Y Gododdin is the earliest surviving Welsh poem. While the manuscript in which it is preserved, commonly called the Book of Aneirin, dates to the 13th century, it is generally agreed that it preserves a much older text. It is a series of elegies for the men of the Gododdin, who died at a battle in Catraeth — now thought to be Catterick in Yorkshire — around the year 600. The poem thus is an account of the fighting which occurred between Saxons and Britons at the time of the Saxon invasions. One of the early consequences of that invasion was the cutting off of the kingdoms in the north from those in the southwest (one study of the poem, by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson, is called The Gododdin: The Oldest Scottish Poem); this poem seems to report on a failed attempt to regain some of that lost ground.

The poem may contain a very early reference to King Arthur. One of the warriors is praised for his valour, “although he was not Arthur.” Some scholars take this reference to indicate that a figure called Arthur was so famous at the time of the poem’s original composition that a warrior could be praised simply by comparison.

The manuscript includes a rubric which translates “This is Y Gododdin : Aneirin sang it.” This poet is named in the Historia Brittonum (in a section which also names the poet Taliesin). It seems likely that there was such a poet; it is entirely possible that this is his poem, but the distance between manuscript and supposed period of composition means caution is important.

I have produced only a few stanzas of the poem below. The text is taken from Ifor Williams, Canu Aneirin (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1938), and the numbering of the stanzas is his. The translations are my own; if you compare them to other translations, you will see that there is uncertainty about some words. There is a useful facing-page translation, A.O.H. Jarman, Aneirin : Y Gododdin : Britain's Oldest Heroic Poem (Llandysul, Dyfed: The Gomer Press, 1988). At least two other translations can be found online. William F. Skene’s, from The Four Ancient Books of Wales (1868), is widely available, including here; and Joseph P. Clancy’s, from Earliest Welsh Poetry (1970), is available here. Skene should be used with caution. I very much like Clancy’s translation.

The Llyfr Aneirin is now at the Cardiff Central Library; click here to access digital images (in a rather small and clumsy interface).


[VI - XIV]

Gwyr a aeth ododin chwerthin ognaw.
chwerw en trin a llain en emdullyaw.
byrr vlyned en hed yd ynt endaw.
mab botgat gwnaeth gwynnyeith gwreith
     e law.
ket elwynt e lanneu e benydyaw.
a hen a yeueing a hydyr a llaw.
dadyl diheu angheu y eu treidaw.

Gwyr a aeth ododin chwerthin wanar.
disgynnyeit em bedin trin diachar.
wy lledi a llavnawr heb vawr drydar
colovyn glyw reithuyw rodi arwar.

Gwyr a aeth gatraeth oed fraeth eu llu.
glasved eu hancwyn a gwenwyn vu.
trychant trwy beiryant en cattau.
a gwedy elwch tawelwch vu.
ket elwynt e lanneu e benydu.
dadyl dieu agheu y eu treidu.

Gwyr a aeth gatraeth veduaeth uedwn.
fyryf frwythlawn oed cam nas kymhwyllwn.
e am lavnawr coch gorvawr gwrmwn.
dwys dengyn ed emledyn aergwn.
ar deulu brenneych beych barnasswn.
dilyw dyn en vyw nys adawsswn.
kyueillt a golleis diffleis oedwn.
rugyl en emwrthryn rynn riadwn.
ny mennws gwrawl gwadawl chwergrwn.
maban y gian o vaen gwynngwn.

Gwyr a aeth gatraeth gan wawr
trauodynt eu hed eu hovnawr.
milcant a thrychant a emdaflawr.
gwyarllyt gwynnodynt waewawr.
ef gorsaf yng gwryaf. eggwryawr.
rac gosgord mynydawc mwynvawr.

Gwyr a aeth gatraeth gan wawr
dygmyrrws eu hoet eu hanyanawr.
med evynt melyn melys maglawr.
blwydyn bu llewyn llawer kerdawr.
coch eu cledyuawr na phurawr.
eu llain. gwyngalch a phedryollt bennawr
rac gosgord mynydawc mwynvawr.

Gwyr a aeth gatraeth gan dyd.
neus goreu o gadeu gewilid.
wy gwnaethant en geugant gelorwyd.
a llavnavr llawn annawd em bedyd.
goreu yw hwnn kyn kystlwn kerennyd.
enneint creu ac angeu oe hennyd.
rac bedin ododin pan vudyd
neus goreu deu bwyllyat neirthyat

Gwr a aeth gatraeth gan dyd.
ne llewes ef vedgwyn vei noethyd.
bu truan gyuatcan gyvluyd.
e neges ef or drachwres drenghidyd.
ny chryssyws gatraeth
mawr mor ehelaeth
e aruaeth uch arwyt.
ny bu mor gyffor
o eidyn ysgor
e esgarei oswyd.
tut vwlch hir ech e dir ae dreuyd.
ef lladei saesson seithuet dyd.
perheit y wrhyt en wrvyd
ae govein gan e gein gyweithyd.
pan dyvu dutvwlch dut nerthyd.
oed gwaetlan gwyaluan vab kilyd.

