Old Man’s Song

support me stick
   do as you’re told
support blathering llywarch

llywarch the old
  who once was eloquent
  who spoke well
  whose time’s near spent

witless old llywarch
  forever babbling
with his dotard’s tongue
  dull    inept
  no prowess but prattling

he was honored when young
given honored place
  much-feasted warrior
  first    bravest  spear

llywarch of fame-flared face
who said he knew no fear

lord
      turned pig
mangled acorn-gnawer
sword
          rusted with
shame

jesting age brings bitterness
wheezing and lame
no teeth    no hair
all limp below
who’d ever know
  i once was fair

see here pyll
gwên take note
  your father
feeble    slow
a decrepit goat

wind-tossed
  across bleak hillsides
  on hands and knees
resting
  by white trees
paler than death

   a furious cadaver
   cursing his breath

fated from birth
  that first hard night
my guilt-load heavy
my sons all dead
my twenty-four sons
  snatched from the light

at ffraw
at rhyd forlas
  i exhorted them

at ffraw
at rhyd forlas
  i butchered them

take up your swords
take them up i said
  emulate your father
  sever comfort’s cords

take yourselves to war
disdain your marriage bed
  be land-guarder
  skull-smasher
for the fameless man is poor

at rhyd forlas
at ffraw
  fields foaming with blood

at rhyd forlas
at ffraw
  bodies borne by the flood

the crows thank me
the worms thank me
  for this banquet
  of llawr and maenwyn
and all their brothers

and many men more
their doom my doing
their dying my doom

along the blasted shore
 gulls give cry the grief
     of mothers

           and now
the great boom
  of
    waves
ever-beating

the land
retreating

and i
an infamous thief
  of life

cold    wretched
  and
        torn

observe this leaf
     the wind carrying her
she’s old
  yet this year born

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2 thoughts on “Old Man’s Song

  1. This is based on the series of verses, often referred to as ‘The Song of the Old Man’, found in the Red Book of Hergest. The group of englynion known as ‘Claf Abercuawg’ (see previous post for my translation) immediately precedes this group. It has been suggested that the ‘Abercuawg’ stanzas and the ‘Old Man’ stanzas ought to be regarded as a single poem, but this view is by no means universally accepted among scholars. I have treated them as separate poems purely because I thought I would be more successful in my translation that way. My translation, in terms of both form and content, is very free.

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