Sacred Texts  Legends & Sagas  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 208



THE objections under the second proposition apply mainly to the poems classed by Mr. Stephens and Mr. Nash as historical. Mr. Stephens maintains that there are not only in some of these poems direct allusions to persons and events of a later date than the period when the poems must have been composed, if they are genuine, but also that, in most of the poems, it can be shown that allusions which have been supposed to refer to early events were really intended to apply to those of a later date, and that later persons are indicated under the names of earlier heroes.

Now, here also I go along with the objection, so far as direct allusions are made to later persons and events, but there I stop.

When I find in the Black Book a poem on the death of Howel ap Goronwy, in which he is named, I can have no difficulty in believing it to apply to Howel ap Goronwy, who died in 1103, and that it must have been written after that date. The poems in the Black Book bearing to be the composition of Cynddelw are of course not within the scope of our inquiry. The poem in the Red Book attributed to Myrddin, which mentions Coch o Normandi, I can

p. 209

have no doubt refers to William Rufus, as I find him called Y Brenhyn Coch in the Brut y Tywysogion. The poems referring to Mab Henri, or the son of Henri, I can have equally little doubt proceeded from Glamorgan, and refer to Robert, Earl of Gloucester, the son of King Henry I.; and the Hoianau, which mentions the five chiefs from Normandy, and the fifth going to Ireland, must have been composed, either in whole or in part, in the reign of Henry II.

The attempt which Mr. Stephens makes, however, and in which he is followed by Mr. Nash, to show that the greater proportion of these poems contain indirect allusions to later events, is, in my opinion, unsuccessful, and will not bear examination. it is this criticism which mainly affects a large number of the poems attributed to Taliessin, and it appears to me to be superficial and inconclusive in its reasoning, and based upon fancied resemblances, which have no true foundation in fact. Mr. Stephens, in a series of articles on the poems of Taliessin, which appeared in the Archæologia Cambrensis subsequent to the publication of the Literature of the Cymry, has, to some extent, modified the views expressed in the latter work. Of the poems which he there classed as doubtful he now removes three, and, of those in the fifth class, two, to the first class of genuine poems; but the mere fact that he does so on a more careful examination will show how superficial the grounds must have been on which he made that classification.

p. 210

The mode in which he has dealt with two of the poems will afford a good illustration of the character of this criticism. Among the poems in the Book of Taliessin is one called Marwnad Corroi m. Dayry, or the death-song of Corroi, son of Dayry (B. T. 42). In his Literature of the Kymry Mr. Stephens places this poem in his fifth class of "Predictive poems, twelfth and succeeding centuries," but in a paper in the Archæologia Cambrensis (vol. ii. p. 151) he gives his more matured views, and reverses this verdict. He now considers it to have been written about 640. The grounds upon which he comes to this conclusion are these. The poem alludes to a contention between Corroi and Cocholyn (Kyfranc Corroi a Cocholyn). Here is his own account of his process:--"The name of Corroi's opponent piqued my curiosity. I forthwith went in search of his history in the Anglo-Saxon Annals, and, much to my delight, the personage whom I sought appeared in good company, being Cuichelm, one of the West Saxon kings." He then gives extracts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of the event, connected with Cuichelm from A.D. 611 to 626, when he died. He confesses he can make nothing of Corroi, but he immediately identifies Cocholyn with Cuichelm, and forthwith removes the date of the composition of the poem from the twelfth to the seventh century. This is a good specimen of the mode in which this kind of criticism is made to tell upon the dates of the poems. If there is any poem in which we can predicate with certainty of the subject of it, it is this; and if Mr.

p. 211

[paragraph continues] Stephens, instead of betaking himself to the Saxon Chronicle, had gone to Ireland for his hero, he would have been more successful. Cocholyn is no other than the celebrated Ossianic hero Cuchullin, and Corroi, son of Dayry, was the head of the knights of Munster. They are mentioned together in an old: Irish. tract, which says, "This was the cause which brought Cuchulain and Curoi son of Daire from Alban to Erin." 1 The allusions in the poem are to the events of a legendary tale in which these heroes figure, and there are none to any other events. The poem belongs to a period when there was more intercommunion between the different branches of the British Celts, and when they had a common property in their early myths.

