Gelli Fach

Gelli Fach

I'm a cell, I'm fragmented, I change my form;
I'm a repository of song, I'm a dynamic state.
I love a wooded slope and a snug shelter,
and a creative poet who doesn't buy his advancement.

Wyf kell, wyf dellt, wyf datweirllet;
wyf llogell kerd, wyf lle ynnyet.
Karaf-y gorwyd a goreil clyt,
a bard a bryt ny pryn y ret.

From: Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, edited and translated by Marged Haycock

Friday, 20 March 2015

Brigit - Provider of the Seed-Spreader

I recently found a reference to Santes Ffraid (St Brigit) which I hadn't heard of before. It's by the 16th century Welsh poet William Cynwal in his poem O Blaid Y Gwragedd - In Defence of Women. The poem was written in response to a satire by another poet against girls and women 'am ddryced eu' marweddiad/ yn nechreuad yr oesoedd' - 'for the ill of their behaving/in the beginning of ages'. Eve, of course.

He begins by recounting the story of Jesus and the woman who was caught in adultery and about to be stoned:

Wrthynt Iesu a ddyfod
'Hwn ohonoch sy heb bechod,
coded garreg, rhoed ddyrnod;
ei llabyddio sydd amod'.
Ac euog oedd yr holl wlad
a Duw y Tad yn gwybod.

to them Jesus said, 'Let
him of you who is without sin
raise a stone and fist
to kill by covenant.'
The whole land was guilty rather
and God the Father knew it.

He goes on to say that Mary came from Eve as recompense for her sin and arrogance and that the Trinity gave five virtues to maids and not to men:

wedi hynny fe ddyfod
ac iawn i bawb gydnabod
y llanwai hil y wraig 
nef a daear hynod.

With that in mind it's proper
that we should all
gentle woman's progeny
as filling sky and earth.

He outlines the five virtues and then names woman after woman who have contributed something of value to humankind. According to the poem:

Pan oedd y byd wrth ddechrau,
heb na gerddi na llysiau,
Seres, gwraig o'r rhyw gorau
a ddyfeisiodd bob hadau
i drwsio bwyd yn ddiwael
ac i gael aroglau.

And when the world began
with no herbs or gardens,
Ceres, the best sort of wife,
invented every seed
to garnish the fine food
and give it a good flavour.

But the accomplishments of the women are not always what you might expect: Nicostrata, of the tribe of Seth and Adam o'i hathrylith yn fwya' / ac o rad Duw gorucha' - out of her greatest learning/ and God's highest grace - produced the origin of the first Latin letters and a girl called Isis 'a hon oedd ddoeth i'w bywyd/ a chraff ymhob celfyddyd/ a mawr ei chyfarwyddyd - a wise one in her living/ and sharp in every art/ and a great story-teller - devised in pictures the characters of Egypt. Palathas invented the means to spin and weave wool when everyone was naked.

Brigit merits her place because:

Pan oedd wŷr  fry'n troi cwysau
ar ol erydr a thidau,
heb orffwys na chwarae
yn poeni ei traed a'u breichiau,

dyfeisiodd San Ffraid leian
chwelydr harddlan eu moddau.

When men of old turned furrows
behind the plough and chain,
without rest or play
torturing their feet and arms,
Saint Brigid the sweet sister
made seed-spreaders for them.

The virtues of women and girls are the traditional ones - they are noble, pure, proper, courteous, gentle of speech, fair, sensible and prudent - but they are also learned, wise - and they invent things needed to make the lot of humankind easier.

I rather like the description:

Gwraig sy lon a bonheddig,
fal gwenynen o'r goedwig
hi a wna lawer o' chydig

A woman is merry and noble
and, like a bee of the woods,
she will make much from little.

The poem ends:

O daw gofyn a gwiriaw
yn uchel ac yn ddistaw
pwy a wnâi yr araith hylaw
ar draethodl a'i myfyriaw,
Wiliam Cynwal, ac nis gwad
pan fyddo'r wlad yn gwrandaw.

If it is asked and verified
aloud or secretly
who made this fit oration
and rhymed this meditation,
William Cynwal won't deny it

though you cry it through the land.

Good for him I say. And I'm delighted to have this glimpse of another tradition about Brigit in her capacity of compassionate provider.

(All quotations and translations from The Burning Tree by Gwyn Williams, Faber and Faber Ltd, London, no date.)

1 comment:

  1. The reference to bees is very interesting. It's tangential but it is reminicent of St Gobnait, who has been compared to St Brigid in Ireland.