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Back to the Mabinogion

I did not think it odd that one of my friends in school was a fan of Strat-O-Matic baseball, with a close to obsessive mastery of sports statistics, played a fierce game of one-on-one basketball, and could quote the medieval Welsh classic the Mabinogion. I can still faintly recall Pwyll and the shimmer of his adventures, which have become entwined with the distant green fields of my teenage years. JR Green, a historian I described below, says that despite bitter clan feuds and warfare "the song of the twelfth century burst forth, not from one bard or another, but from the nation at large," from all Wales –

'In every house,’ says the shrewd Gerald de Barri, ‘strangers who arrived in the morning were entertained till eventide with the talk of maidens and the music of the harp.’ . . .

No other medieval literature shows at its outset the same elaborate and completed organisation as that of the Welsh. But within these settled forms the Celtic fancy plays with a startling freedom. . .The world of the Mabinogion is a world of pure phantasy, a new earth of marvels and enchantments, of dark forests whose silence is broken by the hermit’s bell, and sunny glades where the light plays on the hero’s armour. . .As Kulhwch’s greyhounds bound from side to side of their master’s steed, they ‘sport round him like two sea-swallows.’ His spear is ‘swifter than the fall of the dewdrop from the blade of reed-grass upon the earth when the dew of June is at the heaviest.’

The love poetry is as delicate and as full of natural images – "White is my love as the apple-blossom, as the ocean’s spray." "The eye of the trained hawk, the glance of the falcon, was not brighter than hers." "The glow of her cheeks is like the light of sunset."

Growing up in a suburb of New York, it might have seemed obvious that all this was "phantasy", but at night, hearing the beech leaves rustle and speak with the wind, the Dream of Rhonabwy did not seem so far away. Much farther now lies the world of my childhood.

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