Lady Charlotte Guest, the first to publish a full collection of the Mabinogion legends in translation, was born on this day in 1812. In celebration, our Friday Poem is ‘Branwen’s starling’ from Meiron Jordan’s Mabinogion-inspired collection, Regeneration.
Regeneration is Welsh poet Meirion Jordan’s take on the medieval manuscripts known today as Llyfr Coch Hergest and Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch (the Red Book of Hergest and the White Book of Rhydderch). This collection is a re-imagining, inspired by source material that includes the stories of the Mabinogion, and Malory’s version of King Arthur’s tales.
In ‘Red Book’ we meet characters drawn from the eleven stories of the Mabinogi, like ‘Arawn, lord of Annwn’; ‘Rhiannon’s gossips’ and ‘Blodauwedd (the woman made of flowers)’. These poems evoke what Meirion Jordan calls in his insightful preface ‘half-recalled heroic landscapes’; they capture the elusive essence of these characters, their mysterious passions and their sometimes violent and often strange adventures in Jordan’s distinctive poetic style. His pared-down pure lyricism and tightly enjambed free-verse lines bring brevity and clarity to these tales without subtracting their unsettling power to move us.
In the Mabinogion story of Branwen, Daughter of Llŷr, the princess is married to Matholwch, King of Ireland. Enraged that he has not been consulted about the match, Branwen’s half-brother Efnysien mutilates the groom-to-be’s horses and Matholwch leaves with his bride, still bitter, but pacified by the gift of a magic couldron which can bring the dead back to life. Branwen endures much abuse after she arrives in Ireland and so tames a starling to fly to her brother Brân, King of Wales, so she may be saved. After a period of war and great devastation, Branwen is returned to Wales, and dies grieving over the destruction caused on her account.
Regeneration by Merion Jordan is available on our website: £8.99
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