English translation of Gweith Argoet LLwyfein by Taliesin, one of Britain's most ancient poems, originally composed in the early Welsh language dialect of Cumbric, then spoken throughout the north of Britain.
The Battle of
A poem by Taliesin
In the morning of Saturday there was a great battle, From when the sun rose till when it set.
Fflamdwyn marched in four hosts, To wage war against Godeu and Rheged. He came from Argoed to Arfynyd. They were not suffered to remain for that one day.
Fflamdwyn of great bluster exclaimed: "Would they give hostages, are they ready?"
To him answered Owain, eager for the fray: "They would not give hostages, they are not ready. And Ceneu, son of Coel, would have suffered torture, Stoutly, ere he would cede anyone as hostage."
Urien, Lord of Yrechwyd, exclaimed: "If it must be an encounter for kith and kin, Let us raise our lines above the mountain, And let us hold up our faces above the edge, And let us raise our spears above his men's heads, And let us attack Fflamdwyn in his hosts, And let us kill both him and his company."
And before Llwyfein Wood there was many a corpse, Ravens were red with the blood of men, And the men who charged the minstrel shall sing, For many a year the song of their victory.
English translation by Sir John Morris-Jones M.A., Professor of Welsh, University College of North Wales. Originally published in Y Cymmrodor (vol 28), 1918.
Additional notes on the translation of this poem can be found in Canu Taliesin, by Sir Ifor Williams, 1960 (English language version, The Poems of Taliesin, by J. E. Caerwyn Williams, 1968).
Does The Battle of Argoet LLwyfein commemorate a great battle that took place on Leeming Lane in North Yorkshire over 1400 years ago?
The Battle of Argoet LLwyfein by Taliesin records the victory of Urien of Rheged and his son Owain over an enemy named Fflambwyn (Flame-bearer) in the late 6th century.
Before of the battle Fflambwyn demands that Urien gives hostages as a security against future aggression, but Owain replies that his ancestor Ceneu, son of Coel, would never have given hostages, even under torture.
The place of the battle Argoet Llwyfein (pronounced 'Argoit Thloyvan') can be literally translated as 'near the elm wood', the word Llwyfein having the same root and meaning as the word 'Leeming' in English. 1
Urien is described by Taliesin (in the poem The Spoils of Taliesin) as 'ruler of Catraeth', 2 an early Welsh name for Catterick in North Yorkshire, 3 and the Roman road running south from Catterick, and through the village of Leeming, is called Leeming Lane.
The site of the battle was therefore probably somewhere along the length of this strategically important north-south road, now the route of A1(M) motorway.
1. "Llwyvenydd and Llwyvein represent different accentuations of the same British stem *Leimanio-. In Yorkshire original m in British names remains in English, as in Elmet; and the Roman road running south from Catterick, in a line so straight as to be noticeable on the map, is called Leeming Lane."
Sir John Morris-Jones. Taliesin, 1918 p 71.
2. "Gweleis i lyw katraeth tra maeu. - 'I saw the ruler of Catraeth across the plains'. 'Tra maeu', 'beyond the plains' would be a fitting description of Catraeth from the standpoint of someone situated to the south of the place, and this may be taken as suggesting that the bard was, at the time of composing the poem, in the region of Elmet in the vicinity of present day Leeds."
Sir Ifor Williams. The Poems of Taliesin, 1968 p xxxvii.
3. "The English Catterick is a secondary form with suffix-substitution, and the primary Anglo-Saxon is Cetreht in the Anglo-Saxon version of Bede. This would come quite naturally from a Cumbric Catracht."
Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson. The Gododdin (The Oldest Scottish Poem), 1969 p 83.