Abercuawg

on a hilltop    idle
there would be comfort
but I do not stir
from this desolation

there’s no grazing
bitter winds
scour the summer
of all but brightness

I am stiff    I am old
I cannot get about
no retinue aids me
but let the cuckoo sing

Cuawg’s cuckoo sings
on flowery branches
I hear its mocking
but I’ll not ask for respite

Cuawg’s cuckoo sings
on flowery branches
what pain would come
hearing it no more

once I heard the cuckoo sing
and I forsook my shield
left it sleeping by a tree
   the cuckoo’s song
   the cuckoo’s song
left it sleeping by a tree

a tall and rustling oak
the home of jostling birds
there I left my shield
   and the cuckoo
   wounds me still

the moon shines
my mind is raw
I do not sleep

I look to the hill-top
white against the dark
it is cold

I do not deny
I am sick tonight

the birds are raucous
old age should bring rest
leaves fall
   from the ash tree
in youth I was loved

broad wave in the estuary
the wave is broad and bright
ebbing wave in the estuary
the wave ebbs

on Edrywy Hill
the birds are raucous
while in waste-lands
the dogs bark

now it is May
when all the land is fair
this is the young men’s time
this is the soldiers’ time

but I am old
my wounds sear me
I do not go to battle
I am old

rain soaks the pathway
the moon brings affliction to my heart
a far wave ebbs
sickness has chosen me

bring me my mead-bowl
bring me my ale
the cattle are sheltered
shield me from the rain

I speak now of treachery
of deceit while cups were raised
of an evil deed
  done when men were glad

but atonement has come
and now the warrior is ragged
trading a little in exchange for much
  there’s no reward for the wretched

branches are high    oak and ash
cow-parsley’s sweet
the wave laughs
God’s not merciful in this world

my sighs betray my sickness
good is not permitted me
hated here and in heaven

the wave strikes the shingle
the sea flays the shore
I look to the hill-top
   and the cuckoo sings

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One thought on “Abercuawg

  1. This is a free translation of an anonymous series of englynion, commonly entitled ‘Claf Abercuawg’ (‘The Sick Man of Abercuawg’) found in an important 14th-century manuscript known as the Red Book of Hergest. The date of composition has been much debated, but it may be assumed that the verses are much older than the date of transcription. The nature of the text has also been the subject of debate. The various suggestions include the idea that the englynion are surviving poetic fragments of a lost prose narrative (unlikely); that they form an independent poem; that they form part of a cycle of poems; that some of the verses are interpolations; and that they form one half a poem that ought to include as well the series of englynion that follows in the Hergest manuscript. I have decided to treat the Abercuawg englynion as a single poem not because that is my scholarly position (I am not qualified to make such a judgement), but because that approach makes for a more effective translation.

    Englynion are short stanzas, usually three or four lines long, and of fiendish technical complexity; I have not attempted to reproduce that complexity, nor have I been consistent in the length of my stanzas. Some content has been omitted, some rearranged; I have also added one or two things of my own.

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