Welsh, neither modern nor Medieval. I have relied in this investigation on accepted academic translations, commentaries and the automatic translations of modern computer programmes. All these provide different viewpoints from whence the original genuine emotional might be unearthed, or else an interesting improvised variation might grow.
Most words have synonyms. Poetry relies often on these to select appropriate metre and rhyme. Bardic Welsh poetry is hugely complex in its internal structure, playing with sounds all the time, following convoluted rules and templates. Translation cannot hope to match any of this well. Poetic commentary and improvised variations may be the best way to approach the feel of the original material, without pretending it translates word for word…..

The first query I came across was the meaning of ‘awel’. My translator insisted on ‘breeze’, giving a completely different word ( in modern Welsh) for ‘wind’. Now the feel and mood of ‘wind’ and ‘breeze’ are very different. So too, ‘llym’ was given as ‘sharp’, ‘ keen’, ‘acute’ – all of related meanings but all with very different emotional energy.
Language relies heavily on habitual idiom and familiar metaphors. We do not question ‘sharp wind’ because we understand that this is not a literal, objective statement. Literal meaning slur and smudge in the creation of a mental picture. By practice we learn to understand when familar phrases mean something rather different. This somewhat complacent use of language is often very different from the meticulous choice of the skilled bard and poet, so it is important not to fall into using the blurred edges of familiar idiomatic phrasing when it can distort or disguise the precise clarity intended by the poet.

We all pass over ‘sharp wind’ very quickly. We get the general drift of meaning, the flavour, but ‘sharp breeze’ makes us pause and reconstruct. It is at once less usual, and a much more particular equation. A breeze is not a buffeting force. It is more akin to an occassional breath. A more harmless movement of air. So when this gentle, slight thing is felt as ‘sharp’ or ‘keen’, then we can automatically readjust the experience. How cold must the air be, for even a slight breeze to cut through to the skin?

So my commentaries and improvisations on these two words were:

Llym awel,
Sharp breeze,
This small stirring drains warmth,
Negates clothing.
Breath breeze makes cold colder.
This breeze breathes ice.

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