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"Awen yn codi o'r cudd ac yn cydio'r cwbl"
- Waldo Williams
(Awen arising from hiding and everything binding)

The ELEGY for Llywelyn

Following the discussion in the previous entry about David Jones’ inscription commemorating the death of Llywelyn in 1282, here is my translation of the Elegy for Llywelyn written by his court bard Gruffudd ap yr Ynad Coch . Some people in Wales still wear an ivy leaf to remember this occasion on 11th December each year. People also gather annually at the memorial stone (above) at Cilmeri near Llanfair ym Muallt (Builth Wells) where he was killed. There are good line-by-line translations of the Elegy, notably Gwyn Williams’ parallel text (Welsh facing English) in The Burning Tree (Faber 1956 - not currently in print) and Tony Conran in Welsh Verse- see here: http://www.gwales.com/bibliographic/?isbn=9781854110817

My free translation - revisted now from 20 years ago - does not follow the original line by line but does remain true to the narrative development in spite of contracting many lines from two or three to one and slightly altering the exact order of the lines in places. Although I worked closely from the original when I did the translation, looking at it now with the benefit of hindsight there are some things that I could have done differently. I tried to produce a readable and accessible version of the poem which conveys something of the power as well as the narrative of the original. So I concentrated on creating something that worked in English. The poem opens like this:

Oer gallon dan vron o vraw allwynin
(Cold heart under breast of fear sad)

am vrenin, derwin ddôr, Aberffraw
(For a king, oak door, Aberffraw)

Gwyn Williams renders the final “allwynin” as “pitiful”. Tony Conran uses “grieved” and maintains the use of the dash between ‘vraw’ and ‘allwynin’(a device used in some Welsh editions of the text to maintain the end-rhyme “-aw” which occurs throughout the poem). I abandoned the word together with the literal rendering of the king as the oak door for the idea of the heart of oak lying cold behind the door, though keeping the idea ‘strength is vanquished’. The “cold heart” reference also occurs later in the poem:

Oeruelawc callon dan vronn o vraw
cold heart under a breast of fear)

rewydd val crinwyd yssyn crinaw
lustiness like dried sticks which have shrivelled)

Pony welwch chwi hynt y gwynt a’r glaw?
do you not see the course of the wind and the rain)

Pony welwch chwi’r deri yn ymdaraw?
do you not see the oaks clashing?)

Pony welwch chwi’r môr yn merwinaw yr tir?
do you not sea the sea irritating the land?)
Here the translation of the word ‘merwinaw’ was an issue. The dictionary gives this is meaning ‘grate (on)’, ‘cause pain to’ or ‘itch’. “Stinging” is chosen by both Tony Conran and Gwyn Williams while I preferred “scouring”. But it is the series of lines that begin with the phrase “Pony welwch chwi …” and other sections of the poem where repetition of a phrase is employed for several consecutive lines, that now seems significantly absent in my version. I chose instead to force it onto to a culminating “Do you not see?” in order to use English rhymes to emphasise the main verbs and used some repetition elsewhere to convey the effect. While a direct translation would have to replicate this, the attempt to create a new version has to make its own decisions about what works in the new language. Any translation is a matter of balance but the balance here is more towards what I felt worked in English than providing an exact but possibly awkward version of the Welsh. There is, for example, another section where the word ‘arglwydd’ (lord) is the first word for several lines, sometime followed by an adjective which would have to come first in English. I also departed from the first person singular of Gruffudd’s original after the first stanza to convey the wider social gloom which overtook the Welsh followers of Llywelyn at this time. The event signalled the end of Wales as an independent nation and preceded a period of intense castle building by Edward I who had his son invested as Prince of Wales in the newly built castle at Caernarfon.


The heart of oak is cold
behind the gates of Aberffraw.
The hand that gave gold
is still now – I cannot wear it,
the apparel he put about me.
This grief for my lord is a cloud on my soul
This grief for the fate that his wounds brought us
confounds the red spear of Cadwalader’s keeping.

For us now the darkness,
the hatred of Saxons
A time of lamenting
in the life left to us
A time now to praise him
to think of his glory
to reproach even God
who has left us without him;
For him life eternal.

What now for us left
with a full load of weeping?
The dark hand that felled him
haunts his kingdom; his hall now the grave.
A long vista of fear stretches before us.

Lord Christ deliver him
for the sake of our sorrow,
Heavy the sword blows that struck him to earth
Heir of brave princes, his flame
burned brightly: strong Lion of Gwynedd
Great was the need of the strength of his throne
All Britain was struck down with Nantcoel’s defender.

Tears running on maiden’s cheeks
Blood flowing from warriors gashes
and trodden into the mire of our land.
Widows keening with hearts broken
and sons without fathers, their homes
-charred ruins – fired and looted.
Not since Camlann has there been such weeping
Gone is our mainstay, his golden hair
stained with a death blow O Llywelyn!
My mind cannot grasp it.

Hearts chilled by a pall of fear
Our life-will withers like weeds in Winter
as the wind dashes the rains upon us
and the oaks clash
and the sea’s crash scours the land:
Do you not see?
The Sun falls and the stars are shrinking!
Can you not believe our world is ending?
O God, why does the sea not rush over the shore?
Why should this life trouble us more?
Wretched we are and clasped in fear
with no-where to turn and terror’s grip tightening
and only life’s shackles to loosen our burden.

All his followers now cast down,
his lords and his servants,
the weak and the strong, all of us suffer
Why should we value a head on our shoulders
when he is without one?

His head has fallen and with it our pride
Fear and surrender are all we have left
His head has fallen – a dragon’s head
Noble it was , fierce to our foes
His head is stuck with an iron pole
The searing pain of it runs through my soul,
This land is empty – our spirit cut down.
His head had honour in nine hundred lands
Proud king, swift hawk, fierce wolf
True Lord of Aberffraw
His only refuge
the Kingdom of Heaven.

First published in AGENDA (Vol 26, No. 3) and reprinted together with the original and the translations of Gwyn Williams and Tony Conran in Materion Dwyieithog/Bilingual Matters (1989).


  1. I'm staggered by this. It's absolutely the best translation of the poem I've ever read. As you say, it's not slavish but it captures the eperience of reading the W. text superbly. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  2. Diolch yn fawr!

    Glad you liked it.


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