Y Gododin: A Poem of the Battle of Cattraeth

Transcribed from the 1852 William Rees edition by David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org



A Poem
a welsh bard of the sixth century,
with an
English Translation,
and numerous historical and critical annotations;


rector of llanymowddwy, merionethshire.






william rees, printer, llandovery.


Aneurin, the author of this poem, was the son of Caw, lord of Cwm Cawlwyd, or Cowllwg, a region in the North, which, as we learn from a Life of Gildas in the monastery of Fleury published by Johannes a Bosco, comprehended Arecluta or Strath Clyde. [0a]  Several of his brothers seem to have emigrated from Prydyn in company with their father before the battle of Cattraeth, and, under the royal protection of Maelgwn Gwynedd, to have settled in Wales, where they professed religious lives, and became founders of churches.  He himself, however, remained behind, and having been initiated into the mysteries of Bardism, formed an intimate acquaintance with Owen, Cian, Llywarch Hen, and Taliesin, all likewise disciples of the Awen.  By the rules of his order a Bard was not permitted ordinarily to bear arms, [0b] and though the exceptional case, in which he might act differently, may be said to have arisen from “the lawlessness and depredation” [0c] of the Saxons, Aneurin does not appear to have been present at Cattraeth in any other capacity than that of a herald Bard.  Besides the absence of any intimation to the contrary, we think the passages where he compares Owen to himself, and where he makes proposals at the conference, and above all where he attributes his safety to his “gwenwawd,” conclusive on the subject.  His heraldic character would be recognised by all nations, according to the universal law of warfare, whereas it is very improbable that any poetic effusion which he might have delivered, could have influence upon a people whose language differed so materially from his own.

The Gododin was evidently composed when the various occurrences that it records were as yet fresh in the author’s mind and recollection.  It is divided into stanzas, which, though they now amount to only ninety-seven, are supposed to have originally corresponded in point of number with the chieftains that went to Cattraeth.  This is strongly intimated in the declaration subjoined to Gorchan Cynvelyn, and cited in the notes at page 86, and thence would we infer that the Gorchanau themselves are portions of the Gododin, having for their object the commemoration of the persons whose names they bear.  Of course all of them, with the exception of the short one of Adebon, contain passages that have been transposed from other stanzas, which may account for their disproportionate lengths.  This is especially the case with Gorchan Maelderw, the latter, and by far the greater portion whereof, is in the Carnhuanawc MS. detached from the former, and separately entitled “Fragments of the Gododin and other pieces of the sixth century.”  That they were “incantations,” cannot be admitted; and if the word “gorchan,” or “gwarchan” mean here anything except simply “a canon, or fundamental part of song,” we should be inclined to consider it as synonymous with “gwarthan,” and to suppose that the poems in question referred to the camps of Adebon, Maelderw, and Cynvelyn:—

“Gwarchan Cynvelyn ar Ododin.” [0d]

According to the tenor of the Cynvelyn statement, every stanza would bring before us a fresh hero.  This principle we have not overlooked in the discrimination and arrangements of proper names, though owing to evident omissions and interpolations, an irregularity in this respect occasionally and of necessity occurs.

Aneurin, like a true poet of nature, abstains from all artful introduction or invocation, and launches at once into his subject.  His eye follows the gorgeously and distinctively armed chiefs, as they move at the head of their respective companies, and perform deeds of valour on the bloody field.  He delights to enhance by contrast their domestic and warlike habits, and frequently recurs to the pang of sorrow, which the absence of the warriors must have caused to their friends and relatives at home, and reflects with much genuine feeling upon the disastrous consequences, that the loss of the battle would entail upon these and their dear native land.  And though he sets forth his subject in the ornamental language of poetry, yet he is careful not to transgress the bounds of truth.  This is strikingly instanced in the manner in which he names no less than four witnesses as vouchers for the correctness of his description of Caradawg.  Herein he produces one of the “three agreements that ought to be in a song,” viz. an agreement “between truth and the marvellous.” [0e]

