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This review is taken from PN Review 261, Volume 48 Number 1, September - October 2021.

Cover of The Gododdin: Lament for the Fallen
Gwyneth LewisThe Gododdin: Lament for the Fallen, a version by Gillian Clarke (Faber) £14.99

At the end of the sixth century, the area in which Welsh was spoken reached as far north as Edinburgh. The names of five early Welsh poets are mentioned in chronicles. No work by Talhaearn Tad Awen (‘Father of inspiration’), Blwchfardd nor Cian Guenith Guaut (‘Cian, Wheat-Harvest of Song’) survives but we do have manuscript copies of poetry by Aneirin and Taliesin. Both wrote in the service of war lords engaged in power struggles with their Celtic rivals and also Saxons pushing up towards Northumbria and west to the Welsh Marches. Both write vividly about the spoils of war and the horror of defeat. Taliesin left twelve short poems, mainly dedicated to his patron Urien Rheged, praising his flourishing kingdom. The only work by Aneirin we have is Y Gododdin, a body of roughly a hundred and fifty verses which were preserved in The Book of Aneirin, a thirteenth-century manuscript. The poem is in two versions, notated by different scribes. Linguistically, the work is Welsh but is claimed, geographically, as the first Scottish poem, by Robert Crawford in his Penguin Book of Scottish Poetry and in Thomas Owen Clancy’s The Triumph Tree: Scotland’s Earliest Poetry AD 550–1350 (Canongate, Edinburgh, 1998).

During Y Gododdin’s passage from an oral performance poem to an early medieval manuscript text, Aneirin and Taliesin were considered contemporaries. In one section of Y Gododdin, Aneirin appears to have been taken captive:
I stretch out my knee in my earth house,
an iron chain about my ...

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