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The Bards of Wales

Watson Kirkconnell M.A.

version (c)1933

(Original translation)

Edward the king, the English king,
Bestrides his tawny steed,
'For I will see if Wales,' said he,
'Accepts my rule indeed.

'Are stream and mountain fair to see?
Are meadow grasses good?
Do corn-lands bear a crop more rare
Since wash'd with rebel's blood?

'And are the wretched people there,
Whose insolence I broke
As happy as the oxen are
Beneath the driver's yoke?

'In truth this Wales, Sire, is a gem,
The fairest in your crown:
The stream and field rich harvest yield,
And fair and dale and down.

'And all the wretched people there
Are calm as man could crave;
Their hovels stand throughout the land
As silent as the grave.'

Edward the king, the English King
Bestrides his tawni steed;
A silence deep his subjects keep
And Wales is mute indeed.

The castle named Montgomery
Ends that day's journeying;
The castle's lord, Montgomery,
Must entertain the king.

Then game and fish and ev'ry dish
That lures the taste and sight
A hundred hurrying servants bear
To please the appetite.

With all of worth the isle brings forth
In dainty drink and food,
And all the wines of foreign vines
Beyond the distant flood.

'You lords, you lords, will none consent
His glass with mine to ring?
What? Each one fails, you dogs of Wales,
To toast the English king?

'Though game and fish and ev'ry dish
That lures the taste and sight
Your hand supplies, your mood defies
My person with a slight.

'You rascal lords, you dogs of Wales,
Will none for Edward cheer?
To serve my needs and chant my deeds
Then let a bard appear!'

The nobles gaze in fierce amaze,
Their cheeks grow deadly pale;
Not fear but rage their looks engage,
They blanch but do not quail.

All voices cease in soundless peace,
All breathe in silent pain;
Then at the door a harper hoar
Comes in with grave disdain:

'Lo, here I stand, at your command,
To chant your deeds, O king!'
And weapons clash and hauberks crash
Responsive to his string.

'Harsh weapons clash and hauberks crash,
And sunset sees us bleed,
The crow and wolf our dead engulf -
This, Edward, is your deed!

'A thousand lie beneath the sky,
They rot beneath the sun,
And we who live shall not forgive
This deed your hand hath done!'

'Now let him perish! I must have'
(The monarch's voice is hard)
'Your softest songs, and not your wrongs!'
In steps a boyish bard:

'The breeze is soft at eve, that oft
From Milford Havens moans;
It whispers maidens' stifled cries,
It breathes of widows' groans.

'You maidens, bear no captive babes!
You mothers, rear them not!'
The fierce king nods. The lad is seiz'd
And hurried from the spot.

Unbidden then, among the men,
There comes a dauntless third
With speech of fire he tunes his lyre,
And bitter is his word:

'Our bravest died to slake your pride -
Proud Edward, hear my lays!
No Welsh bards live who e'er will give
Your name a song a praise.

'Our harps with dead men's memories weep.
Welsh bards to you will sing
One changeless verse - our blackest curse
To blast your soul, O king!'

'No more! Enough!' - cries out the king.
In rage his orders break:
'Seek through these vales all bards of Wales
And burn them at the stake!'

His men ride forth to south and north,
They ride to west and east.
Thus ends in grim Montgomery
The celebrated feast.

Edward the king, the English king
Spurs on his tawny steed;
Across the skies red flames arise
As if Wales burned indeed.

In martyrship, with song on lip,
Five hundred Welsh bards died;
Not one was mov'd to say he lov'd
The tyrant in his pride.

''Ods blood! What songs this night resound
Upon our London streets?
The mayor shall feel my irate heel
If aught that sound repeats!

Each voice is hush'd; through silent lanes
To silent homes they creep.
'Now dies the hound that makes a sound;
The sick king cannot sleep.'

'Ha! Bring me fife and drum and horn,
And let the trumpet blare!
In ceaseless hum their curses come -
I see their dead eyes glare…'

But high above all drum and fife
and trumpets' shrill debate,
Five hundred martyr'd voices chant
Their hymn of deathless hate

Peter Zollman

version (c)1994

(Eric's Alternate translation)

King Edward scales the hills of Wales
Upon his stallion.
"Hear my decree! I want to see
My new dominion.