The other poem is one in the Red Book of Hergest commonly called Anrhec Urien (R. B. 17). It is likewise placed by Mr. Stephens in the same class of predictive, poems of the twelfth century, and in an article in the same volume of the Archæologia Cambrensis (p. 206), Mr. Stephens adheres to this opinion as to its date, and maintains that it refers to events of the eleventh century. These events are supposed to be contained in a series of extracts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Brut y Tywysogion, ranging from 1055 to 1063, but the reader will seek in vain for anything but the most vague and general resemblance, which might be equally well traced between the allusions in the poem and any other series of events. Mr. Nash makes much

p. 212

shorter work of it. His argument is this:--The poem mentions a battle of Corsfochno. The Hoianau also refers to a battle of Corsfochno. The Hoianau was written in the twelfth century, therefore this poem also was written in the twelfth century! Admitting that the Hoianau was written in the twelfth century, does it follow that a poem of that date may not refer to an event of an earlier period? The Hoianau mentions likewise Rhydderch Had and the battle of Argoed Llwyfain, and both belong to an early period. There can be no doubt as to Rhydderch Hael being a real person in the sixth century, and as little that the battle of Argoed Llwyfain was a real event of the same century. Both Mr. Stephens and Mr. Nash admit it. Mr. Stephens, in his Literature of the Kymry, says, with his usual candour: "Corsfochno is in Cardiganshire, but I can find no other notice of this battle than another prediction;" but in his article on this poem he endeavours to find a notice of it in some lines of Gwalchmai, who flourished in the twelfth century, and Mr. Nash adopts the. conclusion at once. Corsfochno, however, was a real place, and these lines only refer to events in South Wales having been tra Corsfochno, beyond Corsfochno.

Let us now see whether another construction may not be put upon this poem, which is, to say the least of it, equally well borne out. The poem opens with a greeting of Urien Reged. It then mentions three of the sons of Llywarch Hon--Jeuaf, Ceneu, and Selev. It then alludes to a competition between " four men

p. 213

maintaining their place with four hundred, with the deepest water." One of these is mentioned as

[paragraph continues] A Dragon from Gwynedd of precipitous lands and gentle towns.

[paragraph continues] Surely this was enough to have indicated at once Maelgwn Gwynedd, whom Gildas calls "the insular dragon," as the person probably alluded to. Then another is thus alluded to as

A Bear from the South, he will arise,

and Cyneglas is called by Gildas a "Bear and the Charioteer of a Bear." If two of the four men thus indicate two of Gildas's kings, we may, well presume that the four men meant are his four kings of Wales. It is said of the Dragon of Gwynedd--

Killing and drowning from Eleri (a river in Corsfochno) to Chwilfynydd,
A conquering and unmerciful one will triumph;
Small will be his army on returning from the (action of) Wednesday.

And again--

He that will escape from the affair of Corsfochno will be fortunate.

[paragraph continues] Now, does not this contest between the four men, in which the deep waters play a part, and the Dragon of Gwynedd triumphs, and which is said to be the affair of Corsfochno, very plainly refer to the transaction at Corsfochno, whatever it really was, by which Maelgwn Gwynedd, the insular dragon, became supreme sovereign of Wales, and in which these northern chiefs may have taken a part? The reference to Urien at the end--

p. 214

Urien of Reged, generous he is and will be,
And has been since Adam.
He, proud in the hall, has the most wide-spreading sword
Among the thirteen kings of "Y Gogledd," or the North--

is conclusive as to the antiquity of the poem. If it had been composed in the twelfth century, when all memory of the Cymric states in the north had passed away, Urien would have been brought to South Wales, where the later bards had provided a Reged for him between the Tawy and the Towy.

