Gwên, with legs like steel, kept watch last night
Beside Rhyd Forlas:
As he is a son to me, he stood firm.
This is an adaptation into English of a paraphrasing of the original old Welsh into modern Welsh:
Gwên, bras ei forddwyd, a wyliodd neithiwr
Ar ochor Rhyd Forlas:
Gan ei fod yn fab i mi, ni chiliodd.
Modern Welsh adaptation ©Gwyn Thomas, reproduced with the permission of the author’s estate
English adaptation ©Susan Walton 2018
And here is the old Welsh:
Gwen vordwyt tylluras a wylyas neithwyr
Ygoror Ryt Uorlas.
Kan bu mab ymi ny thechas.
This is one, tiny part of Canu Llywarch Hen (the Songs of Llywarch Hen). The core of this collection is thought to have been written in the 9th or 10th centuries.
Rhyd Forlas means ‘the ford on the Morlas [brook]’. In this part of the saga, Llywarch Hen sends his son, Gwên, to guard the ford, a vulnerable point on Wales’ border with England. Gwên dies in the subsequent battle, the last of Llywarch Hen’s twenty-five sons to die fighting.
The ford can still be seen today (Ordnance Survey grid reference SJ311383), and it is still on the border. Visiting it brings to mind R. S. Thomas’ lines: ‘To live in Wales is to be conscious / At dusk of the spilled blood’.