"Show me the yield of every field,
The grain, the grass, the wood!
Is all the land now moist and rich
With red rebellious blood?

"And are the Welsh, God's gift, the Welsh,
A peaceful, happy folk?
I want them pleased, just like the beast
They harness in the yoke."

"Sire, this jewel in your crown,
Your Wales, is fair and good:
Rich is the yield of every field
The grassland and the wood.

"And, Sire, the Welsh, God's gift, the Welsh,
So pleased they all behave!
Dark every hut, fearfully shut
And silent as the grave."

King Edward scales the hills of Wales
Upon his stallion.
And where he rides dead silence hides
In his dominion.

He calls at high Montgomery
To banquet and to rest;
It falls on Lord Montgomery
To entertain the guest:

With fish, the meat, and fruit so sweet,
To tease the tongue, the eyes,
A splendid spread for a king to be fed
A lordly enterprise.

The waiters file with the best this Isle
Can grow in drink and food,
And serve the fine Bordeaux and Rhine
In gracious plentitude.

"Now drink my health, you gentle sirs,
And you, my noble host! You Sirs...
Welsh Sirs... you filthy curs,
I want the loyal toast!

"The fish, the meat you served to eat
Was fine and ably done.
But deep inside it's hate you hide:
You loathe me, every one!

"Well, then, you sirs, you filthy curs,
Who will now toast your king?
I want a bard to praise my deeds,
A bard of Wales to sing!"

They look askance with a furtive glance,
The noblemen of Wales;
Their cheeks turn white in deadly fright,
As crimson anger pales.

Deep silence falls upon the halls,
And lo, before their eyes
They see an old man, white as snow,
An ancient bard to rise:

"I shall recite your glorious deeds
Just as you bid me, Sire."
And death rattles in grim battles
As he touches the lyre.

"Grim death rattles, the brave battles,
And blood bestains the sun,
Your deeds reek high, up to the sky:
You are the guilty one!

"Our dead are plenty as the corn
When harvest is begun,
And as we reap and glean, we weep:
You did this, guilty one!"

"Off to the stake!" the king commands,
"This was churlishly hard.
Sing us, you there, a softer air,
You, young and courtly bard!"

"A breeze so soft, does sweetly waft
Where Milford Haven lies,
With wailing woes of doomed widows
And mournful maidens' cries.

"Maiden, don't bear a slave! Mother,
Your babe must not be nursed!" ...
A royal nod. He reached the stake
Together with the first.

But boldly and without a call
A third one takes the floor;
Without salute he strikes the lute,
His song begins to soar:

"Our brave were killed, just as you willed,
Or languish in our gaols:
To hail your name or sing your fame
You find no bard in Wales!

"He may gone,' but his songs live on -
The toast is `King beware!'
You bear the curse - and even worse -
Of Welsh bards everywhere."

"I'll see to that!" thunders the King,
"You spiteful Welsh peasants!
The stake will toast your every bard
Who spurns my ordinance!"

His men went forth to search the North,
The West, the South, the East,
And so befell, the truth to tell,
In Wales the famous feast. -

King Edward fled, headlong he sped
Upon his stallion,
And in his wake a blazing stake:
The Welsh dominion.

Five hundred went singing to die,
Five hundred in the blaze,
But none would sing to cheer the king
The loyal toast to raise.

"My chamberlain, what is the din
In London's streets so late?
The Lord Mayor answers with his head
If it does not abate!"

Gone is the din; without, within
They all silently creep:
"Who breaks the spell, goes straight to hell!
The King can't fall asleep."

"Let drum and fife now come to life
And let the trumpets roar,
To rise above that fatal curse
That haunts me evermore!"

But over drums and piercing fifes,
Beyond the soldiers' hails,
They swell the song, five hundred strong,
Those martyred bards of Wales.

Neville Masterman,

University College, Swansea

(Alternate translation)

Edward the King, the English King,
Rode on a dapple grey charger
‘I wish to know the worth’, said he,
‘of my Welsh lands over the border.

