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In Praise of Newborough

Gwerinwyr canoloesol o lawysgrif o'r 15fed ganrif / Medieval peasants from a 15th century manuscript

            Eternal greetings to the radiant town of Newborough

            whose buildings are a source of true hope,

            and its beautiful church and its grey towers,

4          and its wine and its common people and its burgesses,

            and its ale and its mead and its love,

            and its generous townsfolk freely sharing their wealth.

            Rhosyr is a cosy corner,

8          a enclosure for people to play,

            renowned streets of a regal place,

            great crowds from all parts praise it:

            a profitable place for minstrelsy,

12        where all men are honest, where goods are to be had;

            where poets go freely, where tables are open to all,

            it's the place for me upon my word;

            most celebrated tower, wheel of prosperity,

16        it is a village of blessings under heaven;

            an open pantry belonging to faultless people,

            hearth, baby pen for poets;

            payment to maintain the five ages,

20        I know that their wisdom and courtesy is far-reaching;

            stronghold keeping all the land from flight,

            yonder town is cousin to heaven;

            prosperous chancel full of faithful generous ones,

24        refuge, burial place of all the mead of Anglesey;

            of all towns this one is the most like heaven,

            castle and meadhouse for me;

            orchard of the praise of liquors,

28        cauldron of rebirth of every free lord;

            honour of all city folk,

            headland of bright fresh mead.

 

Commentary by medieval scholar Sara Elin Roberts

Dafydd ap Gwilym was a poet, writing in the mid-fourteenth century. We have no historical records to tell us anything about his life, but we do know that he was originally from the parish of Llanbadarn Fawr, near Aberystwyth, and he was also familiar with other parts of Wales, including Glamorgan, where he had a sponsor called Ifor Hael, and parts of Dyfed, the home of his uncle, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, who had a court there.

Dafydd ap Gwilym sculpture, Cardiff City HallIt is often said that Dafydd ap Gwilym travelled all around Wales, but in fact his travels were limited to particular areas, and one area which he knew extremely well was Anglesey, at least the western side of the island. He had a fellow-poet and friend from Anglesey, Gruffudd Gryg, and the pair exchanged a series of debate poems that are largely insulting and personal. These were probably written when Dafydd visited Anglesey. He also refers to the Cathedral at Bangor, which he no doubt visited on his way, and he paid a visit to Dwynwen's shrine in Llanddwyn, and features a description of it in a poem.

When he visited Anglesey, Dafydd stayed at Newborough. Apart from this praise poem, he wrote another describing an unfortunate attempt at enticing a young girl at the St Peter festivities in Newborough, which he calls by its original name, Rhosyr. This has led many scholars to argue that Dafydd's most famous poem,"Trafferth mewn Tafarn," (Trouble in a Tavern), was also set in Newborough - there is highly compelling evidence for this argument.

The poem in praise of Newborough is the earliest example of a cywydd  (poetic form) dedicated to the praise of one particular location. Dafydd used both the new form, Newborough, and the old name for the settlement, Rhosyr, in this poem. It was clearly a lively Welsh borough in his time, and Dafydd is very fond of the town; it is likely that he spent some time there. It must have been a very Welsh, cultured area, but despite the highbrow poetic nature of the description, it's clear that there was also a fun, convivial atmosphere and many pretty girls to tempt Dafydd.

Poem copyright: www.dafyddapgwilym.net, with thanks to Professor Dafydd Johnston and the project team for permission to include this poem and the translation here.

 

 


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