The School Bag

from The Gododdin

The Book of Aneirin

Men went to Catraeth, keen their war-band.
Pale mead their portion, it was poison.
Three hundred under orders to fight.
And after celebration, silence.
Though they went to churches for shriving,
True is the tale, death confronted them.

Men went to Catraeth at dawn:
Their high spirits lessened their life-spans.
They drank mead, gold and sweet, ensnaring;
For a year the minstrels were merry.
Red their swords, let the blades remain
Uncleansed, white shields and four-sided spearheads,
Before Mynyddawg Mwynfawr's men. 

Men went to Catraeth, they were renowned.
Wine and mead from gold cups was their drink,
A year in noble ceremonial,
Three hundred and sixty-three gold-torqued men.
Of all those who charged, after too much drink,
But three won free through courage in strife,
Aeron's two war-hounds and tough Cynon,
And myself, soaked in blood, for my song’s sake. 

Gododdin's war-band on shaggy mounts,
Steeds the hue of swans, in full harness,
Fighting for Eidin's treasure and mead.
    On Mynyddawg's orders
    Shields were battered to bits,
    Sword-blades descended
         On pallid cheeks.
They loved combat, broad line of attack:
They bore no disgrace, men who stood firm. 

Man's mettle, youth's years,
Courage for combat:
Swift thick-maned stallions
Beneath a fine stripling's thighs,
Broad lightweight buckler
On a slim steed's crupper,
Glittering blue blades,
Gold-bordered garments.
Never will there be
Bitterness between us:
Rather I make of you
Song that will praise you.
The blood-soaked field
Before the marriage-feast,
Foodstuff for crows
Before the burial.
A dear comrade, Owain;
Vile, his cover of crows.
Ghastly to me that ground,
Slain, Marro's only son. 
Diademed, to the fore at all times,
Breathless before a maid, he earned mead.
Rent the front of his shield, when he heard
The war-cry, he spared none he pursued.
He'd not turn from a battle till blood
Flowed, like rushes hewed men who'd not flee.
At court the Gododdin say there came
Before Madawg's tent on his return
But a single man in a hundred. 

Issac, much-honoured man from the South,
Like the incoming ocean his ways,
Genial and generous,
Well-mannered over mead.
Where he buried his weapons
He called it quits.
Not stained, stainless; not faulty, faultless.
His sword rang in the heads of mothers.
A wall in war, Gwydneu's son was praised. 

A shame the shield was pierced
Of kind-hearted Cynwal.
A shame he set his thighs
On a long-legged steed.
Dark his brown spear-shaft,
Darker his saddle.
In his den a Saxon
munches on a goat's
Leg: may he seldom
Have spoils in his purse. 

Warriors rose together, formed ranks.
With a single mind they assaulted.
Short their lives, long their kinsmen long for them.
Seven times their sum of English they slew:
Their fighting turned wives into widows;
Many a mother with tear-filled eyelids. 

Because of wine-feast and mead-feast they charged,
Men famed in fighting, heedless of life.
Bright ranks around cups, they joined to feast.
Wine and mead and bragget, these were theirs.
From Mynyddawg's banquet, grief-stricken my mind,
Many I lost of my true comrades.
Of three hundred champions who charged on Catraeth,
It is tragic, but one man came back. 

When thoughts in throngs
Come upon me, mournful of mind,
My breath is faint
As in running, and then I weep.
One dear I mourn,
One dear whom I loved, noble stag,
Grief for the man
Who was ever in Argoed's ranks.
He gave his all
For countrymen, for a lord's sake,
For rough-hewn wood,
For a flood of grief, for the feasts.
Friends about him he bore us to a blazing fire,
And to seats of white skins and to sparkling wine.
Gereint from the South gave the war-cry,
Bright and fair, fair-formed was his face,
Generous spear-lord, praiseworthy lord,
So gracious, well I know his nature,
Well I knew Gereint: kind, noble, he was. 

Three hundred golden-torqued men attacked:
Contending for the land was cruel.
Although they were being slain, they slew;
Till the world ends, they will be honoured.
Of the comrades who went together,
Tragic, but a single man returned.  

Welsh - 6th century - translated and arranged by Joseph P. Clancy