It ran sideways out of the leaf-litter, black&gold, living a life in a garden I regard as my domain, shaped here, pruned there, but not controlled. This beetle, dwelling beyond words, has its own life there unheeding, older than the garden and the hedgerow on the hillside and the oak tree in the field that was here before the houses, each ripple and fold of earth keeping its own time that ancestors of this beetle knew; insects untold have bred here until now, this instant of time in which I watch it scuttle off into leaf mould I have laid upon the the soil, stored and sifted for a winter mulch, where it will find a home, this beetle, this gift, a gem whose black&gold I cannot contain in my mind; but out there in the vastness of time that is the garden it lives, always new however old.

On a Welsh Beach

M.C.Escher (Wikiart)

‘... dyuot tri ederyn, a dechreu canu udunt ryw gerd’

“... three birds came and began to sing a song to them, and all the songs they had ever heard before were unpleasing compared to that song. They had to look far out over the waves to see them but they were so clearly present to them as if they were with them.”


                     Birds of Rhiannon singing, where sea meets sky,
                     A shifting border at the merging of worlds
                     Their littoral music like the tides on the shore
                     Ebbing and flowing onto the land, into the air;
                     Cloudscapes of sound, now drifting, now clear
                     Like the horse she rides: now here, now there;
                     The boundaries of time, of place, don’t cohere
                     On the island of Gwalës on the sea, in the air.

                      The company holds in a vision somewhere,
                      A blissful communion, a binding of hearts,
                      Until a hand reaches out to open the door
                      And the song melts away in a breaking wave
                      So the land and the sea and the sky
                      Take their place in the world once more.


“When they looked through the door all the losses they had ever suffered fell upon them ..... as if they were waiting to meet them.”

Quotations from the Second Branch of the Mabinogi. The company returning from Ireland with the head of Brân spend eighty years on the Island of Gwalës, though when they return they are no older and no time has passed in the world they left to go to the island. 


A horse glides
On the edge of dream;
A horse is ridden
On the edge of dream.

Does it glide or is it ridden?

The dream slides between.

Here she rides,
There she is hidden
Shrouded in gloom.

A flickering presence
Between Now and Dark Moon:
Waxing then waning
Ridden then not-ridden.

As light thins
A shadow passes,
A palpable darkness grows.

Orion rises from hidden skies,
 Hunter of the Winter Lands.




Some time ago I wrote an article for the journal PLANET [~>] as part of an ongoing series entitled ‘Keywords’, inspired by the work by Raymond Williams of the same name where he analysed significant words and terms for the definition of cultural identity and their ideological resonances. The PLANET series engages with such key words in the Welsh Language and their significance in Wales. The word which formed the basis of my essay was ‘cyfieithu’ (‘translation’), and I am now putting it up as a separate page on this site [HERE ~>].

Although the essay focused on the significance of the word in relation to the bilingual situation in Wales, I am now prompted to consider how the arguments might apply in the context of Britain as a whole. There are now many communities across Britain who use languages other than English in some part of the social lives, although English is the default language for many of those people outside their close communities. At a time when many are turning inwards and there is a mood of closing down ties with other European nations, England and English seem increasingly to represent a core identity which communities across Britain are invited to embrace. In Scotland and in Wales there are alternative focuses on national identity which invite the citizens of those countries to consider an independent existence which involves sharing sovereignty with the European Union, which explains the strong ‘Remain’ stance of the ‘nationalist’ parties of those countries. 

Reviving the sense of the Welsh Language as the descendant of the language spoken across what is now England, Wales and Southern Scotland, and Gaelic as the language spoken further north and for a time in some other peripheral areas, might provide a scenario in which alternatives to an inward sense of Englishness as the core of Britishness can be imagined. Then ‘translation’ - in its Welsh sense of ‘cyfiethu’ implying a bringing together (‘cyf-‘), rather than its English sense of passing over (‘trans-‘) could provide the basis for a cultural identity which is inclusive and stands alongside other such identities without engendering conflict. But, as with the current belated concern about climate change, it may already be too late for that.

