The Girl in Ogyrven’s Hall


According to the poem ‘Angar Kyfundawt’ in The Book of Taliesin the Awen is divided into “seven score ogyrven” with a further division of each of these twenty. Elsewhere in The Book of Taliesin, in the poem ‘Kadeir Teyrnon’ the Awen is simply asserted to be divided into three ogyrven, hence the three shafts of the Awen symbol as later interpreted. John Rhŷs asserted that

“three muses had emerged from Giant Ogyrven’s cauldron. But Ogyrven seems to be one of the names of the terrene god, so that Ogyrven’s cauldron should be no other probably than that which we have found ascribed to the Head of Hades”.

Celtic Heathendom pp 267-269

That Ogyrven is one of the names of the King of the Otherworld is also suggested in a poem by Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd (died 1170). Hywel was the son of Owain of Gwynedd by an Irish woman who lived in his court and was thus both within the privileged mainstream and to some extent marginalised and so was able to practise the art of poetry as the muse took him. At a time when the official court poets were mainly engaged in praise of military prowess or power he penned some delicate love lyrics, including one addressed to a girl “in Ogyrven’s Hall” who has captivated him though he cannot approach her as she stands – fair as the foam on the wave – watching seagulls glide around a hillside:

Unwilling to leave her (it would be my death)
My life-force is with her, my vitality ebbs
Like a legendary lover my desire undoes me
For a girl I can’t reach in Ogyrven’s Hall.

So here the Hall of Ogyrven is a place in the Otherworld (or the Otherworld itself) with a girl who has possessed the poet with unrealisable desire. Is she his muse? And if, as John Rhŷs asserts, Ogyrven is the God of the Otherworld or Netherworld, who is the girl  and how could a poet dare to fall in love with her? Hywel says he would go to her on a white horse but “she would not have me” and also that her fairness flows out of her realm towards us.

Ogyrven, then, seems to be many-faceted not just in the variability of the number of divisions of the Awen, but in the identity of the figure from whom it originates or the number of cauldrons, seething without fire, from which it may emanate according to ‘Angar Kyfundawt’ a poem whose title refers to a malign alliance of uninspired poets. Hywel, clearly, was not one of these. The delicacy of his poem in its original Welsh with its patterning of sound and imagery defies adequate translation not so much of its meaning as of its quietly inspired intensity. Here is no boasting Taliesin but a poet shaping inspired words out of his inability to fully realise his aspiration to fulfil his desire in the Otherworld.

And Ogyrfen? Whether a god, a place, a flow of inspiration streaming out into many further streams, elusive as the girl that Hywel desires or as the words that will adequately describe her, we may, perhaps, catch in a glimpse in one of these streams, some sense of what it is to be inspired and the many aspects of Annwfn as experienced in our world.