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Beseeching St. Dwynwen | by Giles Watson's poetry and prose
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Beseeching St. Dwynwen

Beseeching St. Dwynwen

Galw ar Ddwynwen

 

Dwynwen, of frost’s fragile form,

Enshrined in bright, waxen flame:

Your image, lit and gilded,

Is balm for hearts of jilted

Lovers. Men who keep vigils

Like Indeg’s lorn evangels

Shall bear no sorrow within,

Nor carry sickness from Llanddwyn.

 

Your parish, in love’s distress,

Is a flock of bleating strays,

And I, love’s runt, am livid

From trailing my beloved

To no avail, my sick heart

Swollen with love’s dropsy, hurt

By Morfudd. I may yet live,

But too coldly, shorn of love.

 

Heal me of the quaking hurt

Inflicting my feeble heart.

Goad God’s grace to come alive,

Mediatrix of our love,

Gilt-spun saint, splashed with sun,

Who spurns gleaming snares of sin.

God cannot repent his wise

Welcome into Paradise

For Dwynwen. No prying prude

Will catch us conspiring. Crude,

Churlish Eiddig will not swat

Away my chaste patron saint.

 

No one will suspect that you,

Llanddwyn’s virgin, would sneak to

Cwm-y-Gro on my behalf.

Your fair voice alone behoves

Men to obedience: all bend,

Pliant to your word. Your bard

And your God call you. Reveal

The kindness that your black veil

Conceals, and may God restrain

His groping hands with a chain:

That raping Eiddig whose bray

Echoes through the leaves of May

Pursuing us. Dwynwen, please,

Bring the girl who spurs my pulse

Beneath the trees of green May;

Touch my verse, and bless our play.

I prithee, pure Dwynwen: prove

Not every virgin’s a prude.

 

Not because I pay pittance

At your shrine, but for penance

And prayers of yours – you who strove

Every hour you were alive

In devotion, and laid fresh

Chores each day on your fair flesh

In self-denial – for my sake,

Child of Brychan, pray, and seek

From Mair my deliverance –

Or blessing on our dalliance.

 

Poem by Dafydd ap Gwilym, paraphrased by Giles Watson, 2012. The cult of St. Dwynwen drew supplicants to the island of Llanddwyn, off the west coast of Anglesey, partly because of her reputation as a healer, but partly also because she was a patron saint of lovers. Dwynwen rejected her own “would be ravisher”, as Rachel Bromwich puts it, and according to legend, he was turned to stone before she became a nun. It was claimed that she won a boon from God: any true lover who called upon her would either be requited, or be “healed” of the love itself. Dafydd pulls off a stupendously cheeky trick in this poem. As a saint, Dwynwen was regarded as a mediatrix between her supplicants and heaven, and whilst Dafydd half-appeals to her in this role, he also appropriates her as his llatai – his magical love-messenger – to mediate between Morfudd and himself. As a virginal saint, he surmises, she is the last person Eiddig, Morfudd’s jealous husband, would suspect of facilitating an adulterous tryst. The notion that God would go easy on lovers did not die out with the Middle Ages: it survives in modern poetry, and is succinctly enunciated in Charlotte Brontë’s ‘He Saw My Heart’s Woe': “He gave our hearts to love: He will not Love despise.” Dafydd pulls off a second, equally clever trick, by deliberately confusing the abusive Eiddig with Dwynwen’s would-be violent seducer. Dwynwen was the daughter of Brychan Brycheiniog, who was purportedly the father of ten sons and twenty-four daughters, nearly all of whom achieved sainthood – surely a further indication that the deity did not always frown on amorous dalliance. Indeg is a stock name for a beautiful woman. Cwm-y-Glo is Morfudd’s home, identified elsewhere in Dafydd’s corpus as Nant-y-Glo in Uwch Aeron.

 

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Taken on January 19, 2012