He also gives “relish to his song,” [0f] by adopting “a diversity of structure in the metre;” for the lyric comes in occasionally to relieve the solemnity of the heroic, whilst at the same time the latter is frequently capable of being divided into a shorter verse, a plan which has been observed in one of the MSS. used on the present occasion; e. g. the twelfth stanza is thus arranged,—

Gwyr a aeth Gattraeth gan ddydd
      Neus goreu } gywilydd
      O gadeu }
      Wy gwnaethant } gelorwydd
      Yn geugant }
   A llafn aur llawn anawdd ym bedydd
   Goreu yw hyn cyn cystlwn carennydd
      Ennaint creu } oe henydd
      Ac angeu }
      Rhag byddin } pan fu ddydd
      Wawdodyn }
   Neus goreu dan bwylliad neirthiad gwychydd.

But though Aneurin survived the battle of Cattraeth to celebrate the memory of his less fortunate countrymen in this noble composition, he also ultimately met with a violent death.  The Triads relate that he was killed by the blow of an axe, inflicted upon his head by Eiddin son of Einigan, which event was in consequence branded as one of “the three accursed deeds of the Isle of Britain.” [0g]

His memory, however, lived in the Gododin, and the estimation in which the poem was held by his successors has earned for him the title of “medeyrn beirdd,” the king of Bards.  Davydd Benvras 1190–1240, prays for that genius which would enable him

“To sing praises as Aneurin of yore,
The day he sang the Gododin.” [0h]

Risserdyn 1290–1340 in an Ode to Hywel ab Gruffydd speaks of

“A tongue with the eloquence of Aneurin of splendid song.” [0i]

And Sevnyn 1320–1378 asserts that

“The praise of Aneurin is proclaimed by thousands.” [0j]

Such is the language in which the mediæval Bards were accustomed to talk of the author of the Gododin.

The basis of the present translation is a MS. on vellum apparently of about the year 1200.  In that MS. the lines are all written out to the margin, without any regard to the measure.  Capital letters are never introduced but at the beginning of paragraphs, where they are ornamented and coloured alternately red and green.  At page 20 Gwilym Tew and Rhys Nanmor [0k] are mentioned as the owners of the Book, but the names are written in a hand, and with letters more modern than the MS.  It at one time belonged to Mr. Jones the Historian of Brecknockshire, and came latterly into the possession of the late Rev. T. Price, with whose Executrix, Mrs. E. Powell of Abergavenny, it now remains.  The author of the Celtic Researches took a transcript of it, which he communicated to the Rev. W. J. Rees, of Cascob, who had previously copied the said transcript by the permission of the Rev. E. Davies.  Mr. Rees’s copy was afterwards collated by Dr. Meyer with Mr. Davies’s transcript, and the only inaccuracy which had crept in was by him carefully corrected.  Dr. Meyer again transcribed Mr. Rees’s copy for the use of the present work, and that version in its turn has been collated by Mr. Rees, during the progress of the work through the press, with the transcript in his possession.  To these two gentlemen the translator is under deep obligations.

Also to Mr. Owen Williams of Waunfawr, for the loan of three other manuscript copies of the Gododin.  Two of them occur in the same book, which purports to have been a transcript made by the Rev. David Ellis, the first part, A.D. 1775 of an old book, the second part, June 7, 1777, of a book supposed to have been written by Sion Brwynog about the year 1550.  In these versions the stanzas are not divided.  The third version appears in a book containing a variety of poems and articles in prose, of which, however, the writer or copyist is not known, though one “Davydd Thomas” is mentioned in a poor modern hand as being the owner.  Our poem is therein headed “Y Gododin.  Aneurin ae cant.  Gydâ nodau y Parchedig Evan Evans.”  These “nodau” are marginal notes, and evidently the different readings of another version.

The different copies or versions used are distinguished as follow;—



E. Evans


D. Ellis


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