22 February 2009

Welsh Religious Poetry

As it is a Welsh Saint that I have chosen to blog about today, I thought it would be nice to post something else from Wales in his honour, as well as in honour of my friend, Owen the Ochlophobist. In the festschrift for Bishop Kallistos (Ware), Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West, ed. Fr John Behr, et al. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 2003), pp. 317-33, A.M. (Donald) Allchin, a lifelong friend of Bishop Kallistos, has contributed a wonderful article: ‘“The Heir of Resurrection”: Creation, Cross and Resurrection in Early Welsh Poetry’. By way of illustrating the work of the Gogynfeirdd, the ‘Rather Early Poets’, on p. 319 Allchin quotes an excerpt from a Marwyrsgafn, a ‘death-bed’ poem of Meilyr Brydydd (1100-1137):

I am Meilyr the Poet, pilgrim to Peter,
Gatekeeper who measures right virtue.
When the time of our resurrection comes
All who are in the grave, make me ready.
As I await the call, may my home be
The monastery where the tide rises [Bardsey],
A wilderness of enduring glory.
Around its cemetery the breast of the sea,
Island of fair Mary, sacred island of the saints,
Heir of resurrection, to be in it is lovely.
Christ of the prophesied cross, who knows me shall guide me
Past hell, the isolated abode of agony.
The Creator who made me shall receive me
Among the pure parish, the people of Enlli.

Later in the article, Allchin quotes a poem of which the date and author are unknown, but which he believes may be contemporary with Meilyr Brydydd. According to Allchin, ‘Each line in the original contains internal rhyme and alliterative devices; as we shall see its theological affirmations give proof of similar prolonged meditation on the mysteries of Christ’ (p. 325). Here it is (p. 326):

In the name of the Lord, mine to praise, of great praise,
I shall praise God, great the triumph of his love,
God who defended us, God who made us, God who saved us,
God our hope, perfect and honorable, beautiful his blessing.
We are in God’s power, God above, Trinity’s King.
God proved himself our liberation by his suffering,
God came to be imprisoned in humility.
Wise Lord, who will free us by Judgment Day,
Who will lead us to the feast through his mercy and sanctity
In paradise, in pure release from the burden of sin,
Who will bring us salvation through penance and the five wounds.
Terrible grief, God defended us when he took on flesh.
Man would be lost if the perfect rite had not redeemed him.
Through the Cross, blood-stained, came salvation to the world.
Christ, strong shepherd, his honor shall not fail.

The image at the top is the first folio of the Hendregadedd Manuscript, ‘the earliest witness of the works of the Gogynfeirdd’ (from the website of the National Library of Wales).


The Ochlophobist said...

As I prepare my leeks and daffodils next Sunday, which is St. David’s Day according to the Masonic/Papist calendar and mainstreamized Wales (not all of Wales, really, as I shall post about on that day – there are the hidden places in the north), I will make a point to tie a leek and daffodil for you, in recognition of the honor that you have bestowed upon my people.

What stunning poems, if the perfect rite had not redeemed him. The taking of human flesh as rite; there is some serious theological richness.

Thank you.

aaronandbrighid said...

I thank you heartily, good sir. Now I'm thinking, 'Leek soup!'