It is needless to examine more of this criticism. These two specimens will suffice, and the notes to the poems will indicate, as far as possible, the real events referred to. The real character and bearing of this criticism upon the poems may be sufficiently indicated by a short illustration. Let us suppose that the question is the genuinuess of the poem called The Wallace, attributed to a popular minstrel Blind Harry. Why, we might suppose Mr. Stephens and Mr. Nash would say, Here is a battle fought by Wallace against the English at Falkirk. We know the real battle of Falkirk was fought against the English by Prince Charles Edward in 1746. Wallace heads an insurrection against the English, so does Prince Charles. It is quite clear that the battle of Falkirk in 1746 is the real battle; under the name of Wallace, an ancient hero, Prince Charles is meant, and we must bring down the age of the poem to the eighteenth century. In using this illustration I do not think I am caricaturing this branch of the recent criticism.

p. 215

The objections taken to these poems under the third proposition are, that the orthography and verbal forms are not older than the date of the MSS. in which they were transcribed, and that the poetical structure and the sentiments they breathe are analogous to the poetry of a later age. Mr. Stephens, by admitting that some of the poems are genuine, neutralises the first branch of this objection entirely, and the second to some extent. If some of the poems are pronounced to be ancient, notwithstanding the orthography being of a later date, so may all, and Mr. Stephens is bound to show that there is a marked difference between the poetical form and the sentiments of the poems he rejects and those he admits to be genuine, before he can found upon such an argument. Mr. Nash, however, goes further. He does not absolutely deny that some of the poems may be genuine, but he does not admit that any are older than the MSS. in which they appear, and he throws upon the advocates of their authenticity the burden of proving that they are older, notwithstanding their structure and orthography.

It may be admitted that these poems, as well as all such documents, whatever their age may be, usually appear, in so far as their orthography and verbal forms are concerned, in the garb of the period when the MS. in which they appear was transcribed. The scribes of those times had not the spirit of the antiquaries of the present, which leads them to preserve the exact spelling and form of any ancient document they print. When such poems were handed down orally, those who recited

p. 216

them did not do so in the older forms of an earlier period, but in the language of their own. In their vernacular forms, a process of phonetic corruption and alteration was going on, but it was a gradual and insensible one, and the language of the poems was easily adapted to it as their spoken idiom. The reciters and the hearers both wished to understand the historic and national lays they were, dealing with; and the reciter no more thought it necessary, in transcribing them from older MSS., to preserve their more ancient form, than he did, in reciting them orally, to preserve any other form of the, language than the one in which he heard them repeated. This is not peculiar to Welsh MSS., but is true of all such records. The only exception was when the scribe did not understand the piece which he was transcribing, and retained the old forms, and hence arise those pieces which appear in an obsolete form of the language with glosses. There was also this peculiarity in Welsh MSS., that there had been at intervals great and artificial changes in the orthography, and the scribe was no doubt wedded to the orthographic system of the day.

It is fortunate, however, that these poems are contained in MSS. of different dates, as it affords at once a test of the soundness of this objection. Between the Black Book of Caermarthen and the Red Book of Hergest there is an interval of two centuries, and the Books of Aneurin and Taliessin stand between them. Now, there are poems in the Red Book of Hergest and in the Book of Taliessin which are also to be found in

p. 217

the Black Book of Caermarthen. Had this latter MS. not been preserved, there would have been no older text of these poems than in the two former MSS., and Mr. Nash's argument as to their being no older than the MS. in which they appear would have applied with equal force, but here we have the same text nearly two centuries earlier.

Let us then compare a few lines of the same poem in each Book:--


Adwin caer ẏssit ar lan llẏant
Adwin ẏd rotir ẏ pauper ẏ chwant.
Gogẏwarch de gwinet boed tev wẏant,
Gwaewaur rrin. Rei adarwant.
Dẏv merchir. gueleisse guir ẏg cvinowant.
Dẏv iev bv. ir. guarth. it adcorssant.
Ad oet brẏger coch. ac och ar dant.
Oet llutedic guir guinet. Dit ẏ deuthant.
Ac am kewin llech vaelvẏ kẏlchuẏ wriwant
Cuẏtin ẏ can keiwin llv o carant.


