Written in Tawddgyrch cadwynog metre, this poem is a response to the story in the Life of St Collen, wherein the saint received an invite from Gwynn app Nudd to visit him in his royal residence atop Glastonbury Tor. After much persuasion, the saint attended the feast and violated guest law by hurling holy water at the lord of the fairy hosts. The saint’s name means “little hazel”, hence the allusion to nuts in the poem. Sadly Collen survived his encounter and travelled to Wales to battle and kill the giantess Cares y Bwlch. He made the local spring holy by washing his sword clean of her blood in its waters (doubtless it was holy long before then, and there’s a strong suggestion in the tale that his defeat of the giantess is a further defeat of paganism – implying that she is either a goddess or some kind of guardian land spirit).
This poem was written for a Gwyl Gaeaf festival in which we sang the praises of Gwynn, after whom my husky is named! The huntsman’s own dog is called Dormath, which means ‘death’s door’ and who rather echoes the Greek Cerberus (though, so far as I know, he has but one head).
Wind tears the Tor, unravels hair
Bound in plaits fair, wild blood yearning
For thunder’s roar, this hill my Chair,
Blessed wolf’s lair, white fire burning.
Tribes rise and fall, dank marsh tides flow,
Poor nuts do grow on such dank soil,
Hazel tree small, to ground crouched low
With pious woe, to “One God” loyal.
On this high land, my leave not sought,
This hermit caught, and summoned twice
Takes not the hand, guest-law counts naught
To saintly thought ~ yet comes at thrice!
Grand Collen climbs, fear his eye parts,
Sees fairy Arts ~ bold Gwynn’s great Hall.
Fair wondrous times, bard song stirs hearts,
Dreams harp imparts (few hear the call.)
Bee-brewed mead gift fills the guest horn,
Soothes the careworn, the host’s bond makes,
But all is rift ~ this monk thinks scorn
To toast the morn, dawn’s dew thirst slakes.
Board groans with feast, succulent boar
Makes stomachs roar, yet the saint sneers,
His knife ungreased. “This food is poor,
Just leafs, no more!” Tree meat he fears.
Bondsmen bold garbed, to table tend,
Monk does not mend unmannered ways,
Casts comments barbed, his host to rend,
(I shall not bend, though the hound bays.)
“For men half-blue, I do not care”,
False guest did swear, “Tis only Hell’s
Dead, freezing hue that they half-wear.”
Storm’s shade does glare from Dormath’s wells.
“Heaven’s hope lost, for men half-red,
The burning dead ~ you demon horde!”
Such insults cost, my Branch had bled,
King’s colour wed to lightning’s sword.
Hazel little, his wisdom sparse,
Fast shifts his arse, fierce Dormath bays,
Old tree brittle, abandons farce,
Puts heel to grass, such churlish ways!
My Hall to mist, the veil down drawn,
Justice foresworn by Law of Hosts,
His trews saint pissed ~ such water-lorn
Scarce holy-born ~ thus his Faith toasts.
Too many Sidhe for hermit’s taste,
No time to waste, he fled my Tor,
Telling tales twee, of how he faced
Wild Gwynn and chased me to Hell’s door!
Robin Herne is a polytheist Druid based in Ipswich. You can find out more about him and find some links to his storytelling on his blog Round the Herne. ‘Gwynn’s Guest’ appears in Bard Song, ‘a collection of poetry, mostly in medieval Welsh and Irish metres, and reflections on the nature of the Bard in early Celtic society and the role of poetry within modern Druidry and polytheism generally.’ I’d highly recommend it – Lorna.