databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Guto’s Illness

There is no doubt that Guto’r Glyn lived to be an old man (see Guto’r Glyn). Indeed, complaints about the various conditions which affected him in his old age litter his latter poems.

His first complaint, it seems, was a pain he suffered in his bones. In a poem to Joan Burgh of Wattlesborough he describes this pain as a long-familiar one; now he has new aches in his back, hip and knee (81). The pain makes him ‘crooked’, which might suggests that he was suffering from the disease known as sciatica or rheumatic arthritis:

Mae i’m cefn er ys pythefnos 
Henwayw ni ad hun y nos; 
Mae gwayw arall i’m gwyro 
Yn fy nghlun, anaf yng nghlo. 
There has been an old pain in my back for a fortnight
which will not let me sleep at night;
there is another sharp pain in my thigh
which makes me crooked, a locked deformity.

(poem 81.1-4)

Arthritis (rheumatism) was very common in the Middle Ages for the same reasons as other illnesses, especially malnutrition. Of course, it is still known as an illness which affects older people, since the bones weaken and deteriorate with age.

Guto may be referring to the same illness in his answer to Llywelyn ap Gutun’s satire; however, Llywelyn’s description suggests rather a skin disease. The first poem in this series belongs to Llywelyn ap Gutun. He maintains that Guto is ‘lean with disease’ (101a.6) and the ‘pain of sickness’ is described (101a.7) in terms which might suggest a swelling on the skin probably caused by malnutrition:

Doluriau llechau a’i lladd 
O dra newyn drwy’i neuadd. 
Gan enwyn y gwenwynodd 
Lle bu’r ŵyl oll heb ei rodd. 
The pain of sickness is what kills him
because of a great famine throughout his hall.
With buttermilk did he poison everyone
where he was without his gift at the feast.

(poem 101a.7-10)

One disease which would show up in the form of a visible swelling on the skin is the one known as lupus vulgaris. It was often spread through infected cow’s milk. This matches Guto’s allegation that he was poisoned with buttermilk. There is a description of the disease in Jex-Blake 1915: 116: 'The earliest and most characteristic evidence of lupus is the appearance of small brownish nodules in the skin, not unlike specks of apple jelly, very soft to the touch. These tend to grow, and as they grow, to ulcerate; the ulcers heal over, after a quantity of tissue has been lost, and the surface is left covered with a thin whitish scar, while the advancing lupoid nodules continue to spread at the edges of the diseased area of the skin. Lupus is a slowly progressive disease, very rebellious to treatment, very prone to relapse after apparent cure, and for all practical purposes it is not infectious for other persons. From the popular point of view its most striking feature is the disfigurement it produces. Slowly but surely it may eat away any features of the face, leaving a whitish, mottled scar in its place ... It may attack any part of the body, but in the great majority of the cases occurs on the face. The treatments devised for its cure are legion, and if it is taken in hand early the outlook is good. In the first place attention should be given to improvement of the patient’s general health and nutrition.'

Of course, it is conceivable that these poems were meant for entertainment only and that Guto was not in fact suffering from any disease (see 101a).

Another illness that affected the poet in his old age was his loss of sight. This is notably clear in his latter poems, such as the poem thanking Meurig Fychan and Elen of Nannau of the gift of a horse (51.44), and also in a few of his later poems to Abbot Dafydd ab Ieuan of Valle Crucis (e.g. 117). Guto did not necessarily lose his sight completely, but it was only natural for an old man in this period gradually to lose his sight. In a poem which was composed when the poet was nearing the end of his life, ‘His last englyn’, he lists all the things he can no longer do - see, laugh, walk and hear properly:

 Gwae’r gwan dau oedran nid edrych, – ni chwardd, 
 Ni cherdda led y rhych, 
 Gwae ni wŷl yn gynilwych, 
4Gwae ni chlyw organ a chlych! 
Woe to the weak man, two lifetimes old, who doesn’t look, – who doesn’t laugh,
who doesn’t walk further than the furrow’s width,
woe to him who doesn’t see distinctly,
woe to him who doesn’t hear an organ and bells!

(poem 119.1-4)

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