Is the grass rich for sheep and ox,
Are the soil and rivers good?
And are my provinces watered well
By rebel patriots’ blood?

And what of the people, the wretched people
Do they seem a contented folk?
Are they as docile, since I subdued them,
As their oxen in their yoke?’

‘Your Majesty Wales is the fairest jewel
You have in all your crown,
River and field and valley and hill
Are the best you may come upon.

And as for the people, the wretched people,
They live so happily, Sir,
Like so many graves their hamlets stand
And none there even stir.’

Edward the King, the English King,
Rode on a dapple grey charger,
Around him silence which way he want
In his Welsh lands over the border.

Montgomery the castle’s name,
Where he that night remained,
The castle’s lord, Montgomery,
His monarch entertained.

There was fish and flesh and whatever else
To sight and taste seemed good,
A rowdy throng, a hundred strong,
Bore in the heavy load.

All kinds were there, that isle could bear
Of meat and drink, with these
was bubbling wine that sparkling shone,
Carried from distant seas.

‘Ye Lords! ye lords! will no one here
His wine glass with me clink?
Ye lords! ye lords! ye rude Welsh curs,
Will none the King’s health drink?

There is fish and flesh and whatever else
To sight and taste seem best,
- That I can see, but the devil I know
Dwells in each noble’s breast.

Ye lords! ye lords! ye vile Welsh curs,
Come greet your Edward;
Where is the man to sing my deeds
A Welshman and a bard?’

Each night upon the other looked
Of the guests assembled there;
Upon their cheeks a furious rage
Paled to a ghastly fear.

And strangled breath from lips like death
Was all that could be heard;
When, like a white defenceless dove
Arose an ancient bard.

‘Here there is one to tell thy deeds,’
Chanted the ancient seer;
‘The clash of battle, the hoarse death rattle,
The plucked strings made them hear.

The clash of battle, the hoarse death rattle,
On blood the sun setting;
The stench that drew night - prowling beasts.
You did all this, O King!

Ten thousand of our people slain,
The rest are gathering
The corpses heaped like harvest stocks –
You did all this, O King!’

‘Off to the stake! this song’s too harsh’.
Ordered King Edward.
‘Come, let us have a gentler tune’
Forth stepped a young Welsh bard.

‘Soft breezes sigh in the evening sky,
O’er Milford Haven blown;
Maids’ sobbing tears and widows’ prayers
Within those breezes moan.’

‘Don’t bear a race of slaves ye maids!
Mothers give such no more!’
The King spoke and the boy caught up
The old man sent before.

But though unasked, yet recklessly
Advanced, unmoved, a third
His lyre’s fierce song, like the Welsh bard strong,
And his word must be heard.

‘Our bravest fell on the battle field,
Listen O Edward -
To sing the praises of your name
There is not one Welsh bard!’

‘One memory sobs within my lyre,
Listen O Edward -
A curse on your brow every song you hear
From a Welshman and a bard!’

‘Enough of this! I orders give’
Answered the furious King,
‘To send to the stake all the bards of Wales
Who thus against me sing!’

His servants till their task was done
Their searching never ceased;
Thus grimly in Montgomery,
Ended that famous feast.

Edward the King, the English King,
Spurred his dapple grey charger.
On the skies around, stakes burning stand
In the Welsh lands over the border.

Five hundred went to a flaming grave,
And singing every bard.
Not one of them was found to cry
‘Long live King Edward!’

What murmur is this in the London streets?
What night song can this be?
‘I will have London’s Lord Mayor hanged
If any noise troubles me’.

Within, a fly’s wing must not move,
Outside all silence keep.
‘The man who speaks will lose his head
The monarch cannot sleep.’

‘No! Bring me the music of pipe and drum,
And the trumpet’s brazen roar,
For the curses I heard at the Welshman’s feast
Ascend to my ears once more!’

But above the music of pipe and drum
And the bugles’ strong refrain,
Loud cry those witnesses of blood,
Five hundred Welsh bards slain. (*)

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