Aduúyn gaer yssyd ar lan lliant.
Aduúyn yt rodir y paúb ychwant.
Gogyfarch ti vynet boet teu uúyant.
Gúaywaúr ryn rein a derllyssant.
Duú merchyr gúeleis wyr ygkyfnofant.
Dyfieu bu gúartheu a amugant
Ac yd oed vriger coch ac och ardant.
Oed lludued vynet dyd y doethant
Ac am gefyn llech vaelúy kylchúy vriwaut
Cúydyn ygan gefyn llu o garant.


p. 218


Rac gereint gelin kẏstut
Y gueleise meirch can crinvrut
A gwidẏ gaur garv achlut


Rae gereint gelyn kẏthrud
Gúeleis y veirch dan gymryd
A gúedy gaúr garú achlud.

But there are indications in the Black Book of Caermarthen that in some of the poems the writer had transcribed from some older record, and had not always understood what he wrote. The fact that no older record has come down to us, is no proof that it never existed; and had such record been preserved, we no doubt would have found a difference between its text and that of the Black Book, analogous to the difference between the latter and the Red Book of Hergest. Had we the Book that Scolan confesses to have drowned, it might have settled the question.

But though we have no older record of any of the existing poems than the Black Book of Caermarthen, we have two fragments of other poems of older date, and these may help us to penetrate still a little further back. The first is a verse preserved in the old Welsh Laws, and there expressly said to have been sung by Taliessin. The other is the short poem preserved in the Cambridge Juvencus. It is not attributed to any bard, but it

p. 219

approaches so closely, in style, structure, and sentiment, to one of the poems attributed to Llywarch Hen, as to leave no rational doubt that they are by the same author. Though we cannot compare them with the same passages in the later MSS., we may place them in contrast with passages as nearly approaching to them in metre and style as we can find.

In comparison with the first, let us take three lines in the same metre out of the first poem in the Book of Taliessin, which is also to be found in the Red Book of Hergest. And with the other let us compare a few stanzas in the poems of Llywarch Hen which most nearly approach it:--


Kickleu odures eu llaueneu
Kan Run en rudher bedineu
Guir Aruon rudyon euredyeu


Achyn mynhúyf derwyn creu
Achyn del ewynuriú ar vyggeneu
Achyn vyghyfalle ar y llathen preu


A chynn mynnúyf deruyn creu
A chynn del ewynriú ar vynggeneu
A chynn vyngkyualle ar llathen preu

p. 220


Niguorcosam nemheunaur
Henoid. Mitelu nit gurmaur.
Mi. amfranc dam amcalaur

Nicanu niguardam nicusam
Henoid. Cet iben med nouel.
Mi amfranc dam an patel


Stauell gyndylan ystywyll
Heno. Heb dan heb gannwyll
Namyn duú púy am dyry púyll

Stauell gyndylan ystywyll
Heno. Heb dan heb oleuat.
Elit amdaú am danat

Pan wisgei garanmael, gat peis kynndylan
A phyrydyaú y onnen
Ny chaffei ffranc tranc oe benn


Oct re rereint dan vortuid
Gereint. Garhirion gratin guenith
Rution ruthir eririon blith.

Oct re rerient dan vortuid
Gereint. Garhirion graun ae bú
Rution ruthir eriron dú.

p. 221

There can be no doubt that the analogy here carries us back to the ninth century, but before we can advance further it will be necessary to revert to the historic argument as to the true date and place of these poems in Cymric literature.

