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. ¬¬

The Blinding of Polyphemus

“Kyklops, you ask for my name …..
No-one is my name … as all my friends call me.”

“ … well, I shall eat No-one last of his company.”
Odyssey IX

“No-one blinded me”, said Kyklops ~ an old joke embedded in a folk tale ~ contained for posterity in an epic poem ~  too good a story to be forgotten ~ “so”, they said, “nothing to be done  to no-one” ~ But as he sailed away he was someone ~ again boasting of what he had done ~ overheard by Poseidon ~ not anonymous to the god ~ so the sea roads he sailed ~ remembered him & sought his destruction ~ though other powers kept him whole ~ even a nereid from engulfing ocean ~ he was not bound to that destiny ~ this sea wolf but to some other outcome ~~

His grandfather Autolykos (does it mean ~ werewolf?) sent him out hunting ~ when a boar gored him it made him ~ a man long after that boyhood ~ it was the scar that revealed him ~ returned for his bow and the death ~ of the suitors~~


“… there are two journeys
in every odyssey, one on worried water,

the other crouched and motionless
Derek Walcott Omeros LVIII, ii

Why go? Why stay? ~ if either will bring you to the same destination ~ the same changed state of mind ~ the sense of a journey undertaken ~ and now a return ~~

Only to set out again with an oar ~ to a land far from the sea ~ on a dry road to find ~ one who thought it a wand for winnowing ~ : to appease Poseidon ~~

In his hall he knew he had done this ~ however near or far he wandered ~ the god knew too ~ and that is what mattered.


It was Tireisias, in the Land of the Dead, who predicted this ending and so it was woven into the story even though the tale ends before such things might happen. It is often a tale that looks backwards and forwards, chopping up the time spent on ‘worried water’, episodes from here & there, the end & the beginning looped together around other endings and preludes, caught by one ‘crouched and motionless’.

Gorsedd y Beirdd Ynys Prydain

Eisteddfod Proclamation

Gorsedd y Beirdd Ynys Prydain (The Gorsedd of Bards of the Island of Britain) was founded in 1792 by Iolo Morganwg as part of his project to imaginatively re-construct druidry. The insititution has survived with the same name up until the present and is closely associated with The National Eisteddfod of Wales. The Gorsedd performs ceremonies such as the announcement of the annual Eisteddfod festival, the presentation ceremonies of the main literary prizes in the Eisteddfod pavilion and the setting of the competitions for those prizes, including the tasks to be fulfilled by those competing for the Chair (a long poem in cynghanedd, using the strict metres) and for the Crown (a poem in the ‘free’ metres). The Gorsedd also honours practitioners in the other arts and those who have contributed the cultural life of Wales and in the Welsh language, conferring druid robes of white, green or blue for different categories to be worn when taking part in the Gorsedd ceremonies. 

This year a proposal to change the name simply to ‘Gorsedd Cymru’ was announced. This has caused some controversy. Those in favour welcome the acknowledgement that the Gorsedd now has a far wider remit than poetry and that it is a specifically Welsh institution and the name should recognise that. Those against deplore the break with the tradition going back to Iolo Morganwg who also devised many of the ceremonies on which the current practices of the Gorsedd are still based. But the main objection is that the name change also breaks the link with the practice of composing poetry in the language inherited from the earlier inhabitants of Britain according to rules devised by the medieval bards who sought to define and continue that earlier tradition.

The arguments and counter-arguments are essentially those of pragmatists, identifying a need to work with current realities and present a modern image, against idealists who see the Gorsedd as embodying an expression of Welsh life inherited from a time when the Bards of the Island of Britain were just that. They see the proposed name change as undermining an important idea at the centre of Welsh identity: that the Welsh language, and the bardic tradition expressed in that language, continues a cultural thread that binds the modern inhabitants of Wales to the Brythonic-speaking peoples who inhabited Britain when the Romans invaded and who continued to speak that language in spite of the dominant influences of Latin and, later, the first English speakers.

Identity and tradition are tricky things which need to evolve and to adapt in order to survive. But they also need to retain certain characteristic features to continue evolving rather than simply being replaced by something else.  Does ‘Gorsedd Cymru’ replace the idea that Welsh is the language of the bards of the Island of Britain with an acknowledgement that it is simply the language of the people of Wales? And if so, does this reinforce the sense of Wales as a separate part of of Britain or does it undermine an essential aspect of the identity which underlies and reinforces that sense of separateness? 


A Feather …..

….. settled on the threshold, drifted in ¬ from one of the martin nests in the eaves ¬ (chicks seem to shed them when flying ¬ for the first time to sail away on the air) ¬ but this one settled, made a claim for possession ¬ of the home the birds return to year on year. ¬ It seemed like a gift, as some claims are, ¬ a token of shared habitation right there ¬ at the entry to the house where we found it ¬ feathering a nest beyond the cup of mud ¬ stuck beneath the overhang of the roof tiles ¬ marking a gateway to the world.