English translation of Uryen Yrechwydd 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
Urien of Yrechwydd, most generous man in Christendom, Much dost thou give to the men of the world, As thou gatherest, so thou scatterest, Happy the bards of Christendom while they life lasts.
It is greater happiness to the hero's eulogist, It is greater glory that Urien and his sons live, Since he is the chief, the lord paramount, Stronghold of the stranger, foremost fighter, The Lloegrians know it when they converse.
Death have they suffered and many vexations, The burning of their homes and the taking of their attire, And many a loss and much tribulation, Without finding deliverance from Urien Rheged, Rheged's defender, famous lord, anchor of his country.
My heart is set on thee of all men of renown. Intense is thy spear-play when the din of battle is heard, To battle when thou goest, vengeance thou wreakest, Houses on fire before dawn in the van of the lord of Yrechwydd, The fairest Yrechwydd and its most generous men.
The Angles are without security on account of the bravest prince. Of the bravest stock, thou art the best that is, That has been and will be, thou hast no peer.
When men gaze on him widespread is the awe. Courtesy around him, around the glorious prince. Around him courtesy and great resources. Golden prince of the North, chief of princes.
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 of Yrechwydd praise a north British king who ruled from Catterick in North Yorkshire over 1400 years ago?
Urien of Yrechwydd by Taliesin records an attack made by Urien of Rheged against the Lleogrians (the men of central England) 1 in the late 6th century.
Urien burns the homes of the Lleogrians in possible revenge following The Battle of Argoet LLwyfein (Fflambwyn, Urien's opponent in that battle, is mentioned in connection with LLoegr in Taliesin's eulogy poem to Urien's son, The Deathsong of Owain).
The place-name Yrechwydd (pronounced 'uh-Rrechwith') can be literally translated as 'the waterfall', 2 or more generally as the land near the 'river water' or 'fresh water'.3
The Latin name for Catterick, on the river Swale, is 'Cataracta', 4 which also means 'waterfall'; the falls in question being situated a few miles upstream below an impressive hill where Richmond castle (built by the Normans in the 11th century) now stands.
The shared or similar meaning of the names Yrechwydd and Catterick supports the conclusion that the Catreath with which Urien's rule is associated in the poems of Taliesin is indeed Catterick (Old English 'Cetreht') in North Yorkshire.
Urien is called gwledic (prince, ruler) of the 'men of Catreath' in The Battle of Gwen Ystrat and the 'ruler of Catreath across the plains' in The Spoils of Taliesin, a description which accords well with Catterick's geographic position on the edge of the Vale of York.
1. "the 'Eingl, Iwys, Lloegrwys, and Caint (men of Kent)' are named as though they represented sub-divisions of the English nation. The other names are geographically identifiable, but what about Lloegrwys? Were they not the inhabitants of Mercia? Geoffrey of Monmouth . . . lived nearer to these early times than we do, and he collected traditional material: so we may accept for what it is worth his statement [in The History of the Kings of Britain] that Locrinus ruled over the middle part of the island 'which after him was called Loegria'. There is no need to believe in Locrinus, but the midlands of England would suit well with Lleogr in the text."
Sir Ifor Williams. Armes Prydein (The Prophecy of Britain from the Book of Taliesin), 1972 p 50.
2. "Echwydd means a 'waterfall' as in Wylhawt eil echwyd yn torroed mynyd. 'Will weep like a cataract [waterfall] on the breasts of a mountain.' It seems therefore that yr Echwydd is the Welsh counterpart of the Latin Catarracta." Thus Udd yr Echwydd 'Lord of yr Echwydd' is parallel to Llyw Catraeth 'Princeps Catarractae'."
Sir John Morris-Jones. Taliesin, 1918 p 68.
3. "I take Er-, yr- as affected form of ar- 'in front of, opposite to' and echwydd as 'fresh water'. At the time under discussion 'river water' and 'fresh water' were probably synonymous, and Erechwydd may denote land facing a river or even a lake."
Sir Ifor Williams. The Poems of Taliesin, 1968 p xlii.
4."The forms given in Bede's original Latin are Cataracta and, in the ablative, Cataractone, the second implying a nominative Cataracto; earlier, Rommano-British, documents confirm the -on- suffix, but there is no doubt that whatever the ultimate origin of the name, it had become Cataracta in Late Latin, as evidenced by Bede, and this is the direct source of the Welsh and Anglo-Saxon forms."
Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson. The Gododdin (The Oldest Scottish Poem), 1969 p 83.