Preiddeu Annwn: The Spoils of Annwn by Taliesin

I praise the Lord, Prince of the realm, King.
His sovereignty has extended across the world’s tract.
Equipped was the prison of Gweir in the Mound Fortress,
throughout the account of Pwyll and Pryderi.
No one before him went into it,
into the heavy blue/gray chain; a faithful servant it held.
And before the spoils of Annwfyn bitterly he sang.
And until Judgment shall last our bardic invocation.
Three fullnesses of Prydwen we went into it
Except seven none rose up from the Fortress of the Mound.

I am honored in praise. Song was heard
in the Four-Peaked Fortress, four its revolutions.
My poetry, from the cauldron it was uttered.
From the breath of nine maidens it was kindled.
The cauldron of the chief of Annwfyn: what is its fashion?
A dark ridge around its border and pearls.
It does not boil the food of a coward; it has not been destined.
The flashing sword of Lleawch has been lifted to it.
And in the hand of Lleminawc it was left.
And before the door of hell lamps burned.
And when we went with Arthur, brilliant difficulty,
except seven none rose up from the Fortress of Mead-Drunkenness.

I am honored in praise; song is heard
in the Fortress of Four-Peaks, isle of the strong door.
Flowing water and jet are mingled.
Sparkling wine their liquor before their retinue.
Three fullnesses of Prydwen we went on the sea.
Except seven none rose up from the Fortress of Hardness.

I merit not the Lord’s little men of letters.
Beyond the Glass Fortress they did not see the valor of Arthur.
Six thousand men stood upon the wall.
It was difficult to speak with their sentinel.
Three fullnesses of Prydwen went with Arthur.
Except seven none rose up from the Fortress of Guts (Hindrance?).

I do not merit little men, slack their will.
They do not know which day the chief was created,
what hour of the midday the owner was born,
what animal they keep, silver its head.
When we went with Arthur, sorrowful strife,
except seven none rose up from the Fortress of Enclosedness.

Monks howl like a choir of dogs
from an encounter with lords who know:
Is there one course of wind? is there one course of water?
Is there one spark of fire of fierce tumult?

Monks pack together like young wolves
from an encounter with lords who know.
They do not know when midnight and dawn divide.
Nor wind, what its course, what its onrush,
what place it ravages, what region it strikes.
The grave of the saint is hidden (or: lost, vanishing, in the Otherworld), both grave and ground (or: champion).
I praise the Lord, great prince,
that I be not sad; Christ endows me.


Date: ?14th century (manuscript original); 1996 (translation)

By: Taliesin (6th century)

Translated by: Sarah Higley (19??- )


2 Comments to “Preiddeu Annwn: The Spoils of Annwn by Taliesin”

  1. Absolutely wonderful,
    Thank you for sharing

  2. ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ (alias Annwvyn, Annwfyn, Annwfn, Annwn) is a poetic account of a real event which took place in 1177 when a Norman horde, led by Milo de Cogan and his cousin Ralph Fitzsephen and probably accompanied by Robert Fitzstephen (father of Ralph and uncle and ‘brother-in-arms’ of Milo De Cogan) raided a Cistercian abbey on mountainside in N.E. Co. Galway, specifically to seize the royal legends and poetry of the kings of Connacht, then represented by Rory O’Conor, King of Connacht and of Ireland. This was an unwarranted incursion into Connacht by 540 raiders (= 3 shipfuls) at the behest of Murrough O’Conor, who had a grudge against his father Rory and who joined the Normans at Roscommon to lead them through the province. Rebuffed when King Rory O’Conor ignored his request to join them, De Cogan was left to fend for himself in hostile territory, from which he fled after 8 days.
    The poet in this poem was evidently a gaelic royal poet whose poetry was in the captured manuscripts and who assisted the chain-mailed and helmeted marauders (whom he likened to animals). Murrough O’Conor was captured by Rory’s forces while beating a retreat with De Cogan, and horribly mutilated for his offence; the unknown poet escaped, possibly to Wales.
    Four ‘words’ in this poem indicate that it was originally an Irish poem: ‘Annwfyn’, ‘Defwy’, ‘Lleminawc’ and ‘Lleawch’. ‘Annwfyn’ is ‘an ubh éin’ phonetically written. ‘Defwy’ is ‘Dé bhuaidh’ phonetically written and means ‘of God of Victory’. [Evidently the monks knew their hard-won mountain lands as ‘The Meadows of God of Victory’]. Lleminawc is Seimineach (= ‘Beast’) and Lleawc is Seabhach (= ‘Hawk’). [Note: Prof. Ifor Williams had observed that Middle Welsh ‘ll’ = Irish ‘s’ = English ‘sh’]
    Having raided the abbey the Norman horde retired to carouse at a pre-historic stone fort on a very small island (seemingly artificial) where the poet’s poetry was read and where, seemingly with others, he spent 4 days; hence the words ‘four its revolutions’ – the world an all upon it turns once a day!) Here the poet noticed that the little river carried bog-water (its source is a bog and its upper stretches drain boglands), hence the words ‘flowing water and jet are mingled’, ‘soft jet’ being the product of water-logged timber submerged in stagnant water (= bog) and pressurised for millennia. This stone fort is the Caer Dathyl (Ir. Cathair Dá Tul) of the legend now called ‘Math fab Mathonwy’
    Ann/wf/yn is Ir. ‘an ubh éin’, meaning ‘the bird-egg’. The reference is to the famous pre-historic egg-like Castlestrange La Tene stone which was originally sited at a pre-historic royal seat which Ptolemy called ‘Regia Altera’ in his map of Hibernia. It generated the name ‘Tír uibhe’ (‘the land of the egg’) on the region surrounding it – a region which historically was an ‘óenach site’ or centre of public assembly and administrative power for the kingdom. For centuries this region was under the rule of the O’Conor kings of Connacht, King Rory O’Conor being ‘chief of Ann/wf/yn’ in 1177. The abbey lands were close to this ‘Tír uibhe’.
    Legends taken in the ‘cauldron’ included the Four Branches of the Mabinogi [ma/bin/ogi = maoith binn óige = ‘the sweet anguishes of youth’]; the tale called in Welsh ‘Culhwch ac Olwen’, etc., etc., etc. Evidently this booty was taken to Wales (probably circa mid-May 1177) and seemingly was conducted to Rhys ap Gruffydd and thence to Strata Florida Abbey of which he was patron. This Rhys ap Gruffydd had released his cousin Robert Fitzstephen from prison to lead the first Norman attack on Ireland in 1169. Robert had founded Strata Florida Abbey in 1164.
    In Wales ‘Annwfyn’ is incorrectly taken to be the ‘Otherworld’. Both egg-stone and place have a very real existence!

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