Old Welsh Poetry

Apple Trees

14th/15th century, Old Welsh, Four Ancient Books of Wales.

"Sweet apple tree, and a tree of crimson hue… They sought for their fruit, it will be in vain…"

Apple Trees

Sweet appletree that luxuriously grows!
Food I used to take at its base to please a fair maid
When, with my shield on my shoulder
And my sword on my thigh
I slept all alone in the woods of Celyddon.

Hear, O little pig! Now apply thyself to reason...

Sweet appletree, and a tree of crimson hue,
Which grew in concealment in the
Wood of Celyddon;
They sought for their fruit, it will be in vain,
Until Cadwaldyr comes from the conference of Rhyd Rheon...

The Black Book of Camarthen. From: The Four Ancient Books of Wales, translated by W F Skene. Poems Relating to Myrdin, pp 370–73.

'It sounds very figurative,' said Miranda, 'this poetry relating to Myrdin.'

'A lot of this medieval Welsh poetry does,' agreed Quintin. 'A poem called Câd Goddeau, 'The Battle of the Trees' in English, reads like a riddle. Robert Graves thought that it actually was a riddle, a sort of mixing together of many poems in order to disguise them, and wrote a whole book trying to pick it apart and solve it. The White Goddess. Plum, cherry and pear trees, rowan trees, hazel, willow and holly were ranged against each other, like two armies. Graves thought that it recorded the history, in figurative form, of some sort of religious conflict.'

'Was Câd Goddeau a poem relating to Myrddin as well?'

'I don't know. I do know that some people think that the Medieval Arthurian figure of Merlin was modelled on Myrddin Wyllt. And an old Welsh poet called Taliesin had been all sorts of creatures before he was reborn as the poet, according to a strange little story about a boy called Gwion and a cauldron belonging to the witch Cerridwen.'

'At the very end of Merlin's life, according to Robert de Boron's Perceval,' said Miranda, 'Merlin retreated into an esplumior, a word which has no precise meaning but which is sometimes interpreted as referring to a moulting cage. He went to change his feathers.'

Matthews, John, 1994. The Arthurian Tradition. Element Books Limited. The Life of Merlin, pp 27–31.

Graves, Robert, 1961, reprinted 1990. The White Goddess. Faber and Faber, London, Boston. An investigation of the medieval Welsh poems Câd Goddeau and the Hanes Taliesin.

Bryant, Nigel, 2001, reprinted 2005. Merlin and the Grail: the trilogy of prose romances attributed to Robert de Boron. D S Brewer, an imprint of Boydell and Brewer Limited. Perceval, p 172. Bryant's note on the word esplumoir: 'This untranslatable – and probably invented – word has wonderful resonances. Its root is ‘the shedding of feathers’, implying moulting, transformation, renewal.'

See for yourself

Four Ancient Books of Wales – Wikipedia.

Black Book of Carmarthen – Wikipedia.

Four Ancient Books of Wales – translated into English by William F Skene, 1868; Chapter 50, Black Book of Caermarthen XVII.

Apples and pomegranates

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