To enter into an inquiry with regard to the metrical structure and poetic character of these poems, in order to show the extent to which they indicate that they are the work of an earlier age, and the essential difference between them and the poetry of the twelfth and succeeding centuries, would exceed the limits of this work. It would involve a detailed examination of the whole of these poems, which is here impossible. The examples above given will show that the metre of most of the poems attributed to Llywarch Hen, and which is usually called the Triban Milwyr, or warrior's triplet, is at least is old as the ninth century, and one of Taliessin's metres as the tenth.

There is a remarkable admission by Iolo Morganwg himself as to the difference in character between the genuine and the spurious poems attributed to Taliessin. He says of the Mabinogi of Taliessin--

"This romance has been mistaken by many for true history; but that it was not, might have been easily discovered by proper attention to the language and its structure to the structure of the verse in the poems attributed in this fiction to Taliessin having nothing but the externals of the verse of the genuine Taliessin, and nothing of its internal rhythm and other peculiarities."

No one knew better than Iolo Morganwg where these spurious poems really came from.

p. 222

The poems attributed to Taliessin have been subjected to criticism both by Mr. Stephens and by Mr. Nash, but the poems attributed to Myrddin, with which Mr. Nash does not profess to deal, are likewise included within the scope of Mr. Stephens' criticism. We have only to deal with those, the texts of which are to be found in the four ancient MSS. There are four in the Black Book of Caermarthen, and two in the Red Book of Hergest, and no doubt the legendary connection of the name of Caermarthen with that of Myrddin led to their occupying a prominent place in the former MS. The first poem in that book (B. B. 1) is a dialogue between Myrddin and Taliessin, and the last stanza--

Since I, Myrdin, after Taliessin
Let my prophecy be made common,

indicates Myrddin as the author. The subject is the Battle of Ardderyd, and one of Arthur's battles--that at Trywruid--is alluded to in it; but there is one allusion in it which marks great antiquity--that to a place called Nevtur--which can be no other than Nemhtur, the most ancient name of Dumbarton, and one not applied to it, or indeed known, after the eighth century.

The other three are Nos. 16, 17, and 18, the two last being the Avallenau and the Hoianau. Mr. Stephens considers both to be spurious, and the work of Llyward Prydydd y Moch, the bard of Llywellyn, prince of North Wales from 1194 to 1240, but the poems had evidently been already transcribed

p. 223

before his time: Mr. Stephens is of course dealing with the text in the Myvyrian Archæology; but while the texts of the Hoianau in the Black Book and in the Myvyrian Archæology are substantially the same, there is a great difference between the two texts of the Avallenau. That in the Archæology contains twenty-two stanzas, while the text in the Black Book has only ten, and the order is different; but further, the stanzas omitted in the Black Book are just those upon which Mr. Stephens founds his argument for its later date. While, therefore, I agree with Mr. Stephens in considering the Hoianau as a spurious poem written in imitation of the Avallenau, I consider that his criticism is not applicable to the text of the latter as we have it in the Black Book, and that it is an old poem to which the stanzas founded upon by Mr. Stephens have been subsequently added. The poem No. 16 I rank along with the Hoianau.

The two poems contained in the Red Book of Hergest are the first two in the MS. The first is the Cyfoesi Myrdin, but this poem will be more conveniently considered in the next chapter, in connection with the historical argument. The second is the Guasgardgerd Vyrddin; and from the direct allusions to a king under the name of Coch o Normandi, who can be no other than William Rufus, as he is invariably termed in the Bruts Y Brenhin Coch, and to Mab Henri, or the son of Henri, whom I believe to be intended for Robert, Earl of Gloucester, son of

p. 224

[paragraph continues] Henry the First, I can have no hesitation in assigning it to the beginning of the twelfth century.

None of these three poems, which I consider to be unquestionably spurious, ought in my opinion to be assigned to any bard of North Wales. They, along with some other poems of the same class contained in the Red Book of Hergest, emanate very plainly from South Wales, and probably from Glamorgan.


211:1 Chron. Picts and Scots, p. 319.

Next: Chapter XIII. True Place of the Poems in Welsh Literature.