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



Transient Treasures in the Sand



These marks on the beach below the sand dunes at Ynys-Las appeared in serried ranks after the retreating tide.

They are known as 'rill marks'. Water running down through the sand following the retreating tide often leaves marks of this kind, imprinted up the beach away from the tide line and much less noticeable than the ribbed sand marks which can be seen further down the beach. Rill marks often spread out in rough branch-like fashion, but these exquisite patterns, repeated right along this stretch of beach, are some of the most delicate and striking I've seen.

Being on the beach in Winter at low tide when there is no-one else around enables close inspection of such features in the sand otherwise unmarked except for the occasional faint tracks of sandpipers scuttling across it, but those are more apparent further along the beach among the rock pools and the outcrops of peat which are the remains of a long-submerged forest. Here there is just sand and its bareness and unblemished expanse down from the dunes to the sea invites closer inspection of the different textures across the apparently smooth surface.

Such subtle jewels of revelation on a still day are treasured. A storm is coming and after that the beach will be a very different place, with other things to discover.

The Hedge of Mist




     “If you travel on the road below you will never come back, 
there is the Hedge of Mist and within it there are enchanted games.” 

Who would venture there, 
into the Hedge of Mist,
past the severed heads on poles, 
through to the empty chair?

And who like Geraint 
(rider of long-legged horses, 
reddened by the onslaught of eagles,
slayer of giants, victor of Edern fab Nudd)
Would arrive to ensure
that “enchantment be no more”? 

     

(Quotations, direct and indirect, from the story of Geraint fab Erbin included in the Mabinogion collection and verses about Geraint - a warrior from Devon - in The Black Book of Carmarthen.)

~*~

The series of englynion in The Black Book of Carmarthen in praise of Geraint Fil' Erbin has been taken as an example from the south-west of Britain (specifically Devon) of the praise of warriors such as those in poems from the north, in particular The Gododdin. That Geraint was a great warrior is also a starting point for the presumably much later story about him in one of the romances in the French style that are included in The Mabinogion collection. Here his prowess in battle and his determination to be, as the Black Book poem has it, “the enemy of affliction/the enemy of oppression”, leads him to right a series of wrongs , first at Arthur’s court, then elsewhere before marrying Enid and returning to his own lands. It is only then, something like half-way through the tale, that his own story is told in what is a quite sophisticated psychological portrait for a medieval tale. Convinced that Enid no longer loves him he takes her on an aimless quest to prove something that even he is unsure of. This is a sort of madness which is only resolved towards the end of the story which culminates in the ‘Hedge of Mist’ episode. He banishes the mist and the magic that underpins it in the final vanquishing of its perpetrator, an act of destruction that could also be taken as a metaphor for the removal of his delusions about Enid.


But what of origins? There is a parallel tale in French from Chretien de Troyes, but called Erec et Enide. The name Erec is thought to derive from Breton Gwerec > Weroc. Enid(e)’s name comes from from ‘Bro Wened’, the original territorial name for the area of Vannes in Brittany as suggested by Rachel Bromwich. The question of origins, influences and borrowings is always difficult with this material but the balance of opinion seems to be that both the French and the Welsh stories have their origin in an older source, possibly from Brittany which had connections across the sea with the Brythonic-speaking peoples of the Cornish peninsula. It is significant that the name of the female character Enid/Enide remains the same in both versions while the male character has a different name in each. Geraint might stem from Gerontius, and so have an historical origin. Enid has been seen as a sovereignty goddess in origin, so it would be appropriate for her name to remain constant while the name of her suitor, the local chieftain or hero, would change with the change of location for the story, whether in time or space. 

So Geraint’s reconciliation with Enid can be seen as reflecting the pattern of the tale’s mythological origins in the chieftain’s renewal of his pact with the sovereignty goddess. At the same time the medieval tale can be seen as embodying chivalric conventions about the knight and, as the tale puts it, “the woman he loves the best”, and of her faithfulness to him. But because the tale also contains the literary devices already referred to, any analysis of it as a literary text also needs to recognise these. Going further, I suggest that this presentation of psychological problems within human relationships itself embodies mythic allusions. The final participation of Geraint in the hud a lledrith of the enchanted games when he enters the Hedge of Mist immediately follows his emergence from a psychotic state and his reconciliation with Enid.  The fact that he then brings an end to the enchanted games is a feature of much Arthurian literature where magic is still alive in the world but is being driven out of it. Geraint plays his part as a worthy Arthurian knight in this respect. Thus the tale operates as a mythic (diachronic) structure both in terms of its original mythic pattern and in the working out of its surface narrative. But it also operates as a synchronic structure in that it conforms to the conventions of the Arthurian romances of the early Middle Ages and, indeed, develops these conventions to portray the psychological tensions of human relationships in ways that such tales rarely achieve. The Hedge of Mist covers much that evaporates with the mist itself. Enchantment is elusive; it can be lost and then found, or not recognised at all. What we discover when we look into it, or into a tale of this sort, may depend on what we seek: a remnant myth, a living mythic narrative, a human drama, or simply an old tale about Arthur and his knights.




The tale of Geraint is included in all modern translations of The Mabinogion.

Text of The Black Book of Carmarthen taken from A.O.H Jarman Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin (Caerdydd, (1982)

Rachel Bromwich discusses the origins of both Geraint and Enid and the relevance of the sovereignty theme in Trioedd Ynys Prydein (Cardiff, 2006)

CURLEW





A song alive in memory, though long unheard
Ripples across the years to present the past:
The moorland landscape of Mynydd Bach,
Llyn Eiddwen with water lobelia growing
Through the shallows of the lake and the song
Of the curlew bubbling up to crescendo
Over the cotton grass on the bog on the far side
Where a ruined tower, a folly, sinks into the mire.

All this brought back in vivid re-call
But not so clear as the haunting call
Which would wake the dead and lull the living to sleep
As a woven strand in the song of Rhiannon’s Birds.
So past, present and future meet
In a song that is never forgotten, always heard.

~*~

“I want the Birds of Rhiannon, they that wake the dead and lull the living to sleep, to entertain me that night.”

Ysbaddaden Pencawr from Culhwch and Olwen


More about Llyn Eiddwen HERE

Sanderlings

Sanderlings on Borth Beach. Photo: Lyndon Lomax


On this stony beach with its undertow of sand
the outcrops of peat are trees from another time
that the retreating sea reveals. At the tideline
they flock, lined up for a while along the edge
bobbing into and over the breaking waves
then gathering and rising as one into air,
dropping further along the beach to line up again.
Listening for the notes of Rhiannon’s birds, that refrain

far out on the horizon, I catch, closer, the sanderlings’ song,
an intermittent liquid sharpness through the hiss of the sea.
So it’s here that the enchantment is, on this beach
where I stand between worlds of rock and water,
in the half-heard call of birds from far arctic tundra
wintering on a coast where time ebbs under.


~*~


“...far out over the sea, their song was clear as if they were with them” 
The Birds of Rhiannon, from the Second Mabinogi.

Winter Festivals




Eponalia was celebrated on 18 December in the calendar of Roman feast days as the festival of the Gaulish goddess EPONA. 
There is an inscription from Gaul which counts back  from ‘New Year Calends’, seeming to suggest a sequence through the Midwinter period:

‘XV Kalendas Ianuarius Eponae’ 

~*~

Darkness falls 
on the ivy leaf

Yulelight glistens 
on the holly bough

As red fire stirs 
in the kindling.

We count three days
to the longest night

Three more till the glimmer
of a longer day

Then seven to the eve
of New Year Calends

These days we count
from the Feast of Epona

First festival
of the Year’s turning.


BEETLE

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.