Gwr a aeth gatraeth gan wawr.
wyneb udyn ysgorva ysgwydawr.
crei kyrchynt kynnullynt reiawr
en gynnan mal taran twryf aessawr.
gwr gorvynt. gwr etvynt. gwr llawr.
ef rwygei. a chethrei. a chethrawr.
od uch lled lladei a llavnawr.
en gystud heyrn dur arbennawr.
e mordei ystyngei adyledawr.
rac erthgi erthychei vydinawr.

[XC - XCI]

Try can eurdoch a gryssyassant
en amwyn breithell bu edrywant
ket rylade hwy wy ladassant
a hyt orfen byt etmyc vydant.
ac or sawl a aytham o gyt garant.
tru namen vn gur nyt englyssant.

Trycant eurdorchauc
gwnedgar guacnauc
trychan trahaavc
kyuun kyuarvavc
trychan meirch godrud
a gryssyws ganthud
trychwn a thrychant
tru nyt atcorsant.


Ef guant tratrigant echassaf
ef ladhei auet ac eithaf
oid guiu e mlaen llu llarahaf
godolei o heit meirch e gayaf
gochore brein du ar uur
caer ceni bei ef arthur
rug ciuin uerthi ig disur
ig kynnor guernor guaurdur.



Men went to Gododdin, laughter-inciting,
Bitter in battle, with blades set for war.
Brief the year they were at peace.
The son of Bodgad, by the deeds of his hand
     did slaughter.
Though they went to churches to do penance,
The young, the old, the lowly, the strong,
True is the tale, death oer’took them.

Men went to Gododdin, with eager laughter,
Attacking in an army, cruel in battle,
They slew with swords without much sound
Rheithfyw, pillar of battle, took pleasure in giving.

Men went to Catraeth, swift was their host.
Fresh mead was their feast, their poison too.
Three hundred waging war, under command,
And after joy, there was silence.
Though they went to churches to do penance,
True is the tale, death oer’took them.

Men went to Catraeth, mead-nourished,
Sturdy and strong, it would be wrong should I not praise them.
Amid blood-red blades in dark-blue sockets,
The war-hounds fought fiercely, tight formation.
Of the war-band of Brennych, I would have thought it a burden,
to leave any in the shape of a man alive.
A friend I have lost; faithful I was.
Swift in the struggle, it grieves me to leave him.
The brave one desired no father-in-law’s dowry,
The son of Cian from Maen Gwyngwn.

Men went to Catraeth with the dawn.
Their fears left them,
A hundred thousand and three hundred clashed together.
They stained their spears, splashed with blood,
He was at the forefront, foremost in battle,
Before the retinue of Mynyddog Mwynfawr.

Men went to Catraeth with the dawn.
Their bravery cut short their lives.
They drank yellow mead, sweet, ensnaring,
For the space of a year the minstrel was merry.
Red their swords, let them not be cleansed;
Their shields were white, their spearheads four-edged,
Before the retinue of Mynyddog Mwynfawr.

Men went to Catraeth with the day,
He made certain the shame of armies.
They made it certain biers would be needed,
With blades the cruelest in all the world.
Rather than speak of truce, he made
A blood-bath and death for his enemy.
Before the army of Gododdin, when he went,
Brave Neirthiad accomplished a splendid intent.

A man went to Catraeth with the day–
He gulped mead at midnight feasts.
Wretched, a lamentation for his fellows,
Was his attack, ireful killer.
There rushed to Catraeth
no great one so generous,
in his purpose [?]
There was none who more completely
From the fortress of Eidyn,
Scattered the enemy.
Tudfwlch Hir from his land and his villages,
Slew Saxons each seven-day,
Long will his valour endure,
And his memory among his fair company.
When Tudflwch was there, his people’s pillar,
Bloody was the place of spears, son of Cilydd.

A man went to Catraeth with the dawn,
About him a fort, a fence of shields.
Harshly they attacked, gathered booty,
Loud like thunder the noise of the shields.
A proud man, a wise man, a strong man,
He fought and pierced with spears,
Above the blood, he slew with swords.
In the strife, with hard weapons on heads.
In the court the warrior was humble,
Before Erthgi great armies would groan.


Three hundred gold-torqued men attacked,
Guarding their land, bloody was the slaughter,
Although they were slain, they slew;
And until the end of the world they will be honoured.
And of all of us kinsmen who went together,
Sad, but for one man, none escaped.

Three hundred gold-torqued,
warlike, wonderful [~]
Three hundred proud ones,
Together, armed;
Three hundred fierce horses
Carried them forward,
Three hounds and three hundred,
Sad, they did not return.

He pierced three hundred, most bold,
He cut down the centre and wing.
He was worthy before the noblest host,
He gave from his herd horses in winter.
He fed black ravens on the wall
Of the fortress, although he was not Arthur.
Among those powerful in feats [?]
In the front rank, a pallisade, Gwawrddur.


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