The Seagull (poem)

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Sculpture of Dafydd ap Gwilym by W. Wheatley Wagstaff in Cardiff City Hall.

"The Seagull" (Welsh: Yr Wylan) is a love poem in 30 lines by the 14th-century Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym, probably written in or around the 1340s.[1] Dafydd is widely seen as the greatest of the Welsh poets,[2][3][4][5] and this is one of his best-known and best-loved works.[6][1]

Summary[edit]

The poet addresses and praises a seagull flying over the waves, comparing it to, among other things, a gauntlet, a ship at anchor, a sea-lily, and a nun. He asks it to find a girl whom he compares to Eigr and who can be found on the ramparts of a castle, to intercede with her, and to tell her that the poet cannot live without her. He loves her for her beauty more than Myrddin or Taliesin ever loved, and unless he wins kind words from her he will die.

Imagery[edit]

The poem in BL Add. MS 14997, a manuscript dating from c. 1500.

The academic critic Huw Meirion Edwards considered that "The Seagull"’s imagery goes far beyond anything that had come before it in Welsh poetry,[7] and Anthony Conran wrote that "pictorially it is superb…[it] has the visual completeness, brilliance and unity of a medieval illumination, a picture from a book of hours".[8] Dafydd wrote several love-messenger poems, and is indeed considered the master of that form.[6] They follow an established pattern, beginning by addressing the llatai, or messenger, going on to describe it in terms of praise, then asking the llatai to take the poet's message to his lover, and finally in general adding a prayer that the messenger return safely. But in "The Seagull", as with Dafydd's other bird-poems, the gull is more than just a conventional llatai: the bird's appearance and behaviour are observed closely, while at the same time Dafydd shows, according to the scholar Rachel Bromwich, "an almost mystical reverence" for it.[9] The image of the seagull's beautiful, white, immaculate purity suggests that of the girl,[10] while the bird's flight embodies the idea of freedom, in contrast with the dominating and enclosing castle.[1] This castle has not been positively identified, although Aberystwyth[11] and Criccieth[12] have both been suggested. The girl herself is unusual in two respects, firstly in the paucity of physical detail in Dafydd's description of her as compared with the women in his other love poems, and secondly in that she is a redhead, as very few women in medieval Welsh poetry are.[13]

Poetic art[edit]

The seagull is described in what has been called "a guessing game technique"[14] or "riddling",[15] a technique known in Welsh as dyfalu comprising the stringing together of imaginative and hyperbolic similes and metaphors.[16] Dafydd also uses devices for breaking up syntax known as sangiad and tor ymadrodd. So, for example:

A bydd, dywaid na byddaf,
Fwynwas coeth, fyw onis caf.

And be, say that I shall not be,
An elegant kind-servant, living unless I win her.

—lines 19-20 —Translated by Idris Bell

The translator Idris Bell explained the sense of this as "Have the kindness in courteous wise to give her the message that I shall die unless she will be mine."[17]

References to older poetry[edit]

Eigr, with whom Dafydd compares his beloved, was in Welsh tradition the wife of Uther Pendragon and mother of King Arthur. She is the heroine he most often cites as the archetypical beautiful woman.[18] The legendary figures of Myrddin and Taliesin are often invoked together in Welsh verse, and in some early poems Myrddin is presented as a lover, though Taliesin was not, making Dafydd’s mention of him in this role rather odd.[19] It has been argued that these two figures are introduced as a tribute to one of the wellsprings of Dafydd's work, the native Welsh poetic tradition, while on the other hand the terms in which he describes his submission to the girl acknowledge one of the other great influences on him, the literature of courtly love, stemming from Provence but by Dafydd's time to be found across Europe.[20]

Adaptations[edit]

  • Glyn Jones wrote a poem, "Dafydd's Seagull and the West Wind", which gives the seagull's response.[21]
  • John Hardy set "The Seagull" as part of a song-cycle called Fflamau Oer: Songs for Jeremy.[22][23]
  • Robert Spearing set the poem, together with some lines from Romeo and Juliet, in his cantata for tenor and piano She Solus.[24]

English translations[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Evans 2012, p. 183.
  2. ^ Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Volume 5. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 1770. ISBN 1851094407. Retrieved 19 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Bromwich, Rachel (1979). "Dafydd ap Gwilym". In Jarman, A. O. H.; Hughes, Gwilym Rees. A Guide to Welsh Literature. Volume 2. Swansea: Christopher Davies. p. 112. ISBN 0715404571. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  4. ^ Baswell, Christopher; Schotter, Anne Howland, eds. (2006). The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Volume 1A: The Middle Ages (3rd ed.). New York: Pearson Longman. p. 608. ISBN 0321333977. 
  5. ^ Kinney, Phyllis (2011). Welsh Traditional Music. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 6. ISBN 9780708323571. Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Conran 1992, p. 21.
  7. ^ Edwards 2010, p. 16.
  8. ^ Conran 1992, p. 22.
  9. ^ Bromwich 1985, p. xxiii.
  10. ^ Edwards 2010, p. 17.
  11. ^ Bowen, D. J. (1977). "Dafydd ap Gwilym a'r Trefydd Drwg". Ysgrifau Beirniadol. 10: 190–220. 
  12. ^ Conran 1992, pp. 37–43.
  13. ^ Conran 1992, pp. 21–22.
  14. ^ Roberts, Sara Elin (2008). "Dafydd ap Gwilym (fl. 14th century)". In Sauer, Michelle M. The Facts on File Companion to British Poetry Before 1600. New York: Facts on File. p. 138. ISBN 9780816063604. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  15. ^ Thomas, Gwyn (Spring 1973). "Dafydd ap Gwilym the nature-poet". Poetry Wales. 8 (4): 31. Retrieved 3 July 2015. 
  16. ^ Bromwich 1985, pp. xviii, xxiii.
  17. ^ Bell, H. Idris; Bell, David (1942). Fifty Poems. Y Cymmrodor, vol. 48. London: Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion. pp. 45–46, 178. Retrieved 3 July 2015. 
  18. ^ Bromwich 1985, pp. 63, 94.
  19. ^ Bromwich 1985, p. 94.
  20. ^ Conran 1992, pp. 23–27.
  21. ^ Stephens, Meic, ed. (1996). The Collected Poems of Glyn Jones. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 60. ISBN 0708313884. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  22. ^ "John Hardy". British Composers Project. Music Now. 1998–2010. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  23. ^ "Yr Wylan, by John Hardy". British Music Collection. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  24. ^ Spearing, Robert (2010). "She Solus". Commentary on the Portfolio of Compositions (PDF) (Ph.D.). Retrieved 1 July 2015. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]