Ogyrven /|\

Mor wyf gert geinrwyf, hyglwyf hagen,
Mor wyf hygleu vart o veirt ogyrven
Mor wyf gwyn gyfrwys nyd wyf gyvyrwen
Mor 6yf gyfrin fyrt kyrt Kyrridven

Strong is my muse, though I am feeble,
Great is my name among the bards of ogyrven,
Grief is my companion, I cannot be joyful,
Initiate I am in the craft of Ceridwen

So sang the bard Cynddelw Prydydd Mawr (Cynddelw the Great Poet) in a long elegy on the deaths of Ririd Flaidd and his brother Arthen*. The word ‘ogyrven’ in the second line is often simply glossed as another word for ‘awen’, and it certainly can be used in that way. A poem in The Book of Taliesin, however, speaks of ‘seven score ogyrven which are in awen’, suggesting that an ogyrven is a single stream of a multi-streamed awen. Another poem in The Book of Taliesin indicates that awen has a threefold structure: ‘when from the cauldron comes three streams of awen’.  Iolo Morganwg adopted the term from early Welsh poetry and made each of the streams of awen in the symbol /|\ an ogyrven or gogyrven. But for the early bards it was linked , as in the verse above  from the 12th century, with Ceridwen as the source of inspired poetry. A poem in The Black Book of Carmarthen speaks of ‘autyl Kyrridven ogyrven amhad’, suggesting that a poem inspired by Ceridwen has many streams of ogyrven and again indicating the plural nature of the ogyrvens of awen. 

The word Ogyrven or Ogyrvan is also used to to refer to a person, as in a poem by another early bard Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd [featured in an earlier post ~>]. This poem speaks of Ogyrvan’s Hall which seems to be located in the Otherworld and John Rhŷs suggested that Ogyrvan was a king in that world. He is variously described in different places as a father of Guinevere and elsewhere (in only one isolated case as far as I can discern) of Ceridwen**. Detractors from this view suggest that there is a confusion with the mutated form of Gogfran, a giant, as in a poem by a later bard, Sion Cent: ‘Gwenhwyfar … daughter of Gogfran gawr’. 

Gogfran/Ogrfan may then be a representation of a father figure of a significant daughter whose divine status makes him appear as a giant. So the sense of Ceridwen as the ‘daughter’ of such a figure carrying divine inspiration from the Otherworld into our world. Such ‘confusions’ may then  be the expression of a link between poetic inspiration and its source in an awen or muse goddess whose ‘giant’ father dwells in the Otherworld. Gods, after all, can be both distantly anonymous and manifest identities.

Annwfn ei hun sydd felly.

*My translation of the text of Cynddelw's lines as given in the original mss version in Gwaith Cynddelw Prydydd Mawr(i) ed Nerys Ann Jones and Ann Parry Owen (Caerdydd, 1991) 

** In The Burning Tree Gwyn Williams (Faber 1956) p.222

Castell Criccieth

Sun shimmering on sea ¬ watched from the arm of Llŷn ¬ from up on the castle rock ¬ gannets diving into glittering water ¬ and over on the far coast ¬ another castle and mountains touched by cloud ¬ Harddlech to which Matholwch’s ships come sailing ¬¬

A landscape, a seascape, with story ¬ the ships as vividly real as these gannets ¬ black-tipped wings stretched out as they plunge ¬ down through air and water ¬¬

Looking across at the southward sweep of the bay ¬ the story unfolds there and elsewhere ¬ then the ships returning ¬ Branwen with Matholwch sailing ¬ away to Ireland carrying ¬ a memory of mutilated horses ¬ a lingering history of these coasts, these castles ¬ the diving gannets & the glittering sea ¬ still here occupying the space of story ¬ the stilled waves yet holding ¬ echoes of troubled waters ¬ layers of time & not-time ¬ unfolding from the rippling tide ¬ quietly lapping a gritty shore. ¬¬