"Ponderynge together yestardayes promise, and two-dayes doyng"
(Hall's Chronicle - 1548)


"Goronigl gwyr yr Ynys" (Lewis Glyn Cothi - 1450)

Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Ballad of the Outer Dark



Come to me, Mother of God, come down as the old year ends,
Frost-Mother, Mother of the Stars, and the white, wave-beaten sands.
I hear the seawave fall like a knife, dividing exiles and friends.


So wrote Vernon Watkins in his Ballad of the Outer Dark, a sequel to his Ballad of the Mari Lwyd. Written in the 1960’s, more than twenty years after the earlier ballad, it was never published in his lifetime. The later ballad in one sense picks up where the earlier one left off, the inmates of the house going out into the night bearing the horse’s head, taking the interpretation of the custom a stage further as if the Dark itself needed to be confronted for a full resolution of the traditional appeasement of that which is outside the circle of Light.


The fire we loved, the hours we lived
Are snatched away by thieves.


says one of the voices. While another voice responds:


We are ourselves the shafts of white
Those men of firelight mock.
And we must drift like flakes of snow
That know not where to rest,
So soft upon the night they go
Whom none will take for guest.


The final lines of this ballad:


Who bears the midnight Mari
Has Poverty for Bride.


suggest a consequence of the lack of resolution of this struggle between Light and Dark as the New Year is born. The horse’s head is, in fact, brought in and prosperity assured, but the later ballad in some ways completes the earlier one in transcending the rejection of the ‘Outer Dark’. This seems a much more plausible application of the custom of carrying the head of the Mari Lwyd  from house to house at New Year while the earlier ballad seems to fit better the coming of Winter in November.


1 comment:

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

A pleasant surprise to find my work here on your site. Thank you for crediting me and posting links. Much obliged.