English translation of Uryen Yng Ngorffowys 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.
A poem by Taliesin
In his home since he has given me, Honour and welcome, with mead has he dowered me, He dowered me with the mead of his glory, And has given fine lands to me in abundance, And great abundance of gifts and gold, And gold and gifts unnumbered, Innumerable, and has given my desire, 'Tis to give my desire in order to gratify me, That he kills, that he hangs, that he rears, that he feeds, That he feeds, that he rears, that he kills again.
He gives refection to the men of the world. The world indeed does homage to thee, At thy will God has made thee, Master in assault for fear of thy onslaught, Inspirer in battle, defender of country, Country's defender, battle inspirer, Usual around thee is a host's tramping, The tramping of a host and the drinking of beer.
Beer to drink and a fine homestead, And fine raiment have been bestowed on me, The people of Llwyfenydd greet thee all, In one chorus, great and small, The song of Taliesin entertains thee, Thou art the best of all I have heard of, As to thy merits, And I will praise thy works.
And until I perish in old age, In my death's sore need, I shall not be happy, If I praise not Urien.
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 Urien at Home represent the survival of an ancient British bardic tradition that thrived in Yorkshire over 1400 year ago?
Urien at Home by Taliesin is a bardic poem praising the 6th century north British king Urien of Rheged. Urien is praised for both his generosity and prowess in battle.
Taliesin is one of six British bards named in the medieval Welsh manuscript the Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) who were said to have lived during the 6th century, making them our earliest known poets:
1: Talhaearn, 2: Tad Awen, 3: Aneirin, 4: Taliesin, 5: Bluchbard, 6: Cian.
Of these ancient bards, only poems that could be authentic compositions of Aneirin and Taliesin survive.
Of the twelve ancient poems by Taliesin:
One poem was composed at the court of Cynan Garwyn, whose royal line ruled the kingdom of Powys, now a region of Wales, but which probably extended much further east into England at this time. 1
Two poems were composed at the court of Gwallawg, who ruled the kingdom of Elmet, which can be located through surviving place name evidence as being in the vincinity of Leeds in West Yorkshire. 2
Nine poems were composed at the court of Urien of Rheged, located at Catraeth, which as we have seen is Catterick in North Yorkshire (see: Urien of Yrechwydd).
Only one poem by Aneirin survives, the epic Y Gododdin (pronounced 'uh-Godothin'), a series of elegies to warriors who died at the Battle of Catraeth. This battle was an unsuccessful attempt by a large coalition of warriors who amassed at Din Eidyn (Edinburgh), to seize control of Catterick in North Yorkshire.
Aneirin's Y Gododdin may indeed be describing the same battle recorded by Taliesin in the The Battle of Gwen Ystrat, but from the perspective of the losing side.
In conclusion, we can see that Yorkshire holds a unique place in the creation of our most ancient surviving bardic poetry, which is the most ancient literature of any kind composed in a language native to Britain.
1. "What was the extent of the kingdom which Cynan inherited from his father, and where precicesly its borders should be drawn, it is impossible at this stage to say. There are reasons for believing that he lands of Powys extended at one time a considerable distance to the east of Shrewsbury, if we may rely on the recollections kept alive for us in Canu Heledd which is included in the Llywarch Hen Cycle."
Sir Ifor Williams. The Poems of Taliesin, 1968 p xxix.