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Lament for Sion -- Lewys Glyn Cothi

Guest poem sent in by Dave Fortin , who writes:

A poem that I have always appreciated that fits in with the recent postings is
the Lament for Sion y Glyn by Lewys Glyn Cothi (1447-1489).

Sion y Glyn was the poet's five-year-old son.  In the poem, the poet appeals
to Dwynwen, patron saint of lovers and wishes that Sion could be brought
back to life by the patron saint of North Wales, St. Beuno.
(Poem #1152) Lament for Sion
 One son was my darling--Dwynwen!
 Woe to his father is his birth.
 Woe to him who's left to grieve
 for love evermore with no son.
 The death of my little die has made
 my ribs ache for Sion y Glyn.
 I am forever wailing
 for the lord of boyhood tales.

 The lad loved a sweet apple
 and a bird, and white pebbles;
 a bow made of a thorn branch,
 a flimsy wooden sword;
 he feared the pipe and bogey,
 he begged his mam for a ball;
 he would sing a note to all,
 he would sing "oo-o" for a nut;
 he would fondle and flatter,
 he would get angry with me,
 and make up for a bit of wood
 and for dice that he loved.

 Oh that Sion, pure gentle boy,
 were another Lazarus.
 Beuno brought back to life
 seven who had gone to heaven;
 woe, once again, my true heart,
 that Sion's soul cannot make eight.
 Oh Mary, alas that he lies dead,
 woe for my ribs that his grave is closed.
 Sion's death is like a stab wound
 implanted deep in my breast;
 my son, my baby's playpen,
 my bosom, my heart, my song,
 he was my mind in my lifetime,
 my wise poet, he was my dream,
 he was my toy, my candle,
 my fair soul, my one deceit,
 my chick learning my song,
 my Isolde's garland, my kiss,
 my strength, woe is me after him,
 my skylark, my magician,
 my love, my bow, my arrow,
 my beseacher, my boyhood.
 Sion is sending to his father
 a pang of longing and love.
 Farewell, the smile on my lips,
 farewell to the laughing mouth;
 farewell now, sweet amusement,
 and farewell to games with nuts,
 and farewell, ball, for ever,
 and farewell to loud singing,
 and farewell, my cheery friend,
 buried while I live, Sion my son.
-- Lewys Glyn Cothi
        (trans. Richard Loomis)

[Note: 'Sion' is pronounced 'shon', essentially 'shop' with an 'n' rather
than a 'p' at the end. It's the Welsh equivalent of 'John' --martin]

Lewys Glyn Cothi (1447-1489) was one of the most well-known and respected
poets of 15th century Wales and is known for his poems associated with the
Herberts and Tudors during the Wars of the Roses.  He is generally
associated with Carmarthenshire, but wrote for patrons throughout Wales.

Here we find the poet at the top of his form using all of his skills to
compose what has to be the saddest lament I have ever encountered.  Sion y
Glyn was the poet's five-year-old son.  In the poem, the poet appeals to
Dwynwen, patron saint of lovers and wishes that Sion could be brought back
to life by the patron saint of North Wales, St. Beuno.

Unlike many laments written by professional bards for their patrons or for
political figures, this one is highly passionate, personal and deeply
touching.  Note how Lewys describes all of the little things that he enjoyed
with his son in the first stanza, and then returns to these in the final
stanza to bid them all farewell. This, combined with the repetition at the
end, heightens the poignancy.  While this is written in a form likely to
have been spoken, I suspect that it was written for the poet alone.

Even in translation and despite the accumulation of over 500 years, I have
trouble reading this without getting emotional...

Dave Fortin
Doctoral Candidate
Medieval History
The Catholic University of America

38 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Cathy Berger said...

You're right. This poem is terribly sad. It struck a resonant chord
with me too.

- Cathy

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