Former National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke presents a new striking version of Y Gododdin, one of Britain’s greatest cultural treasures. Dating back to the sixth century and attributed to the poet Aneurin, the poem is a lament to the loss of the men of the tribe known as the Gododdin, who fought against the Deirons at the Battle of Catraeth – near modern day Catterick. Originally composed as a song to be memorised and passed on to others, Clarke’s version gives new voice to an ancient tradition, finding a ‘word-music’ of her own to share this great work to readers in English today. The result is a major literary achievement from one the central figures in contemporary Welsh poetry.
With characteristic lyricism, Clarke’s facing-page adaptation breaks down the poem into a hundred short, individual lyrics or elegies, each taking as its title the name of the dead soldier it remembers. The new subtitle and the single addition at the sequence’s end of the Old Welsh lullaby Pais Dinogad compounds the elegiac tone, though never at the expense of rhythmic liveliness or readability. Clarke meets the challenge of capturing the intricacies of the Welsh cynghanedd form with variety and originality, experimenting with poetic form and meter in a way that honours Aneurin’s sonorous appeal to the ear. Clarke may describe The Gododdin as ‘archaeology in the form of song’ but this muscular adaptation – inevitably read in the shadow of conflicts old and new – proves that Aneurin’s lament is far from done.
“The great pleasure of this translation lies in the way that the liveliness of the verse pushes back against a sombre and sepulchral tone, calling on all the resources of rhyme and rhythm, alliteration and assonance to reflect the intricate and melodious metre of the Welsh cynghanedd.”
Thomas Tyrrell, Wales Arts Review
"Gillian Clarke is one of the most widely respected and deeply loved poets in the world."
Carol Ann Duffy, former Poet Laureate
“Here, retold with startling freshness, is the earliest masterpiece of British literature. […] It’s impossible to read this haunting poem and not feel that one’s sense of the literary landscape has changed forever.”