Ni bu dir yn y byd well,
Medieval poetry is full of references to horses. Riding a horse was the chief method of travelling and for the poets in particular, riding from the home of one aristocrat to another's was a far more efficient way of travelling than on foot. It seems that horses had a special significance in Welsh tradition since the early Middle Ages in prose and in the poetry. Guto and his fellow poets are referring frequently to famous horses of the past, associating them with saints or the mythical heroes (poem 39.45-7).
Praising a patron for his supply of horses is also frequent in the poems. Guto'r Glyn note that Rhosier ap Siôn Pilstwn of Emral, was 'abundant in wealth and steeds' (poem 74.36), and he praised Sir John Burgh for providing his poets and tenants with the best horses (poem 81.43). Some patrons were breeding horses, such as Abad Dafydd ab Owain of Strata Marcella, which suggests strongly that he was famous in his day as a breeder of horses. In his praise poem to him Guto draws attention to the abbot's horses (poem 115) and praises the abbey lands where food of quality is grown for the horses:
Ni bu dir yn y byd well,
Bwyd meirch lle bu ŷd Marchell,
Gwenithdir, gweirdir a gwŷdd,
A galw ’dd wyf Arglwydd Ddafydd
Never was there better land in the world,
horse-fodder where Marcella’s corn used to grow,
land for growing wheat, land for growing grass and trees,
and I call Lord Dafydd
Powys was famous for its horses since the days of Giraldus Cambrensis, and Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr too lavished praise on the horses of the princes of Powys in the twelfth century.
In poems of requests and thanks, a horse is the most popular animal to bequeath. Guto’r Glyn sang two poems to ask and thank for horses - to ask for a horse from Maredudd ab Ifan Fychan of Cedewain on behalf of Rheinallt ap Rhys (poem 39) and to express thanks for a horse from Dafydd ap Meurig Fychan of Nannau (poem 51). It is evident that stealing animals was a very common occurrence in this period since Guto, in both poems, notes that the theft of a horse (his patron's in poem 39 and his own horse in poem 51) was the reason for the request for the gift.
In poem 39 Guto asks for a horse from Maredudd ab Ifan Fychan of Cedewain on behalf of Rheinallt ap Rhys Gruffudd. Several terms are used in the poem to refer to the animal requested, namely: march, gorwydd, eddestr, and planc. The word eddestr for a horse is unusual and archaic, and planc or blanc is a borrowing from Middle English blank ‘horse, steed’ (GPC 2816 s.v. planc²). The word gorwydd is more familiar, corresponding to English stallion. hacnai is a borrowing from English and denotes a horse of middling size or a riding horse. The horse is described by comparing it in much detail:
Peddestr o eddestr addwyn,
Prior ffraeth yn pori’r ffrwyn.
Os bwrw naid dros aber nant,
Ef yw’r trechaf o’r trychant.
March fal gwddf alarch yw fo,
O myn y ffroenwyn ffrwyno,
A’i fwnwgl yn addfwynwych
Fal bwa’r crwth, flew byr crych,
A’i fwng yn debig ddigon
I fargod tŷ neu frig ton.
He is a fine walking steed,
a loquacious prior chewing the bridle.
If he gives a leap over the mouth of a stream,
he is supreme of the three hundred.
He is a horse with a swan’s neck, so to speak,
if the white-nostrilled creature wishes to be bridled,
and his neck is shapely
like the bow of a crowd, short and curly coat,
and his mane quite resembling
the eaves of a house or the tip of a wave.
Request is made for a three-year old blackish-blue horse that has not yet been hooved or bridled. Particular attention is drawn to its long hair, like the hair of a lion or wolf, and its mane which is like the eaves of a house or the tip of a wave.
In the poem to Dafydd ap Meurig Fychan and Elen daughter of Hywel of Nannau (poem 51), Guto'r Glyn expresses thanks for a horse which he received as a gift. This time the horse is red and its qualities include its careful trot and its speed while trotting:
Llawn o nerth, llyna ei nod,
Llew rhudd unlliw â’r hyddod.
Da rhed deubarc, draed diball,
Da iawn ei duth yn dwyn dall.
Nid arbed, er dalled wyf,
Ŵr neu wal, er na welwyf.
Full of strength, that is his characteristic,
a red lion of the same colour as stags.
He runs well over two parks, sure his footing,
very good is his trot carrying a blind man.
He won’t shy away from, even though I’m so blind,
a man or a wall, although I cannot see.
Guto tells us that his sight is not as good as it used to be, and that he therefore needs a horse of safe and careful gait so as to travel to the homes of his patrons.
Bibliography: For further discussion see S. Davies & N.A. Jones, The Horse in Celtic Culture: Medieval Welsh Perspectives (Cardiff, 1997).
: S. Davies & N.A. Jones, The Horse in Celtic Culture: Medieval Welsh Perspectives (Cardiff, 1997), 77-8.
: B.O. Huws, ‘‘Praise lasts longer than a horse’: Poems of Request and Thanks for Horses’, S. Davies & N.A. Jones (eds.), The Horse in Celtic Culture: Medieval Welsh Perspectives (Cardiff, 1997), 143.
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