Aneirin as an Awenydd

book-of-aneirin-facsimile
A page from The Book of Aneirin

 

Mi na fi Neirin
Ys gŵyr Taliesin

Neu chant Ododdin

Aneirin (or Neirin) was one of five poets mentioned in the Ninth Century Historia Brittonum as being active in the Sixth Century. The lines above are included in the series of elegies for warriors of the Gododdin tribe killed in the battle of Catraeth attributed to Aneirin. They seem to say “I who am not Aneirin / As Taliesin knows /…/Sang The Gododdin”. Or do they? Translators have tended to hedge their bets with something like ”I, yet not I …” for the first line. We might think also here of the line from the poem in The Black Book of Carmarthen: “As I am Merlin, and then Taliesin”. It seems that the persona of the bard can shift, that one prophetic bard can become another, or speak – inspired – in another’s voice. The act of creating the poem, in this view, comes from the bard drawing upon a power from beyond that inspires ‘song’, a condition which Aneirin here says would also have been shared by Taliesin.

It has been suggested that this verse and the one following from manuscripts in The Book of Aneirin actually belong to a separate saga about Aneirin (*) Taken together the two verses suggest that Aneirin lies beneath the earth in chains with worms or slugs crawling over him and that he was rescued from this place by Cenau whose praise he sings in the second of the two verses. The place of incarceration was “a place of death”.

There seems to be a conflation of two themes here: Aneirin’s rescue from a grave-like prison and his composition of a series of elegies by escaping from his everyday self. It is difficult to know for certain if these two themes are to be taken as significantly connected or if they stand against each other as separate pieces of information. It is not uncommon in this early poetry for unrelated facts to be conveyed together in a single stanza. But if they are connected, the release of the poet from captivity, or from death, and the release into the world of the verses which comprise The Gododdin would need to be taken as a single event. So the poet, who describes himself as “no weary lord” laboured through the night to produce his work “before the dawn” of the following day.

Whether this is to be taken as the night following the battle or the ‘night’ from which he was released, the composition of the Gododdin verses (or those of them that can be regarded as original) were the product of a night’s work during which the bard dwelt in a state resembling death. It’s important here not to think of him as writing down these verses. They would have been composed in the mind and remembered until – having been memorised and perhaps added to by successive generations – eventually written down centuries later. So what of Cenau who released him from whatever condition he was in to greet the dawn?

Cenau was a son of Llywarch Hen,  related to Urien of Rheged  and so unlikely to have fought at Catraeth. But if he rescued Aneirin rather than fought in that battle his “undaunted, bold” actions and his “shining sword” must have been employed in some other way. It could be that Aneirin was captured and that his “fair song” – as an earlier verse has it – saved him and that Cenau rescued him after he had composed the verses. But the narration here suggests that he was released from a death-like state, perhaps an awenydd-trance, after which Cenau rescued him or during which he guarded him.

So these verses may come from a different story, but collected with other extraneous material into The Book of Aneirin (as, for instance the ‘Pais Dinogad’ lines or the verses which apparently record other events than the attack on Catraeth {e.g. ->} ). If so then that story has been lost and these verses may be all that remains of it. Such a story might include events before the composition of the Gododdin verses. Even so, that they were composed by someone who was both Aneirin and Not Aneirin; that he was released (like Mabon) from an earthen prison, returning from darkness to light to sing his song; that it was the quality of his ‘fair song’ that saved him, and that Taliesin would also know these things: all point to the role of the bard as an awenydd, drawing inspiration from the Awen to ensure his immortality.

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Further pages from Book of Aneirin can be viewed here.


References:

Aneirin Y Gododdin ed. A.O.H. Jarman (Llandysul, 1988)

Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin ed. A. O H. Jarman (Cardiff, 1982)

(*) Morfudd E  Owen ‘Hwn yw e Gododin. Aneirin ae cant’  in Astudiaethau ar y Hengerdd (Cardiff, 1978) pp. 136-139

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